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
It's fair to say that whilst 2020 has been an horrific year for most there have been some positives to take from it including some in boxing. We have seen a massive improvement in match making in Thailand, to the point where we are genuinely looking forward to Thai shows when they take place. Another big winner has been female boxing, which has really been able to blossom in the UK during the no-crowd era, where cheaper purses has made female boxing a show saver. Fingers crossed both of those things continue when global normality resumes.
On the subject of female boxing one thing the UK is missing is a female domestic title scene, which we expect they will create in the coming years.
One country that has already got this is Japan and we see the next Japanese female national title fight this coming Sunday in Osaka. That title bout will see Yumi Narita (4-4-3, 1) defending her Japanese female Minimumweight title against Mont Blanc Miki (4-3-1, 1) at the EDION Arena Osaka. For the champion this will be her first defense, since winning the title in January, whilst the challenger will be looking to make the most of her latest opportunity.
The 31 year old Narita won the title this past January in her third title shot, after coming incredibly close in two previous bouts. She fought to a draw for the title in 2018, against Chie Higano, then lost a split decision to Higano in early 2019. In fairness she could have won either of those bouts. That has been pretty much the problem through her entire career, "she could have won that bout". In total she has had had 5 bouts that could have gone her way with the judges, and had that happened she'd be sat with a 9-2 record, and would certainly be seen differently in the eyes of fans.
Sadly for Narita her issues are, like many lower level female fighters. She lacks concussive power, her bouts end up being competitive and being a high tempo slugfest with both able to take the power of the other. The action often seems tit for tat and bouts can get messy very quickly. Sadly for Narita she makes life quite tricky for herself by lacking accuracy and throwing a lot of wide shots and seems to lack straight shots from her arsenal, something she will need if she's going to progress beyond Japanese title level. Thankfully she did put things together last time out, when she beat Yumiko Shimooka for the title, but in fairness Shimooka is a very limited fighter who had lost 5 of her previous 6.
In Mont Blanc Miki we have a 28 year old challenger who turned professional in 2017. She started her career with a win but was stopped in just her second bout, as tested the water above Light Flyweight. That loss sent her back down the scales she found success, and reeled off 3 more wins before. A move up to Light Flyweight in 2019 didn't bode well, as she was stopped in 2 rounds by Chan Mi Lim in South Korea. Sadly since that loss she has gone 0-1-1, though that did including a loss to Japanese Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda, last year. We had expected Matsuda to really have her way with Miki, though Miki held her own for 4 rounds before being stopped in round 5, in what was probably her best performance to date.
Although there is quite a few fights of Miki out there the one against Matsuda looks to be the most suitable to get a read on what Miki can do. In that bout she proved to be a super hungry fighter, who pressures a lot, can hold her own up close and has surprisingly good footwork. She loads a bit too much for our liking, though she seems much more accurate than Narita and physically stronger. Like Narita she's not the most accurate, but she's a very capable fighter, with a real aggressive attitude in the ring and she will be there pressing forward, looking to land big right hands and left hooks. Notably all 3 of her losses have been by stoppage, and she's not proven to have the best chin, despite her pressure style.
Despite entering as the challenger we actually think Miki will be the favourite here, or at least she should be viewed as the favourite. The advantages Miki has work well in her favour here. She's the physically stronger, more imposing and more accurate fighter of the two. Her work rate might not match that of Narita, but she's much more effective with her work than the champion. Also Miki's biggest flaw, her toughness, isn't likely to be an issue here given Narita doesn't have much in terms of power. Miki will get hit, probably quite a lot, but won't be in trouble from anything Narita throws at her.
Don't get us wrong, Narita is a live under-dog, and she won't want to give up her title, but she's certainly up against it here against a stronger, more powerful fighter than herself. Narita needs a perfect gameplan to win whilst Miki just needs to be herself and out hustle the champion.
