On February 8th Costa Rican fighter Yokasta Valle (19-2, 8) will be making her first defense of the IBF female Minimumweight title, ash she goes up against Filipino challenger Carleans Rivas (8-6-4). This will not only be Valle's first defense but also Rivas' first world title challenge, after having fought numerous times for regional titles.
Although not a global name by any means Valle is a talented fighter, The 27 year from San Jose has shown a willingness to travel and to take on the best. This has seen her lose on the road to the likes of Naoko Fujioka and Tina Rupprecht, running Rupprecht very close in Germany, and actually winning this title in Spain last August. The belt she currently holds is her second, after having previously held the IBF's version of the 102lb title in 2016, and she has proven to be a tough fighter to beat.
In the ring Valle is small, even for a female fighter at 102lbs or 105lbs, but she uses her diminutive size well. She makes herself seem smaller, darts in an out well, and is very aggressive. She's not the most powerful puncher out there but she throws a lot of leather, has a busy lead hand and throws in bunches, often getting flurries off before an opponent can respond. It's her activity and aggression that make her a nightmare to fight and not many fighters will have the work rate to go with her, or the power to make her think twice about letting shots go.
The 31 year old Rivas has really struggled when she has fought above Filipino level, and in fact even at domestic level she has been beaten by the likes of Jessebelle Pagaduan and Lady Love Sampiton. Above domestic level she has lost to the likes of Tamao Ozaw, Chaoz Minowa, Tenkai Tsunami and Yumeni Ikemoto. Sadly for her she hasn't been able to win when she's stepped up and she's also rarely even been competitive at regional level. She is also 0-4 outside of the Philippines.
Whilst she's not totally terrible she isn't particularly good either. She lacks power, throws a nice jab but a very slow and loopy right hand and often puts herself off balance. There's a fighter that could have been competitive at regional level if her team had managed to polish her rather clear visible flaws, but instead those issues are still clearly there and clearly limit her potential to go far in the sport.
Although we don't see Valle as an emerging superstar of female boxing, she is a talent and we expect her to make this first defense look very, very easily. We would be massively surprised by anything but a dominant win by the Costa Rican champion.
Prediction - TKO8 Valle.
This coming Friday fight fans in Spain will Thai visitor Samson Tor Buamas (40-4, 22) face off with local champion Joana Pastrana (13-1, 4), for Pastrana's IBF female Minimumweight title. The Spanish fighter will be making her first defense, following her title win in June against Oezlem Sahin, whillst Samson will be looking to claim a “big 4” world title for the second time in her career, more than a decade after she last won bout for a big title.
The 27 year old Pastrana debuted in 2016, and began her career with 3 stoppage wins, all within the first 2 rounds. She then followed up with 4 decisions against novices before losing in her first step up in class, losing to Tina Rupprecht in 2016, when she actually suffered a broken hand. Since then she has racked up 6 wins, claiming the European female Minimumweight title, which she defended once, and now the IBF title.
The footage of Pastrana shows her to be a strong but clumsy fighter. Her foot work looks slow and calculated, rather than natural and fluid, her upper body movement is much better but still isn't genuinely world class. She does however look strong and powerful. She might have only scored 1 stoppage in her last 10 wins but she looks like she gets the respect of her opponents quite easily. Sadly for her though she's not very sharp, accurate or quick. Everything she does looks a bit awkward, almost as if she's converted to boxing from another combat sport.
At 35 Samson is past her best. At her very best she was a top female fighter, who literally fought her way out of prison to become a boxing world champion. Less than 2 years after her debut she defeated Ayaka Miyao to claim the WBC female Light Flyweight title, which she would defend 3 times include a very notable win over Momo Koseki and another against Kayoko Ebata. Since then however she has really failed to capture the attention of the boxing world. She's shown good skills,scoring only a single win of ant note when she beat Gretchen Abaniel. For the most part however she has faced limited novices, with the only exceptions being in losses to Nadia Raoui and Cai Zongju.
At her best Samson would have given fits to almost any female fighter in the lower weights. Now however she is well past her best. Her recent competition won't have done much harm physically, but will have failed to keep her sharp enough to really be competitive at the world level. Added to the low level of competitive is her inactivity, with just 2 bouts in the last 2 years, and we expected her to look slow, clumsy and out of sorts.
Despite the issues that Samson has with age, competition and activity we feel she has a chance to show how flawed Pastrana is. Sadly though we don't see her doing it often enough to take the win. Instead we suspect that the home fighter will take the decision, but not shine like a champion would want to in her fist defense.
