On September 1st we'll see a new Japanese Atomweight champion being crowned as the unbeaten pairing of Sumire Yamanaka (5-0, 1) and Honoka Kano (4-0-2, 2) battle for the vacant title at Korakuen Hall. The bout is expected to be a major stepping stone in the career of both women, who are both eying up future success well above domestic level, however both will also know this is set to be the toughest bout of their career. A win would be huge for either woman, though both are young enough to take a loss, and bounce back stronger in the future, and defeat is certainly not the end for them.
The more well known of the two women involved in this bout is 20 year old hopeful Sumire Yamanaka, the younger sister of former world champion Ryuya Yamanaka. The diminutive Yamanaka has been ear marked for success by Shinsei Gym but has struggled a little bit in the professional ranks, despite her unbeaten record. Sadly for her, her lack of size, standing at less than 5', and lack of physicality has made life hard for her, and at just 20 there is significantly physical development for her to still go through. Despite that there is no doubting her hunger for success and she did look to find a bit of killer instinct in her most recent bout, which took place in Thailand. It seems fair to say that Yamanaka isn't the complete article, but even as a work in progress there is a lot to like about her. She's aggressive, gutsy and does have a nice mix of skills and weapons in her arsenal.
For us Yamanaka seems to be the type of fighter who is 3 or 4 years away from what she'll become, but is still a very notable female prospect in a division which has long been dominated by fighters from Asia.
As for Kano, the 27 year old she made her debut in 2019 and looked big and powerful in her first bout, before being held to a draw just a few months later. Through her career so far she has continued to look power, big, strong and like someone who has the physical attributes to compete well above the Atomweight division, and she will easily tower over Yamanaka in this fight. In the ring Kano is aggressive, she looks to cut the distance, use he physicality and bully opponents, whilst throwing and landing big, heavy shots. Given her aggression she is often willing to take on to land one, and is defensively poor, but is tough and strong enough to know she can take one to land one, especially at this level. Her biggest issue is her balance and footwork, with very sloppy footwork and the technical side of her game is lacking, but that's typical for a fighter with just 5 bouts to their name.
Whilst we feel that Yamanaka is very much a work in progress, and will look like she's being dwarfed by Kano, we do feel her aggression, and the style of the two women will play in her favour. If Kano was the type of fighter who kept things long, and used her size to box at range this would be a really, really tough for Yamanaka. Instead Kano will look to bring the fight, Yamanaka will respond, getting inside and working away with shorter, crisper shots up close. The power and strength of Kano could be the difference maker, but we feel that the inside work of Yamanaka will actually be the key to her taking a narrow decision win.
Prediction - UD6 Yamanaka
This coming Saturday we'll see a new Japanese female Atomweight champion being crowned as Kaoru Iga (5-2-1) and Natsuki Tarui (4-8-2) battle for the currently vacant title. The bout isn't a mouth watering one, but these lower level female bouts in Japan do tend to be rather fun to watch, with a lot of leather being thrown and the winner will know they will only be a fight or two from a potential world title fight.
Of the two it's fair to say Iga will be the favourite. The 29 year old is the younger, taller fighter and the one with the more impressive looking record. She is less experienced than Tarui, but neither is exactly a veteran of the sport, or has bucked of top tier experience to their name.
Iga debuted in 2019, fighting to a draw on debut, and she lost her second professional bout, but since then she has gone 5-1, with her most notable bout to date being a loss in an OPBF female Light Flyweight bout in 2021. That bout showed she was flawed, but had been improving, and was a fighter who was still very much in the developmental stage of her career. For this bout she is moving down in weight and should, if she doesn't take much out of herself with the cut, be a pretty strong and powerful fighter at 102lbs.
In the ring Iga is, sadly, a bit all of the place and looks very much like a woman from the previous era of boxing. She looks nervous under pressure, over-reaches, and sets her feet heavy on the ring. There is very little polish and finesse about her, and she often looks very, very right hand happy. If it was a crisp, clean, sharp right hand that would be a good weapon, but instead it's a predictable, somewhat slow right hand, with little behind it. There is no real weight on any of her shots, and a lot of that is down to her form, which is poor, from her footwork to her punching technical. Thankfully she has been improving, but a lot of errors are still in her game and she is still defensively very open.
Aged 30 Tarui is only a little bit older than Iga, but has been a professional for much longer, having debuted back in 2014, with 14 bouts and 63 professional rounds under her belt. Tarui is a diminutive fighter, standing at under 4'11", and a natural Atomweight, getting her second shot at the Atomweight title. Her career has seen her getting very mixed results, but she has really turned things around since the start of her career. She began her career with 4 straight losses, including 2 by stoppage, and just a single win in her first 7 bouts. Since then she has gone 3-3-1, with all 3 of those losses being incredibly close, and with only a bit of luck she could easily have had a 10-4 record.
Although Tarui is small she is also a bundle of energy and her 2021 loss to Sumire Yamanaka showed she is much, much better than her record suggests. She's quick, sharp, relaxed in the ring and does through plenty of leather. Sadly for her she does seem to lack confidence in the ring, but has got plenty of tools in her arsenal with under-rated footwork, nice hand speed, and good counters. She makes her lack of size work in her favour, being a small target, and although it looks like a good jab could keep at range, there isn't too many female fighters at 102lbs with really good jabs, meaning she can have success against most out there.
