On September 1st we'll see OPBF Atomweight champion Eri Matsuda (4-1-1, 1) look to get back to winning ways as she puts her title on the line and takes on Kaori Nagai (6-4-3, 2) at Korakuen Hall. On paper this looks like a straight forward win for the highly skilled Matsuda, however things are certainly not as easy as they look on paper, and she will likely be asked serious questions by someone who is much better than her record suggests.
Matsuda, now aged 28, was touted for success from the moment she called time on her amateur career. Her record in the unpaid ranks was 21-12 (9), and whilst that's certainly not a spectacular record she showed the skills and tools in those amateur bouts to make a real mark on the professional scene. Her amateur skills showed almost immediately, as she beat Sana Hazuki on debut before taking the OPBF female Atomweight title in just her second professional bout. In her third bout she unified the OPBF title with the Japanese title, beating Nanae Suzuki, and in just 13 months as a professional she had raced to 4-0 (1). Sadly for Matsuda the pandemic really screwed with her career and she the entire of 2020 on the side-lines before returning in early 2021, after 18 months out of the ring. On her return she put in a great effort but was held to a majority decision draw by IBF Atomweight champion Saemi Hanagata. Following that disappointment, she was out of the ring for another 11 months before suffering a majority decision loss to Ayaka Miyao this past February, in another IBF title fight. With those results it is now almost 3 years since Matsuda last scored a win and we do need to wonder what she's like mentally given those results against Hanagata and Miyao.
In the ring Matsuda is very much a fighter who boxes as an amateur. She keeps things long, uses great technical skills and boxes on the move. She has a solid jab and a great straight left hand, with good footwork and solid stamina. Fighting out of the southpaw stance she makes her style and size work well, but she does need to work really hard at times to get the space to work. Due to her style, which is very much based on movement and keeping on her toes, she rarely sits on shots and really doesn't have the power to hurt fighters, which is a major issue for her against top tier opponents, like Hanagata and Miyao. However against pretty much everyone else in the division, her skills will be enough to secure the rounds needed for a decision.
Nagai, who is now aged 32, has proven her value in the sport as a gate keeper of sorts, rather than a genuine threat at the upper echelons of the regional scene. She made her debut in 2015 and lost her first 2 bouts before going on a solid unbeaten run of 9 fights, with notable wins over Momoko Kanda, for the Japanese Atomweight title and Natsuki Tarui. Sadly that run ended in September 2021, when she lost a decision to Ayaka Miyao and since then she has also lost to Mizuki Chimoto, in a competitive bout for the OPBF Minimumweight title. Those recent losses, to Miyao and Chimoto, showed she wasn't world class, but she did take rounds from both fighters and did enough to prove her will to win and toughness, things needed to become a gatekeeper type of fighter.
In the ring Nagai is a busy fighter with a lot of movement, a busy jab and nice speed, in fact she almost matched the incredibly quick Miyao at times. Sadly though she doesn't sit on her shots at all, and although she has a busy jab there is little else in her offensive arsenal. Take the jab away from her and she really does offer very, very little other than a lot of movement and being something of an irritant, rather than a threat.
We expect Matsuda to somewhat cruise to a victory here, though Nagai may have the speed to catch Matsuda with the occasional shot here and there. Sadly the fact Matsuda is a southpaw is likely to negate the jab of Nagai and essentially leave her weapon-less. As a result we expect to see Matsuda simply out boxing, out skilling and out landing Nagai. Matsuda might have trouble landing in the first few rounds, due to the speed and movement of Nagai, but when she gets her timing down she will be landing regularly en route to a clear, wide and dominant win.
Prediction - UD8 Matsuda
On May 15th we'll see a clash for the OPBF female Minimumweight champion Mizuki Chimoto (3-0, 1) defends her title against Kaori Nagai (6-3-3, 2). For Chimoto this is a chance for her to continue her rapid ascent through the rankings and make a move towards a world title fight later in the year, whilst Nagai gets a chance to add an OPBF title to her collection, which already includes the Japanese Atomweight title.
Of the two fighters the 27 year old Chimoto is the more accomplished, and the more highly regarded. She was an excellent amateur, representing Japan at the World Youth Championships and placing in the All Japan Championships several times. She has also shined as a professional winning the Japanese female Minimumweight title in her second bout, and the OPBF title in her third bout, beating former world champion Yuko Kuroki for that OPBF title.
In the ring Chimoto is a technically well schooled fight who's patient early on, light on her fighter, and applied intelligent and meaningful pressure. She's not in the ring to let her hands go every second of every round, but when she does let them go she's throwing with the intent of landing meaningful shots. Unlike some female fighters she also has a very solid guard, and good defensive skills, as well as intelligent defensive footwork, getting out of range just as well as she gets into it. Notably Chimoto is also physical strong, which works well with her style, and has under-rated upper body movement, when she uses it. Whyen she needs to up the tempo she can, but it often seems like she's fighting within herself, keeping something back and in the tank until she needs to call on it. Watching her it's clear she's an excellent talent, but someone who likely needs some seasoning, and some more ring time, before moving up another level.
Aged 32 Nagai is someone who has turned her career around after a very shaky start. She lost her first 2 bouts and was 1-2-3 after 6 contests, but has since gone 5-1, winning and defending the Japanese Atomweight title along the way. Notably her one loss since her second professional bout came last time out, to former world champion Ayaka Miyao, who showed that there was levels to the sport, despite a good effort from Nagai. On paper Nagai doesn't hold any wins of major note, but she has twice beaten Momoko Kanda as well as taking the unbeaten record of Ryo Sawai. She hasn't made a major mark on the sport, but she has really improved since her early days as a professional and could end up mixing in world level in a few years time, given the rate of her progress.
In the ring Nagai looks pretty basic, there's nothing that really stands out about her in terms of power, speed or work rate, and she does, unfortunately for her, look very upright with her chin in the air. Despite her flaws however she is getting results, and that comes down to her will to win, her ability to land sweeping shots, particularly with her right hand. She's lucky to have not fought a big puncher so far, but there's not many of them in the lowest weights of women's boxing, and her drive and willingness to grit her teeth through tough moments has earned her some good results so far. Sadly though against polished fighters we do expect her to come up short, as she did against Miyao.
Here we expect to see Nagai simply being out boxed, out fought, out thought, and out punched by a more polished, sharper, younger, faster and all round better fighter. Nagai, given her tenacity, will have moments against Chimoto, likely moments in every round, but won't have enough of them to impress the judges, with Chimoto landing the cleaner, better shots.
Prediction - UD8 Chimoto
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.