Earlier this year we saw Costa Rican fighter Yokasta Valle (25-2, 9), the IBF Atomweight champion, score her most widely seen win to date, scoring a very clear and decisive win over Lorraine Villalobos on DAZN. That win saw her impress everyone, and put her hat in the mix to be consider a top 10 pound for pound female fighter, with the performance showcasing her speed, skills, movement and the natural fluidity she has to her in ring style. This coming Thursday we'll see her return to the ring to defend her title in a unification bout against WBO champion Thi Thu Nhi Nguyen (5-0, 1), from Vietnam.
Valle really is a sensationally talented fighter who appears to be able to do it all. She might not be the explosive puncher that Seniesa Estrada, but she certainly hits harder than her record suggests and is such a clean, accurate puncher and is a smooth, natural boxer, with an excellent style. Whilst she does have two losses on her record, it is worth noting that she's gone on an excellent run since them. They occurred in late 2017, to Naoko Fujioka, and mid 2018, to Tina Rupprecht, both in her opponents back yard. In both of those fights she made a great account of herself, and showed there was a real talent there, which has been nurtured really well as she's become the face of Costa Rican boxing.
As for Nguyen , the Vietnamese fighter is the first ever world champion from Vietnam, but also someone who has had more than her fair share of good luck. In just 5 fights she has raced to a world title, but her rise has included questionable wins over the very limited Kanyarat Yoohanngo and the talented Etsuko Tada, who she beat for the WBO world title last October. In both of those bouts, which took place away from Vietnam, she was afford some very nice judging. In the ring she's certainly not bad, but nothing about her screams word class. Instead she's been fortunate, with Cocky Buffalo protecting her some what. She's fast, and she's skilled, and gutsy, but lacks power and lacks that know how and experience needed to legitimately compete at the highest level.
Coming in to this we expect to see Nguyen not having favourable judges in her corner, for once, and that will be a major issue against someone as versatile, rounded, and consistent as Valle. Valle will likely take a round or two to see what Nguyen really has to offer and is bringing to the table. She will respect her, as a fellow world champion, but after a few short rounds Valle will have scouted her foe, and begin to find her own range, timing and rhythm, and begin to land at will. Nguyen is quick, and she used that speed well against Tada at times, but Valle is not a late 30's fighter with slow feet. Instead she's a quick, sharp, well school fighter who will close the ring and find her range and do what she wants with the Vietnamese fighter.
Prediction - UD10 Valle
On September 1st we'll see WBO Atomweight champion Nanae Suzuki (11-4-1, 1) look to make her first defense, as she takes on former WBC champion Yuko Kuroki (19-7-2, 9) at Korakuen Hall. The bout might not have two of the top names involved in the bout, but it does promise to be a very exciting, high tempo contest, between two men who like to throw a lot and should gel when they get in the ring.
On paper the champion isn't anything special, but the 30 is a truly fantastic fighter to watch, with a style that involved intense pressure, a refusal to back off, and a mind that is very much focused on making every bout into a fight. She made her debut in 2016, losing 2 of her first 3, but since then she has gone 10-2-1, won the Japanese and WBO Atomweight titles, and we very unlucky in her most recent loss, a split decision to Mika Ikwakawa. Those recent bouts have proven her early struggles really are behind her. She has managed to prove herself as a high work rate fighter, an intense fighter, and the sort of fighter who will always be a nightmare, despite lacking power.
As mentioned Suzuki is a pressure fighter. She can struggle early in bouts, with her first 2 losses coming in 4 rounders, but as bouts get longer and longer she becomes more and more frustrating, and then eventually overwhelming. She's not particularly polished, or a smooth boxer, but she is just pure intensity and when her engine gets going there really is no stopping her. She pressures, she presses, and she throws, a lot. Notably she doesn't seem to be the type of fighter to be discouraged, despite being caught plenty of times, and walks through shots to land her own, and to drag opponents into her fight. Unfortunately she lacks fight changing power, but with her output she is still a nightmare.
