Over the last few years female boxing has gone from strength to strength and no longer is female boxing only for the hardcore fight fans, who watch anything they can. Whilst it's not fully crossed over into the main stream, there are certain fighters who have connected with a wider audience than ever before, such as Katie Taylor, and we are seeing more and more hints towards getting all-female cards in the UK and the US.
Whilst it's great to see more countries embracing female boxing it's worth noting that a number of countries have been putting on notable female bouts for years, such as Mexico, Argentina and Japan. That looks to continue for the foreseeable future, including this coming Thursday, when Japanese fans at Korakuen Hall get an interesting IBF Atomweight title fight.
The first in question will pit defending champion Saemi Hanagata (16-7-4, 7) against novice Eri Matsuda (4-0, 1) in a really intriguing bout. For Hanagata the bout will be her second defense, following her title win in 2018 against Yuko Kuroki, whilst Matsuda will be getting her first crack at a world title. For Hanagata the bout is a chance to prove she is the Japanese queen of the division whilst Matsuda is looking to force a generational shift in the division, and prove the new women of Japanese boxing are just as good at the legends that put Japanese female boxing on the map over the last 15 years or so.
Fans who have followed Japanese female boxing will be familiar with Hanagata and her career. The 36 year old debuted way back in 2008 and has been bouncing around the world title picture since 2012, when she challenged the legendary Momo Koseki for the WBC Atomweight title. Whilst Hanagata managed to establish herself as a world class fighter rather early on, it wasn't long until she became a fighter with a reputation of not being able to get it done at the top level. By the end of 2017 she had gone 0-2-2 in world title bouts, and it seemed like she was never going to get over the line. She already won the OPBF title but couldn't get over the line at world level. Thankfully for Hanagata it was fifth time lucky in 2018 when she scored a split decision win over Yuko Kuroki for the IBF title, and a year later she recorded her first defense, defeating Nao Ikeyama. Now she's looking to continue her reign as a champion, and return to action 18 months after her last bout.
One of the things that made Hanagata such a popular fighter was her incredible desire to win. After failing to win in her first 4 world title bouts she had still desire and hunger to climb towards another shot. That wasn't just hunger for a shot though, it was hunger every time she stepped in the ring. It didn't matter who she was against she was a rampaging monster in between the ropes. She pressed forward almost constantly, she threw a lot of leather, and never stopped coming forward. Her desire to become a champion was just an extension of the desire shown in her in ring style and tenacity. She was an aggressive, pressure fighter who made for fan friendly bouts. For those with Boxing Raise we really suggest giving her bouts a watch, they are almost always thoroughly entertaining wars.
The 26 year old Matsuda debuted back in 2018 and was moved quickly through the ranks after a solid amateur career. In her debut Matsuda beat recent world title challenger Sana Hazuki before winning her first title, in just her second bout, as she beat Minayo Kei for the OPBF Atomweight title. Soon after that she unified the OPBF and Japanese titles, with a win over Nanae Suzuki, and would defend the Japanese title once, with a TKO win over Mont Blanc Miki.
Despite her lack of experience Matsuda has already got 27 professional rounds under her belt, shown she can do 8 rounds at a good pace and has faced a number of aggressive pressure fighters, and has shown the tools to go a long way, though obviously still has a lot of work to do. In the ring her style is very much an amateur style, with her focus being on straight punches, maintaining distance and a lot of footwork. It's a style that looks very taxing on the legs and really is a safety first one. Sadly, due to her movement, she doesn't really sit on her punches and seems feather fisted, but she's very skilled and her competition so far has been incredibly advanced for someone with so little experience. It has also been the perfect type of competition to prepare her for a fighter like Hanagata, with Hazuki, Suzuki and Miki all bringing a lot of heat to Matsuda, who had to maintain her focus and her composure.
Coming in to this it's worth noting that neither fighter fought in 2020. In fact both fighters last fought on September 12th 2019, on the same show at Korakuen Hall. Neither fighter is likely to look their sharpest from the opening bell and instead we expect to see both need a round or two to find their groove. That could prove vital here given how different their styles are.
If Hanagata settles first, and manages to force her fight from the opening round, we suspect she can take an early lead and force Matsuda to chase the fight. If that happens we're not sure Matsuda has it in her arsenal to turn the tide. However if Matsuda settles first, creates space, and tags Hanagata coming in we could easily imagine the younger, fresher, fighter racking up the early rounds then holding and spoiling late on to take a decision. It really is going to be key for both women to find their rhythm as soon as they can.
Coming in to this one we see it as a very, very well match bout, and the difference in styles, age and experience leave it as a compelling match up. We suspect that Matsuda will get off to a good start, and take the early lead, but as the rounds go by, and as Hanagata's pressure cranks up she'll come back into the bout. The real question is whether Matsuda can get a big enough lead to take the win, or whether Hanagata's pressure will be enough for her to take a narrow, and hotly contested, victory.
Prediction - Matsuda SD10
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.