Although Iga will be the favourite, as she should be, we genuinely wouldn't be surprised by an upset here. Tarui is the more naturally talented boxer, the more rounded fighter and the one who seems to have a lot more going for her. Iga will certainly have moments with her right hand, but we expect the work rate, aggression and footwork of Tarui to be the difference in a genuinely notable upset at this level.
Prediction - SD6 Tarui
This coming Sunday is a pretty big one for female boxing in Japan with two shows at the with two shows at the Sangyo Shinko Center, in Sakai. The second of those shows is headlined by a female world title bout whilst the other is an all female show, headlined by a Japanese Atomweight title fight between defending champion Kaori Nagai (5-2-3, 2) and unheralded challenger Natsuki Tarui (4-6-2).
Nagai, who is now 31, made her debut in December 2015, and did so in disappointing fashion, losing her first 2 bouts. In fact after 6 bouts she was 1-2-3, and few would have given her any chance to make a mark on the sport. Since then however she has turned her career around, reeling off 4 wins including her title win. Not only has she been picking up wins but she has taken an unbeaten record along the way and scored two wins over a former world title challenger, in the form of Momoka Kanada.
In the ring Nagai is fairly limited, if we're being honest, and there is no sign of her ever becoming a world champion. However, she's a fun woman to watch, letting off straight punches and trying to avoid the typical gruelling mauling action we've come to see a lot of in female boxing. She's someone who looks like she wants to fight at range, use her legs and firing off combinations at range. When it does come to action on the inside she can fight there, though often looks less comfortable there, and she often seems happier at mid-range than in the pocket. Sadly she lacks power, and there is a rushed look to a lot of her work, but she really has improved so much over the years and we suspect the title will galvanise her, and go on to make her a better fighter.
At 29 years old is the younger fighter, but despite that she's the more experienced, having made her debut in 2014. Just like Nagai she also struggled to get going with her career and lost her first 4 bouts, and was 1-5-1 after 7 bouts. Her only win during that early stretch of her career came against boxing model Riyako Goshi. She has, like Nagai, managed to turn things around and is 3-1-1 in her last 5, During that recent run she has given 3 fighters their first loss, and held the always fun to watch Mont Blanc Miki to a 6 round draw.
Interestingly Tarui is also a fighter who knows how to use her feet, and seems happier at mid-range, she's got quick hands, throws straight punches and seems like the sort of fighter who has got plenty of tools in her arsenal. Sadly though she also lacks power, big time, and she's physically lacking in strength and size and looks like she could be bullied around quite easily. She also doesn't really look that technically sound and loses her composure a lot. At her best she's genuinely very good, much better than her record suggests, but it's hard to know just how much of a fight will be her at her best. If she's on song for 6 rounds, at Japanese level, she could be a very tough fighter to beat.
Whilst this bout is an easy one to look over, especially given the weight and records of the two fighters, we genuinely are excited about it. The women match up really well, their styles should gel well, and we should get a very exciting, relatively clinch free, fight, with a lot of leather thrown by both fighters. We suspect the edge in speed for Tarui will be key to her gameplan, but by that same taken Nagai is probably the more physically imposing we it wouldn't be a surprise to see her use that to try and slow down Tarui if she needs to.
The two fighters match each other really well and this should make for a very close and exciting bout. We are expecting this to be a fun one, a hotly contested one and one where the judges will be torn. They will have a very tough time scoring it, but those watching will have a joy watching a high tempo, high action fight with every round being close.
Prediction - SD6 Nagai
The Atomweight division is certainly not a division that gets much attention, despite featuring a number of excellent match ups in recent years. It is, after all, a female only weight class and is the smaller weight class in professional boxing, with a weight limit of 102lbs. Despite the fact it's often over-looked it does, typically, give us high intensity action with a lot of leather thrown.
Not too long ago Japanese national Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda vacated her title, and we'll see that vacancy being filled on July 25th, in the first Japanese female title bout of the restart. Not just will we have a new champion being crowned, but we will also be getting a rematch as Kaori Nagai (4-2-3, 2) and Momoko Kanda (10-12-2, 4) clash for the second following a bout last September.
In their first bout Nagai took the victory, claiming her biggest win, with a 6 round split decision. That was a massive win for Nagai and saw her becoming the #1 contender for the Japanese title. Prior to that win there was almost nothing of note on her record. She had failed to win her first 3 bouts, and was 1-2-3 after 6 contests, but the win over Kanda saw him secure a third straight win and she will be coming into the bout with moment on her side.
As for Kanda her record might not be impressive but her career is far from a wash out. The 24 fight veteran has been in with a genuine who's who of the lower weights. She has fought the likes of Ibeth Zamora Silva, Masae Akitaya, Joselyn Arroyo Ruiz, Ayaka Miyao, Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, Yuko Kuroki and Mika Iwakawa among others. Although she has picked up losses she has never been stopped and has always been there to win. She's tough and comes to fight but lacks that single standout trait needed to get wins against the higher level fighters.
At 33 years old we get the feeling that Kanda needs a win here, and will be hungry for that victory. This is likely to be her last title shot, and another loss will see her left in the dark. She has won titles in the past, but we suspect she'll want this one too, to become the third Japanese female Atomeweight champion. She'll also be after revenge. We see those being driving forces for a great performance from Kanda, who think will take a very close, and very hotly contested decision. Nagai will be there to win, she'll give it everything, in what will be a sloppy but high octane war but we favour the driving forces behind Kanda to be the difference here.
Prediction - SD6 Kanda
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.