As for Kuroki, the 31 year old southpaw once looked like the next queen of Japanese boxing, but now appears to be a fighter looking to just keep her career alive. She began her career in 2008, and lost 2 of her first 3 bouts before working her way to a world title fight in 2013, where she lost a wide decision to Etsuko Tada. She would however make the most of her second shot at a title, in 2014, when she defeated Mari Ando for the WBC title. She would defend that title 5 times, until being dethroned in 2017 by Momo Koseki, who subsequently retired having become a 2-weight world champion. Sadly since her loss to Koseki we've seen Kuroki going 2-2-1, with both of her wins being low key ones, and she now desperately needs a big win to keep her career alive.
In the ring Kuroki is a good already. She has good skills, she's light and relaxed in the ring and fights confidently. She has solid power, a rugged toughness to her, and although there are holes in her technically she is a very solid all rounder who finds holes in opponents and lands solid shots. She has a very nice southpaw jab, and a solid straight left hand, which are her key weapons. Sadly for Kuroki she can be out worked, and although she has a lot to like, she can be seen posing a little bit too much at times, and not letting her hands go quite enough, which is an issue at 102lbs and 105lbs, where fighters set high work rates and impress judges with activity.
Coming in to this one Kuroki is the more skilled fighter, and we expect to see her skills shine early on. We expect to see her foot work, her movement and her clean accurate punching impress early on. Sadly though as the rounds go on the work rate of Suzuki will begin to shine, she will simply out work and fight Kuroki as the challenger slows and tires. The early lead of Kuroki will be clawed away at in the the middle rounds with Suzuki edging the bout thanks to the final rounds.
Prediction - UD10 Suzuki
This coming Friday we'll see an interesting rematch as WBO Atomweight champion Mika Iwakawa (10-5-1, 3) makes her second defense, and takes on Nanae Suzuki (10-4-1, 1), the woman she retained the title against in a brilliantly contested bout in 2020. It's due to how good their first bout was, and how hotly contested it was, that we now see the two facing off again.
For those that missed the first bout between these two, which took place in Kobe on a show promoted by Shinsei Promotions, that bout was a really great one. Through out the bout Suzuki made the fight, pressing the action from the first round and setting a high tempo with a very impressive work rate. She came forward constantly whilst Iwakawa was forced to box and move, and use her feet, looking to create space and work at range. As the bout went on however Iwakawa was forced to fight Suzuki's fight as her legs and movement began to fade and she was forced to hold, wrestle, survive and even run away, making things very close on the cards. After 10 rounds the scores were 97-93 Iwakawa, 97-93 Suzuki and 96-94 to Iwakawa, who took a questionable split decision win.
Sadly the rematch between the women, which really should have taken place in 2021, is taking place almost 18 months after their first bout, and neither fighter has fought since their first clash. Which is genuinely disappointing, but a sign of what 2021 did to the careers of a number of Japanese fighters, who were unable to stay busy.
At her best Iwakawa is a talented technical boxer. She likes using range and distance, countering, and has sharp movement. She's a really solid technical fighter in a division where output, work rate and energy are typically more important than boxing skills. Sadly though she's now 38 and given she's never been the most active fighter in the ring, and does depend on timing and reactions, we do worry about her here. Her inactivity and age will not be doing her favours here, especially given she seemed to run out of steam in the later rounds last time she faced Suzuki.
As for Suzuki she it very much a fighter who's technically limited, she lacks power, and her defense is questionable, but she's a little bundle of energy, who comes forward, lets her hands go, a lot, and looks to make fights into a war. She can be out boxed, as she was against Eri Matsuda in 2019, but few will beat her in a tear up, especially over the longer distances as her aggression, work rate and stamina grinds opponents down and makes her a very tough woman to beat.
Given how the first bout between these two ended, and how long it's been since that bout, we can't help but feel a determined, hungry Suzuki will out work, out fight, out battle and grind out a victory against Iwakawa. Early on Iwakawa will have real success, but by rounds 4 and 5 Suzuki will be coming on hard, and will for Iwakawa into survival mode. This time around we suspect a judge will take a point from Iwakawa as she grapples to survive, and that will seal her fate.