Prediction - Miki UD6
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
Back in September Japanese fight fans in Sakai saw local fighter Tomoko Okuda (5-2-2, 1) earn a controversial draw against Kanako Taniyama (2-0-1, 1) in a bout for the Japanese and OPBF female Bantamweight titles. It seemed that Taniyama, the busier, more aggressive, fighter had done enough to earn the win. The judges thought otherwise and gave the local fighter the benefit of the doubt, well at least two of them did with both of those judges scoring the bout even over-ruling a 78-74 card for Taniyama.
On January 28th they go again, this time with Taniyama having home advantage with the bout taking place at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
The first bout, although controversial, was interesting through out. Okuda looked to box on the outside, keeping the bout at range and counter the aggression of Taniyama. Taniyama on the other hand wanted to make it a fight, pressing in bursts, and forcing the pace through out. Although Taniyama was the aggressor she did take a lot of clean punches herself, from the more technically correct Okuda. Those shots left Taniyama with a badly swollen left eye that she fought through. The final round, of what was an 8 rounder, was a mess as the two tiredly fell into each other during some wild exchanges.
We expect to see a similar dynamic here. Taniyama pressing, trying to drag Okuda into a fire fight. We would however be very surprised if Taniyama's eye swelled up like it did in their first bout, and we would also be shocked if the judges in Tokyo gave Okuda the same benefit they ones in Sakai did.
Instead we expect Taniyama's aggression, heart and determination to impress judges, and help her take the decision.
One interesting difference between this bout and their first, other than the venue, is the length. Their draw came in an 8 rounder, and this is only 6. So the mess of the final round, where there was a lot of clinching between wild exchanges, isn't likely to be seen here. It's also worth noting that after 4 rounds last time out the two were level on all 4 cards, meaning a hot start here could be key in taking the Japanese female Bantamweight title.
Still in saying that, we do still favour a Taniyama decision.
Prediction - UD6 Taniyama
The Japanese female title scene is a very mixed one. Some of the title fights are brilliant, well matched bouts between two fighters on their way up the ranks. Other times it appears the JBC just want to full a vacancy, and anyone will do. On January 27th we get a bout that firmly fits in the latter category as Yumiko Shimooka (4-7, 1) and Yumi Narita (3-4-3, 1) battle for the Japanese female Minimumweight title.
Coming in each fighter has won just 1 of their last 6 bouts, and for both women they without a win in their last 3. These aren't the best female fighters in Japan at 105lbs but with a vacancy that needs filling they are facing off for the belt.
The 38 year old Shimooka made her debut in 2014, and immediately struggled. She was stopped on debut, and despite winning 3 of her following 4 bouts never really built any career momentum. She has now lost 5 of her last 6 and hasn't fought since a decision loss to Mont Blanc Miki in November 2018. You need to go all the way back to December 2017 for her last win, which came in an upset against Umi Ishikawa.
Watching Shimooka you can see why she's lost so many bouts. She's crude, lazy, wide open, slow and not particularly busy. She telegraphs her punches and stumbles forward, often eating more than she throws as a result, and what she does throw is so horribly off balance.
Aged 30 Narita is the younger fighter, and the more active, with 2 fights last year. Incidentally she lost both of them by split decision, including a title fight to Chie Higano and a close loss to Sana Hazuki. Although she's win-less in 3 she was competitive in all 3 of those bouts and has interestingly drawn 3 of her last 6. One thing to realise when it comes to Narita is, win, lose or draw, she has generally been in close bouts.
Sadly however her limitations are very visible, much like Shimooka. She lacks power, she lacks variety and although she does have a busy jab, it lacks snap. It's more thrown as a stay away punch then a real scoring shot. Sadly when fighters walk through that jab she no real answer and often holds, leading to some messy action. Watching her she really doesn't appear to have anything at all on her back hand.
With the limitations of both should make this competitive but we can't help thinking that Narita, the younger, fresher, more active fighter, will do enough, just, to take this. Neither is particularly good but the jab of Narita, and her younger legs, are likely to prove the difference maker in a fight we expect to be very, very messy.
Prediction - SD6 Narita
It's fair to suggest that 2019 is going to go out in style, and to end the decade Watanabe gym will be promotin a show with a staggering 6 title bouts on it. Of those 6 bouts 3 are world title bouts, including a female title bout, two are regional title bouts and one is a female Japanese title bout.