This coming Saturday fight fans in China will be able to see IBF female Minimumweight champion Zong Ju Cai (9-1, 1) defending her title against Filipino foe Gretchen Abaniel (17-8, 6). The bout will be Cai's first as a champion whilst Abaniel will be looking to claim a major world title in her 5th, following reigns as a minor champion with WIBA level titles. The bout might not be anything massive to fans in the West, but to fight fans in China this is potentially a massive showdown and a chance for Cai to prove herself as a world class female.
In the ring Cai is a really skilled boxer-mover. She's not heavy handed and doesn't ever try to fight like a fighter with power. Instead she fights with energy, uses the ring and tries to always stay in control of the pace and action of the fight. Unlike many smaller fighters she doesn't fight like type of fighter who wants a high octane brawl, instead she wants to use her skill, potentially hiding a questionable energy tank.
With the Chinese crowd cheering her on it's going to be hard to beat Cai, but she isn't unbeatable. At times in her title win, which came back in January against Etsuko Tada, she seemed to flag late on and looked like she was running out of steam. If a fighter can force the pressure on her quickly then she could struggle later in the bout. If Cai can dictate the pace and tempo however, she will be very tricky to beat, and not many will have the skills to beat a comfortable Cai.
Aged 31 Abaniel is a true veteran, and one who has fought almost everywhere. She made her debut in China and has fought not only in the Philippines but also South Korea, Thailand, Mexico, Japan, Australia and Germany. Whilst she has had mixed success in the ring she has proven to be a world class fighter with only a single stoppage against her, back in 2011 to Katia Gutierrez, and competitive losses to a number of world class fighters like Ayaka Miyao. She's talented, experienced and tough, and a real handful for those on the verges of world class.
Although a talented fighter we can't help but think that Abaniel lacks the style to really compete with Cai. The two fought back in 2015 and Cai won with ease and we suspect that will happen again here. Abaniel will try, she always try, but we can't see her coming out on top here against the Chinese fighter, who is continually improving and is just coming into her prime.
Although Macau once looked like being the Asian hub of boxing, with Top Rank putting on a number of high profile cards. Sadly the local economy took a downturn and the idea of Macau being a focal point of Asian boxing looks like a distant dream, unlikely to really happen.
Despite not living up to it's early promise Macau hasn't faded away from boxing altogether and this coming weekend it hosts two world title fights, including an IBF female Minimumweight title fight, as Etsuko Tada (16-2-2, 5) looks to defend her title against China's Cai Zong Ju (8-1, 1). For Tada the bout sees her defending the title for the first time, despite winning the belt more than a year ago, whilst Ju will be looking to claim her first world title.
Tada first made her name as an amateur, winning 46 of her 50 bouts in the unpaid ranks, before turning professional in 2008. In just her 5th bout she claimed the WBA fmelae Minimumweight title, and defended it from 2009 until 2013. During her reign she recorded 9 defended and fought in two unification bouts, drawing in both. Whilst her reign didn't set the boxing world on fire she did score notable results with draws against Naomi Togashi and Ria Ramnarine as well as wins over Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki.
Tada's reign finally came to an end in 2013, when she lost a narrow decision to Anabel Ortiz and the following year Tada would again come up short to Ortiz. In 2015 however Tada would become a 2-time champion as she claimed the IBF title. Sadly since winning that belt in December 2015 she hasn't been the most active of fighters, fighting in just a single stay busy bout since December 2015.
At her best Tada is a nightmare for fighters. She's tough, rough, skilled and full of energy. She's not a big puncher but is an energetic fighter who fights at a high pace and is very well established as a top fighter. Sadly at the age of 35 she is likely to be on the way down and may not have quite the energy at the top level as she had a few years ago.
Cai turned professional in 2014, just weeks before her 23rd birthday,. She won her debut but came up short just weeks later when she took on teenager Nampetch Kwanjaisrikod in Laos. Since that loss however Cai has gone from strength to strength and run her last 7. That winning run has seen her over-come the likes of Gretchen Abaniel, Mari Ando and Samson Tor Buamas, legitimising her as a genuine contender.
At her best Cai is a talented outside boxer. She lacks power but can fight when she needs to, though seems happier using her speed and boxing skills. Although under-rated Cai will see this as her opportunity to move from being a regional champion, who has held a variety of secondary titles, to a world champion and will have trained her heart out for this one.
Although Cai is on a good run, significantly younger than the champion and will have home advantage this bout really is a huge step up for her and it's hard to favour her against such an accomplished fighter as Tada. There is a chance, that at 35 Tada's engine will falter, but the reality is that Tada should have too much in the locker at this point in time for Cai. Cai may have the skills to see out the distance but we suspect she'll struggle to be competitive with the Shinsei managed champion.