Prediction - UD10 Suzuki
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.
Recently we saw the legendary Manny Pacquiao show his age as he came up short against Jeff Horn. Whether you agreed with the decision or not it was clear that Pacquiao wasn't the fighter he used to be, in fact it was obvious that father time had well and truly caught up with the fantastic Filipino icon. This coming Tuesday we see another veteran attempt to continue their fight, not just against opponents but also against father time.
That fighter is the 47, soon to be 48, year old Nao Ikeyama (18-3-2, 5) who looks to extend her reign as the WBO Atomweight champion and continue being the oldest active world champion in the sport. In the opposite corner to Ikeyama will be former foe Saemi Hanagata (13-6-3, 7), who fought to a draw with Ikeyama last year in a real thriller.
At her best Ikeyama has proven to be a truly fantastic veteran. She might not be the best Atomweight on the planet but she's managed to make a real career for herself, having won the WBO title back in 2014, becoming the inaugural champion at the time. Since winning the title she has impressively run up 5 defense, scoring notable wins over Masae Akitaya, Hanagata and Ayaka Miyao.
In the ring Ikeyama has shown a lack of power, but a great engine, a real will to win an has gone almost 7 years without a loss, showing how great she has become in recent years, following real struggles early in her career. At one point Ikeyama was 11-3-1 (4) but has gone 7-0-1 in recent times as her career has had a brilliant Indian summer. She probably would come off second best, by some margin, against Momo Koseki, but against anyone else at 102lbs she's certainly got more than half a chance against.
Although relatively unknown outside of Japan Hanagata is a real warrior with a great engine and aggressive style and a real gritty determination. She's a rough around the edges fighter, with aggression being her key to victory and her toughness being genuinely impressive. Whilst she's certainly not an incredible fighter she's a real handful for most, and gave hell to Naoko Shibata in 2015 and hell to Ikeyama last year, with plenty of fans feeling that Hanagata deserved both wins.
Coming in to this bout Hanagata has gone 4-0-1 (3) and at the moment she is looking the best she has ever looked. Not only is she in great form but at 32, and with a record of 0-2-1 in world title fights she will know that this could, potentially, be her last shot at a world title crown, and she cannot another set back at this level. With that in mind it's clear she will have put everything in this bout.
Although Ikeyama is the better fighter, we can't help but think she has been caught by father time and that Hanagata will be too hungry for her this time, taking a narrow, but very well earned, decision...and the title
Boxing is full of remarkable stories, ranging from fighters turning their lives around from a criminal past to fighters proving they can fight at the top level at a very advanced age. One such older fighter is WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (17-3-1, 4) who returns to the ring next week in an attempt to record her 4th defense, despite being 46 years old. Standing in her way will be the criminally under-rated Saemi Hanagata (12-6-2, 6), who really is a handful despite her record suggesting otherwise.
Ikeyama, who fought in her professional debut way back in 2003, really made a name for herself just over 2 years ago, when she won the inaugural WBO Atomweight title bout, at the age of 44. The win saw her becoming the oldest Japanese world champion and subsequent defenses have seen her extend that record, though she has began to show her age at times, notably in her last two bouts.
Whilst Ikeyama is the champion it's fair to describe Hanagata as a world class fighter herself. In fact Hanagata was very unlucky last year not to claim the IBF female Light Flyweight title and holds a win over current world champion Yuko Kuroki. She has also given Momo Koseki one of her toughest bouts.
At her best Ikeyama was a busy fighter. She wasn't the strongest or most powerful but she was like the duracell bunny and kept unloading shots at an impressive rate. It was that work rate,and speed, that has helped her become a world champion at such a late stage in her career.
Like the champion Hanagata is also a high output fighter, she's a naturally more powerful fighter and one who is significantly lower than the champion. She has been found flagging in the later rounds of bouts but with her youth and fast starting mentality she could be a real problem for Ikeyama.