Of course the least notable of those bouts is the female domestic title bout. Whilst the least significant it is actually a well-matched bout that deserves more than just a passing glance from fans more interested in the bigger bouts. In one corner will be 19 year old hopeful Yume Hirayama (4-0), whilst the other will house Marina Sayama (4-1-1, 2), they are the top two ranked Japanese domestic female Flyweights and they are both hunting their first title. They are also meeting for the second time, after first fighting back in 2017.
Back in 2017, when the women first fought, Hirayama took a decision win over Sayama. It was Hirayama's debut and she was the clear winner. Since then Hiayama has slowly carved out a a small but notable winning run, racking up victories against the then unbeaten Yui Akai and defeating Sachiko Kondo, who was recently the opponent of Tomomi Takano in her Japanese ring return. Although lacking in power she's an energetic fighter, bouncing around the ring with ease, boxing wonderfully out of a southpaw stance and controlling range well. Not only is she smart with her feet but she has enough sting on her shots to stop opponents in their tracks typically, especially with her sharp left hand.
At the age of 32 Sayama is looking to prove herself in a second sport, after having had a career as a professional football player, or soccer player for our American readers. She turned to boxing after she turned 29 and was probably a bit too old to make a major mark on the sport, though she did have the fitness to give it a good run. She won her first 2 bouts before losing to Hirayama in December 2017, then had a draw with Sachiko Kondo. Since the draw she has beaten Kondo in a rematch and stopped Korean for Chan Mi Lim, though sadly that Lim bout was over a year ago and she's been out of the ring since. Whilst Hirayama fights like a smart boxer with a bit of amateur experience, Sayama looks like someone who took to the sport late, but has done well to craft a style that works to her strengths. She's not as crisp, or as clean or as natural as Hirayama, but she does look very powerful, and her right hand is very much a big punch for her, though there is little else in her arsenal. It's also worth noting that Sayama had been dropped in the past, and we do wonder about her chin and overall durability.
Whilst Sayama is clearly the stronger, more physically mature and powerful fighter, we expect to see Hirayama using her footwork, speed and crisper punching to neutralise the advantages of Hirayama and take the decision win. We don't see her asking real questions of Sayama's toughness, but we do see her coming out on top whilst relying on her boxing skills.
Prediction - UD6 Hirayama
Whilst we have 2 title fights in Tokyo this coming Saturday it's worth noting there will actually be a third title fight take place in Japan, with the lesser of those coming in Kanagawa as Japanese veteran Kimika Miyoshi (14-12-1, 5) defends her Japanese female Featherweight title. In the opposite corner to the 35 year old champion is little known challenger Aira Midorikawa (5-0, 1), also 35, in what will be her first title bout of any kind.
Miyoshi is a legitimate veteran, with more than 11 years professional experience behind her. That long career has been filled with ups and downs, from losing her first 2 pro bouts to winning her OPBF title back in 2013, fighting in world titles bouts and becoming a rare 3 weight OPBF champion. She's not had a smooth career, but she has had an under-rated, and successful, one with bouts across the bout and getting chances to test herself with some of the best out there.
Although an inconsistent fighter through her 27 fight career Miyoshi has proven to be tough, exciting and aggressive. Sadly though Miyoshi is slow, cumbersome, technically limited and has neither impressive hand speed or foot speed. She's a trier, we'll give her that, but she's incredibly slow, often following opponents around the ring and struggling to get her shots off before her opponent gets away. When she managed to get her work off on the inside she looks good, but it often takes a willing opponent for her to get the action up close.
Debuting at the age of 33 in 2017 Midorikawa really didn't have much time to impress and sadly she hasn't really managed to do much at all as a professional. Her competition so far has been novices, and she hasn't looked great, despite remaining unbeaten. She's looked slow, clumsy and very light punching. Unlike some fighters in female boxing, who can turn pro late with a strong amateur background, there doesn't appear to be a natural fighter here, but instead someone that Watanabe Gym are trying to make into a fighter. Had this happened at a younger age Watanabe might have been able to get something out of her, but wee feel it's too little too late.
