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.