The first of 3 world title fights in May 9th comes from Japan where fans get a female world title fight. The bout may not have the excitement factor of the two male world title bouts later in the day though it does promise a lot of very competitive action and also promises to see how legitimate the defending champion really is.
The champion in question is current WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (12-4-1, 6), a champion who has the looks of a model and the gutsy determination of a true fighter. She'll be needing to call on all that determination as she goes in to the second defense of her title and takes on perennial contender Masae Akitaya (9-5-2, 3), a woman in her 4th world title bout. Unfortunately for Akitaya she has always been the bridesmaid and never the bride.
Aged 24 the champion is a fighter who is still in the early stages of her career, despite the fact she made her debut way back in 2008. Like many fighters she didn't look special early one and actually lost 2 of her first 3 bouts, including a decision to current IBF female Light Flyweight champion Naoko Shibata. Since then however she's gone 11-2-1, with all 3 of her set backs coming to world class fighters with a loss and a draw to Saemi Hanagata and a loss to Etsuko Tada, and none of those results are too shameful.
Whilst Kuroki has come up short against most of her most notable foes she has also scored a number of solid wins. The first of those came against Amara Kokietgym back in 2011 and she has since added wins over Mari Ando, in what was her title winning effort, and Katia Gutierrez, in her only defense so far. In those wins against Ando and Gutierrez we saw Kuroki prove her toughness and she was forced to grind out the wins in bouts that saw her being pushed very hard by talented opponents.
As for Akitaya she's mixed with very good company through out her career. She began 5-0 with wins over Shindo Go and Mika Oda before suffering back to back losses to Amara Kokietgym and Nao Ikeyama in 2009-2010. Since then she has struggled to get her career back on track. Although she's struggled for form Akitaya has challenged the likes of Momo Koseki, Ayaka Miyao and Nao Ikeyema in world title fights, though she has failed to win any of those bouts.
Aged 37 when this fights takes place the challenger is essentially in last chance saloon and knows that if she fails to win here it's unlikely she'll get another shot. In many ways however she's lucky to even get this one considering the fact she has gone 1-3-1 in her last 5 bouts dating back more than 3 years. Part of that run has been due to her competition but losing to top fighters shouldn't be rewarded with more opportunities to do the same.
Although the challenger is in poor form she has the traits to make for exciting fights. She's gutsy, aggressive and comes forward throwing a lot of punches. Those punches may not have concussive power on them but they are a nightmare due to their volume and for Kuroki to retain her title she'll need to grit her teeth and fight through the often wild storm of shots. It's going to be a gut check for the champion who is a more technically capable fighter, but one who will need to show that can fight back when she had a very aggressive against her.
We suspect Kuroki will come out on top. She has the natural size advantage over a fighter who has made her career at Atomweight, though we do expect her to look less that world class here against a fighter who will make her work very hard for the win. It'll be exciting, action packed but not the highest quality for we'll see this year.
Earlier this year Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (14-3-1, 4) created history in several ways. She became the inaugural WBO Atomweight champion and, as far as we are aware, she also became the oldest first time champion in history, aged 43. On September 20th she will attempt to make the first defence of that title and become one of the oldest champions to defend a belt as she takes on fellow Japanese fighter Masae Akitaya (9-4-2, 3).
Having turned 44 by fight night Ikeyama will certainly be a fighter who knows her career is coming to an end. Last time out however she really shocked us by dominating the significantly younger Jessebelle Pagaduan, who was just 29 at the time. Strangely that bout seemed to tell us more about Pagaduan than it did about Ikeyama who had struggled in her 2 previous bouts and hadn't "dominated" an opponent in years.
Although skilled and with a surprisingly good engine we really can't ignore the age of Ikeyama who is as determined as they come but really "getting on" and battling mother nature, father time and her opponents. That is a trio that have defeated better fighters than Ikeyama in the past.
As for Akitaya, who herself is 36, her record is also blotchy in recent fights though she has, on the whole, been fighting at a higher level than Ikeyama. Those recent bouts have seen Akitaya suffer 2 losses to WBA Atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao and a draw with Saemi Hanagata as well as wins over some limited Thai visitors where were little more than fodder for Akitaya.
Akitaya is certainly crude though always comes to fight and has given Miyao one of her toughest fights. At 36 and with just 6 rounds in the last 19 months however some would ask just how much rust will be on the challenger.
Interesting there is another sub story to this fight. Not only is Akitaya attempting to claim a world title in her third attempt and Ikeyema looking for her first defence but Akitaya is also looking for revenge for a 2010 loss to Ikeyama in a very close 6 round bout. It may not mean much though it could be that extra incentive needed to bring out the best in the challenger.
With both women having been written off and having serious question marks over them going into this fight it's a very hard one to call. Ikeyama is the more skilled when she's on form though you need to wonder just how much the bout with Pagaduan flattered her. For us that bout really was an aberration and suggested that the Filipino was very poor as opposed to Ikeyama being something special. With that in mind we are going to favour Akitaya with her extra youth to over-come Ikeyama, it's a coin toss given their previous result but we'll be going with the challenger via a narrow decision victory in what we expect could be a surprisingly fun contest.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.