Watching Midorikawa we see a strong and big looking fighter, she has a cautious style yet has an aggressive mentality, coming forward, but doing so with a lot of jabs and a lot of weight on her back foot. She doesn't appear to have much in the way of power, and struggles to get respect of opponents, which is a genuine issue. That lack of power isn't helped by the fact that Midorikawa doesn't really throw a very good right hand. Her power shot comes from last week, and is so badly telegraphed and slow that it is unlikely to ever stop any one.
Whilst it's clear Miyoshi's career hasn't got long left, we can't help but feel she should have far, far too much for Midorikawa, who has shown little to test the veteran champion. We expect Miyoshi's pressure and work rate to be the difference here and for her to out work the challenger en route to a clear decision.
Prediction - UD6 Miyoshi
The female boxing scene is a rather weird one right now. We have a lot of really exciting emerging talent around the globe and then we have a big drop off to the domestic type fighters. That's seen quite clearly in the upcoming Japanese Featherweight title fight between Miki Mitsuda (5-5, 4) and Kimika Miyoshi (13-12-1, 5), who are both rather limited fighters. On paper this looks like a 50-50 bout, which is always a good thing, but it certainly doesn't look like a title fight.
Despite it's looks this is going to be a bout for the national title, and that's kinda disrespectful to the belt in some ways.
Despite our complaints however the bout looks like it could be a fun one to watch.
The limited, but relatively hard hitting, Mitsuda enters as the Japan and will be looking to make her first defense of the title. She won the belt this past April, when she stopped Asami Jinnari in their second bout, following a stoppage loss to Jinnari in 2018. She's turned her career around from a 1-4 start, but has yet to impress and has fought pretty much her whole career against low level domestic opposition. On paper she looks like a fearsome puncher, but in reality her record says more about her opposition than herself, and she's never likely to find herself competing on the world scene. She's crude, open and really just proof of why sometimes having a title says more about eligibility than skills.
At 35 years old Miyoshi is probably on the slide, though as we've seen in recent years female fighters do tend to slip a lot slower than their male counterparts. Sadly for Miyoshi she has lost her last 4, though that has included losses to Shannon O'Connell, Hyun Mi Choi and Wakako Fujiwara. At her best Miyoshi is a fringe world class fighter who has claimed OPBF titles over 3 weight classes, Bantamweight, Super Featherweight and Featherweight and has proven to be a durable fighter. Sadly she's certainly slowing down and is not the fighter who upset the likes of Riyo Togo and Chika Mizutani. Instead she's a fighter who is low on confidence and getting older by the fight.
Coming in to this it seems like the fighter on the 4 fight slide should be the under-dog against the champion, who has stopped her last 2 opponents and avenged her most recent loss. We however are picking the experience, toughness and durability of Miyoshi. We feel Miyoshi will simply wear down and Mitsuda, mentally and physically to take the win. Mitsuda will likely start the better of the two, but Miyoshi will come on strong to take the win.
Prediction - UD6 Miyoshi
The female scene in Japan is going through a big transition right now as the older generation appear to be ending their careers whilst a new wave of fighters are breaking through the ranks. The likes of Eri Matsuda and Kasumi Saeki are leading the new charge with Eruka Hiromoto not far behind. Another "novice" professional looking to get themselves a title in just a handful of bouts is former kick boxer Kanako Taniyama (2-0, 1) who returns to the ring this coming Monday to take on 36 year old Tomoko Okuda (5-2-1, 1), in a bout for the Japanese female Bantamweight title.
At 32 Taniyama is no young kid rising through the ranks, but is still a professional novice looking to rise quickly through the ranks. She turned to professional boxing after a leg injury limited her ability in kick boxing and she debuted as a boxer in December 2018, on a stacked female only card from Shinsei Gym. In her debut she beat experienced Thai Sumalee Tongpootorn in 2 rounds before following up with a decision over the limited but tough Phannaluk Kongsang this past March.