We know that many boxing fans tend to over-look female boxing but there are some brilliant fighters out there and the lower weights are full of them. One such fighter is in action on December 11th as she looks to become a 2-time world champion. That fighter is former WBA female Minimumweight champion Etsuko Tada (14-2-2, 4) who faces Mexican fighter Kareli Lopez (8-5-3, 2), who has come in to the bout to replace the more established Victoria Argueta (13-2, 4), in a bout for the IBF female Minimumweight title.
Tada took up boxing after having been a street fight as a youngster. The boxing allowed her to develop her fighting and get paid for it as she began a very successful career. In just her 5th professional she became a world champion, dethroning the then unbeaten Cho-Rong Son to claim the WBA female Minimumweight title. Two fights later she tried to unify titles before being held to back-to-back draws.
As a champion Tada's reign only ended in her 10th defense, as she lost a close decision to Anabel Ortiz. By then she had notched notable wins over Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki, all of whom have since become staples on the world scene. Sadly for Tada she has since suffered another loss, in a rematch to Ortiz who holds the only two professional victories over Tada.
Aged 34 Tada is no longer a spring chicken however she still has a fantastic engine, a great will to win, impressive speed and a desire to climb back to the top of the sport. She's aggressive, talented, exciting and tough and will refuse to just accept a loss. Not only does she have that desire to be the best but she has the ability to go with it, and her long career as a fighter has seen her rack up an incredible amount of experience, including a brilliant 47-3 record.
Mexican fighter Lopez is a much less well known fighter than Tada, and as mentioned she has filled in for the very talented Victoria Argueta. She debuted back in 2009 and got off to a troubling start as she went 5-5-3, including a run of 0-4-2 over a 28 month win-less period. Since then however she has strung together some confidence building wins, including a brilliant victory over Brenda Flores for a Mexican title and a pair of wins over Carol Castro Madrid, with the second win seeing her claim the WBF title.
Although Lopez lacks a stand out win she has mixed with very talented fighters, including Jessica Nery Plata, Katia Gutierrez and Kenia Enriquez. She has lost to all 3 of those women, but did show her competitiveness in her bout with Plata, losing a split decision. Sadly however this will be her first world title bout and her first bout outside of Mexico, suggesting that she will be found wanting at the highest level and may well find herself feeling pout of place in the Lion(esses) den.
Whilst we think Lopez will try her heart out, this does seem to be too much of a step up for her and we can't see her really testing someone as good as Tada.
With Naoko Shibata eventually claiming a world title with her decision victory over Alondra Garcia back on November 14th, it's probably fair to hand the title of "the almost champion" of Japanese female boxing over to Kayoko Ebata (7-4, 4).
Ebata, like Shibata, has come heart wrenching close in previous bouts. These have included fighting to a majority decision in Thailand against Samson Tor Buamas in a WBC title fight and fighting in a competitive but clear loss to Tenkai Tsunami.
The 37 year old Ebata now fights in her third world title bout as she fights Mexican Nancy Franco (11-5-2, 4) for the vacant IBF female Minimumweight title. A title that has only been held by Katia Gutierrez.
Franco, fighting outside of Mexico for the first time, is a fighter who at just 24 years old is young and fresh. Despite having suffered 5 losses and being stopped twice in her career she is youthful and fresh faced.
Part of the reason for Franco having so many losses so early in her career has been the match making involved in her career. She has been sharing the ring with talented fighters such as Arely Mucino, Ibeth Zamora Silva and Ana Arrazola. This has seen her winning some and losing some though on the most part she has been competitive.
Although still young Franco has got world level experience thanks to her fights with the likes of Arrazola, Mucino and Zamora Silva, which were all scheduled for 10 rounds. Despite that she hasn't faced a crowd like the one she will be fighting in front of when she faces Ebata.
When it comes to Ebata we have a talented, tough fighter who hits with hurtful shots. Like Franco, Ebata picked up a number of early losses and actually started her professional career 3-4 with her losses coming to Samson, Tsunami, Naoko Shibata and Nanako Kikuchi, all of whom where, are or have been world champions.
Since the "poor start" to Ebata's career she has turned things around with 4 straight victories, including one over Cho-Rong Son for the OPBF title.
This level of competition and being at home, should be what sees Ebata defeating Franco, though of course at 37 it's hard to know what she has left in the tank and Franco may have the speed to make Ebata look all of her 37 years.
We favour Ebata to make the show a 2-0 for Japan with Ayaka Miyao fighting Gretchen Abaniel on the same show, though we'd refuse to write Franco off due to her youthfulness, especially considering what George Groves did in Britain against Carl Froch this past week end.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.