On September 26th at we'll get the first world title fight in Japan since the restart of boxing in the country, with the bout taking place in Kobe. Sadly it's not a huge bout, but it is an interesting one, as WBO Atomweight champion Mika Iwakawa (9-5-1, 3) makes her first defense, around 26 months after first winning the title back in July 2018. In the opposite corner to the world champion will be former Japanese national champion Nanae Suzuki (10-3-1, 1). On paper this doesn't look amazing, but should still be a pretty interesting bout for the Atomweight division, and could shake things up, or take us a step towards a potential unification.
The 37 year old Iwakawa made her debut in 2011, though found her career on the rocks early on following an injury to her eye, and a bad run of form. At the end of 2013 it seemed her career was done. She was 3-3-1 (1), the wrong side of 30 and had lost gone win less in 2013, losing Mako Yamada and Nao Ikeyama and drawing with Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, all of whom went on to win world titles. She returned in 2015 and despite losing on her return she began to build some moment and moved her record to 6-5 (2), claimed the OPBF title and got her first world title fight. She lost in that world title fight, to Yunoka Furukawa, but less than 2 years later she beat Nao Ikeyama to claim the WBO Atomweight title.
Sadly since winning the title in July 2018 Iwakawa has taken a leaf out of Gary Russell Jr's playbook, fighting just once in 2019, in what was a none title fight against Momoko Kanda.
Sadly there isn't a lot of footage of Iwakawa out there, but what there is shows a tough, aggressive fight. She likes to let hooks go, but she has some awful footwork, squaring up a lot and looking to have a fire fight. Against Furukawa that had some real success, but in the end the youth and energy of Furukawa was the difference maker at times.
Aged 28 Suzuki is the much younger fighter and actually only turned professional in 2016. Like Iwakawa she struggled early on, and lost 2 of her first 3, but since than has gone 9-1-1, with her only loss coming to the excellent Eri Matsuda. Her wins haven't been at a mega high level, but they have included victories over Chie Higano, Sana Hazuki and Kanyarat Yoohanngoh, and she has claimed the Japanese national title.
Although Suzuki is an aggressive fighter as well, her style is very different to that of Iwakawa. Instead of squaring up and firing hooks, Suzuki boxes aggressively. She does still square up sometimes, but throws far more straight shows, and looks to wear opponents down with volume, rather than huge power swings. She takes risks, with 2 handed assaults being a common thing, but she also moves around the ring well and seems like she has a lot of energy to burn.
Although Iwakawa is the champion, and before the bout was talking about seeking unification bouts, this is actually a bout that we see her struggling with. She may have the edge in terms of physical strength but in reality the speed, stamina, work rate and footwork of Suzuki will prove to be the difference over the 10 rounds.
We see Iwakawa having moments early on, but being out pointed at the end by Suzuki's more sustained and busy aggression.
For fans wanting to watch this one, it will be streamed live on BOXING REAL.
Prediction - UD10 Suzuki
The Atomweight division, 102lbs, is the lowest weight in professional boxing and is a weight unique to female boxing. It's not had the greatest of reputations, with the lack of depth being a major issues, but it has given us some notable fighters, like the great Momo Koseki and the often fun to watch Ayaka Miyao. It's also responsible for Japan's oldest ever champion, current WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (18-3-3, 5) who holds her title at the age of 48. In fact not only is Ikeyama an old champion but she was 44 when she actually won the belt.
This coming Sunday Ikeyama looks to stretch her reign to 7 defenses and make sure she continues to be recognised as a world champion beyond her 49th birthday. Trying to prevent her form that is former foe Mika Iwakawa (7-5-1, 3), herself a 35 year old fighting in her second world title shot.
These two women fought first back in 2013, when they clashed in a 6 rounder. That bout saw Ikeyama end a 3 year break from the ring to face off with Iwakawa, and with the win Ikeyama moved onto a world title bout for the then newly created WBO Atomweight title, defeating Jessebelle Pagaduan for the title. Sadly for Iwakawa the loss, by majority decision, seem to cause her career to stall, with Iwakawa spending well over a year away from the ring. Since returning Iwakawa had since gone 4-2 and despite claiming the OPBF female Light Flyweight title has never really managed to generate much career moment.
Despite being almost 50 Ikeyama is well known for her incredible stamina. She has gone 10 rounds in 6 of her last 7 bouts and has done so at a fantastic tempo. Not only that but she's been able to raise the tempo in the second half of fights when she's had to, against much younger fighters. As a champion she has defended the title against some weak challengers, like Norj Guro for example, but also twice against Saemi Hanagata and once against the aforementioned Miyao. She's not a puncher, but she's such an energetic fighter that few will hang with her, especially in the later rounds.
As for Iwakawa her only previous world title bout was arguably her best performance, a losing effort to the heavy handed Yunoka Furukawa in December 2016. Like Ikeyama it's fair to saw that Iwakawa is also a fighter who relies on her work rate and stamina as opposed to her power or defensive work. Given that she likes to let her hands go we're expecting he to go toe-to-toe with Ikeyama in what should make for an all action bout.
This bout will end up being a back and forth slugfest. With neither fighter having much in terms of power we can't see an early finish, but we can see a potential female fight of the year contender with intense action, getting better round by round. We do however favour the veteran to come out on top, with her added experience, especially over the 10 round distance. It'll be frantic and close, but we suspect Ikeyama will be the winner and extend her title reign a little longer.
Earlier this year Japanese fighter Yunoka Furukawa (8-1-2, 6) announced herself on the Oriental scene, claiming the OPBF female Flyweight title with a 7th round stoppage against Christine Latube, and then announced herself on the world scene, claiming the WBA Atomweight title with a 3rd round TKO against Satomi Nishimura. The drop down in weight, of 10lbs, was an impressive feat by it's self but to see how destructive she was at the new weight was a scary thought for the division.
This coming Tuesday Furukawa returns to the ring to make her first defense of her Atomweight title, as she takes on OPBF Female Light Flyweight champion Mika Iwakawa (6-4-1, 2), who drops to Atomweight for her first world title bout.
On paper the bout looks like a mismatch, but in reality it should be a lot more interesting than the records suggest.
Furukawa is a destructive wrecking ball. She's not the smoothest or most skilled boxer but she is a a natural puncher who has stopped her last 4, fighting as high as Flyweight, with notable wins against the likes of Nishimura and Aiko Yamagishi. She's also been in great form, going 7-0 (5) following a 1-1-2 start to her professional career. The early career set backs have all been put behind her and at 22 she looks to be a force for both the present and the future.
Before Furukawa faces some of the more notable fighters at 102lbs, like Momo Koseki, it's clear she needs some more experience and defenses against the likes of Iwakawa will her her develop that experience and build towards the divisional super fights.
The 33 year old Iwakawa has been a professional for around 5 years and although he record is less than stellar she has mixed with some really notable names. That has seen her go 1-0-1 with world chanmpion Kumiko Seeser Ikehara, lose to future champion Mako Yamada and push current champion Nao Ikeyama all the way. She has also lost to brilliant Mexican Brisa Hernandez. Last time out she beat Nonggig Sithjaanart, to claim the OPBF female Light Flyweight title and is looking to build on that win.
Through her career so far Iwakawa has never been stopped, despite facing decent competition, but her lack of power has been an issue and will prove to be on here against Furukawa. She's probably the better “fighter” in terms of skills but the huge disparity in physicality and power is likely to be a real issue for her here.
Whilst Iwakawa is certainly better than her record suggests it's hard to imagine her being able to hang with Furukawa who we suspect will, eventually, stop the challenger, likely in the middle rounds of the bout.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.