Professional boxing has spread to almost every country out there as the search for global stars and a new market of fans continues to go on. This coming Sunday we see another country added to the long list of others that have hosted world title bouts, that country is Sri Lanka.
The bout in question will see Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (16-3-1, 4) defending her WBO Atomweight title against experienced Filipino Jujeath Nagaowa (13-15-1, 8). The bout is, obviously, an historic one given the host nation of the bout, and is one that is likely to receive more attention due to it's historical status than anything regarding it, such as the fighters involved.
The champion is a 46 year old who is really enjoying an Indian summer in her career. She turned pro back in 2003, as a 34 year old “whippersnapper”, fighting outside of the remit of the JBC, who at the time didn't sanction female boxing. Despite struggling to get recognition early in her career she did manage to claim the JWBC 102lb title and the WIBA Minimumweight title.
After running up a 10-1-1 (4) record Ikeyama faced her biggest test, the then WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki. Koseki showed the difference in ability dominating the then 39 year old Ikeyama, who struggled to win a round. That was following by 3 more fights in around 19 months, including another loss to talented Korean fighter Ji Hyun Park, in a fight for an IFBA title.
Having moved to 12-3-1 (4) by the end of 2010 Ikeyama then vanished from the boxing for 3 years before resurfacing in 2013 and beginning a remarkable rise which has seen her claim the WBO world title, courtesy of a victory over Jessebelle Pagaduan, and secure two defences.
Despite her age the champion is a talented fighter with good timing, good stamina, a wonderful will to win and a steely toughness. She's not a big puncher but her work rate seems to make up for that and unlike many older fighters it doesn't seem that father time has taken too much from her, yet. Saying that however there is always a chance that she could “get old over-night” and suddenly look like a shot fighter.
At 28 years older the challenger has a significant age advantage, however looking at her record she does look like a very limited title challenger, in fact she has one of the worst records of any recent title challenger. Saying that however records only tell part of the story, especially with Filipino fighters like Nagaowa.
Nagaowa has been a professional boxer since 2006 and has faced a veritable who's who. Included in those that she has fought are the likes of Shindo Go, Samson Tor Buamas, Saemi Hanagata, Ju Hee Kim, Teeraporn Pannimit, Naomi Togashi, Momo Koseku, Ji Hyun Park, Mari Ando and Louisa Hawton. Whilst the only one of those that she beat was Hanagata she was also unlucky against Kim and gave both Hawton and Ando problems.
In the ring Nagaowa is aggressive and tough. She's not the most skilled, and often depends on will as opposed to skill, but can be a real handful, as Kim found out. Her style can be neutralised by real world class fighters but those outside of that top level will always struggle with her, and importantly she has been improving through her career, even if the results don't show it.
For Ikeyama a win is expected, but, as mentioned, she is giving up a lot of age to the challenger who could force the pace and action and really force the champion to dig deep. If Ikeyama can control the pace she wins this comfortably, however if Nagaowa can close the distance and force the fight then this will be a brilliant way to begin professional boxing in Sri Lanka.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.