As we often see with kick boxers who turn to pro boxing later in life Taniyama hasn't got the greatest of footwork, but she's aggressive, appears to have solid power on her shots and despite being a little bit on the crude side, compared to Matsuda and Saemi, she does look like she understands how to put her weight behind shots. There's limitations, but there's enough to be excited about at this early stage in her career.
Okuda on the other hand is a southpaw who turned professional more than 4 years ago, but hasn't really accomplished much since beginning her career, just weeks before her 32nd birthday. Her best wins are a couple of competitive decision wins over the crude but hard hitting Miki Mitsuda in 2016 whilst her most notable results being her losses, a debut stoppage loss to Wakako Fujiwara and a narrow loss to Yoshie Wakasa last year.
Okuda isn't "bad" as such, but she's not particularly good either, and a bout a bout at this level, despite her experience compared to Taniyama's, is a step up in class. It's a step up that we don't feel she'll be successful with, her lack of power and rather basic fundamentals limiting her against the natural fighting spirit of Taniyama.
Okuda will try, she will always try, but Taniyama will simply be too good in the ring, too experienced as a fighter, and too heavy handed. We don't feel Okuda has the skills to make Taniyama pay for her clumsy footwork or her still rough around the edges style, and instead Taniyama will rack up the points and take a clear win.
Prediction- UD8 Taniyama
Female boxing is on the rise, with more attention being given to it than ever before and more and more female fighters being involved in interesting match ups. No longer is female boxing a case of a trained athlete against going up against someone who has little idea of the sport in a world title fight, but instead we're getting two trained fighters meeting a pure contest of skills. One of the best things about the rise in female boxing is that the previous generation's fighters are being met by a rising wave of young prospects who have come through the amateur ranks and look like polished fighters straight away.
We've already seen fighters like Kasumi Saeki and Eri Matsuda race away to titles, and we're now expecting to see Mizuki Chimoto (1-0, 1) follow suit. The unbeaten 25 year old from the Watanabe gym gets a chance to claim a title in just her second professional bout as she takes on Japanese female Minimumweight champion Chie Higano (8-8-1, 2) on June 25th. A win for Chimoto will see her match Matsuda's achievement of winning a title in just her second bout, whilst a win for Higano would be her first successful defense of the title.
Chimoto was a stellar amateur, running up a 45-12 record in the unpaid ranks, placing in national competitions and gaining some valuable international experience. That foundation saw her turn professional last year with big expectations on her shoulders. She debuted in November, on an all female card, and impressed as she stopped Thai visitor Kannika Bangnara in 3 rounds. It was clear from the start that Shimoto knew her way around the ring, she judged distance well, made the Thai flail at the air and landed her own sharp shots. She looked incredibly relaxed and calm, sharp and smart, and mixed up her shots really well.
Despite being a professional novice it's clear that Chimoto is a very talented and special fighter, and someone who's amateur credentials have marked her as someone who will be fast tracked.
With 17 fights behind her Higano is much more experienced in the pro-ring than Chimoto and she debuted more than 5 years ago. The 34 year old has a very mixed record, but she has been in with a genuine who's who of the Japanese female scene, including Shione Ogata, Saemi Hanagata, Momo Koseki and Nanae Suzuki. In terms of international bouts she has faced the likes of Eun Hye Lee and Casey Morton, and was very competitive with both. Despite being a veteran she only actually won her Japanese title this past February, in her second shot at the title.
Despite losing 8 of her 17 bouts Higano is a really solid fighter, she's aggressive, she sets a high work-rate and comes forward with a lot of upper body movement high volume output. There's a lack of real crispness to her work, but she's a nightmare with her pressure and output and will ask a lot of questions of very good fighters.
Higano certainly has the style to test Chimoto, she has the experience and energy to push the novice all the way in a really tough bout. But, we suspect the amateur skills, the crisp punching and the sharp movement of Chimoto will see her over the line and put her on the fast track to a world title fight. It'll be tough, but we see Chimoto taking the clear decision.
Prediction Chimoto UD6
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.