This bout looks almost certain to be a fast paced war from the off, though unfortunately for Ikeyama she is the naturally smaller, weaker and older fighting, suggesting that she may well be overwhelmed by the challenger, we we suspect will claim the title here.
Professional boxing has spread to almost every country out there as the search for global stars and a new market of fans continues to go on. This coming Sunday we see another country added to the long list of others that have hosted world title bouts, that country is Sri Lanka.
The bout in question will see Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (16-3-1, 4) defending her WBO Atomweight title against experienced Filipino Jujeath Nagaowa (13-15-1, 8). The bout is, obviously, an historic one given the host nation of the bout, and is one that is likely to receive more attention due to it's historical status than anything regarding it, such as the fighters involved.
The champion is a 46 year old who is really enjoying an Indian summer in her career. She turned pro back in 2003, as a 34 year old “whippersnapper”, fighting outside of the remit of the JBC, who at the time didn't sanction female boxing. Despite struggling to get recognition early in her career she did manage to claim the JWBC 102lb title and the WIBA Minimumweight title.
After running up a 10-1-1 (4) record Ikeyama faced her biggest test, the then WBC Atomweight champion Momo Koseki. Koseki showed the difference in ability dominating the then 39 year old Ikeyama, who struggled to win a round. That was following by 3 more fights in around 19 months, including another loss to talented Korean fighter Ji Hyun Park, in a fight for an IFBA title.
Having moved to 12-3-1 (4) by the end of 2010 Ikeyama then vanished from the boxing for 3 years before resurfacing in 2013 and beginning a remarkable rise which has seen her claim the WBO world title, courtesy of a victory over Jessebelle Pagaduan, and secure two defences.
Despite her age the champion is a talented fighter with good timing, good stamina, a wonderful will to win and a steely toughness. She's not a big puncher but her work rate seems to make up for that and unlike many older fighters it doesn't seem that father time has taken too much from her, yet. Saying that however there is always a chance that she could “get old over-night” and suddenly look like a shot fighter.
At 28 years older the challenger has a significant age advantage, however looking at her record she does look like a very limited title challenger, in fact she has one of the worst records of any recent title challenger. Saying that however records only tell part of the story, especially with Filipino fighters like Nagaowa.
Nagaowa has been a professional boxer since 2006 and has faced a veritable who's who. Included in those that she has fought are the likes of Shindo Go, Samson Tor Buamas, Saemi Hanagata, Ju Hee Kim, Teeraporn Pannimit, Naomi Togashi, Momo Koseku, Ji Hyun Park, Mari Ando and Louisa Hawton. Whilst the only one of those that she beat was Hanagata she was also unlucky against Kim and gave both Hawton and Ando problems.
In the ring Nagaowa is aggressive and tough. She's not the most skilled, and often depends on will as opposed to skill, but can be a real handful, as Kim found out. Her style can be neutralised by real world class fighters but those outside of that top level will always struggle with her, and importantly she has been improving through her career, even if the results don't show it.
For Ikeyama a win is expected, but, as mentioned, she is giving up a lot of age to the challenger who could force the pace and action and really force the champion to dig deep. If Ikeyama can control the pace she wins this comfortably, however if Nagaowa can close the distance and force the fight then this will be a brilliant way to begin professional boxing in Sri Lanka.
In 2014 we saw veteran fighter Nao Ikeyama (15-3-1, 4) become the inaugural WBO Atomweight champion at the advanced age of 44. To win the title Ikeyama easily out worked, out fought, out boxed and out battled Filipino Jessebelle Pagaduan, despite the fact Pagaduan was more than a decade younger than Ikeyama. Last September Ikeyama recorded the first defence of her title, just days after she 45, by narrowly but clearly beating Mase Akitaya. On February 28th she will hope to bag her second defence as she again takes on a much younger foe and attempts to battle back against father time and mother nature.
The much younger foe will be 24 year old Filipino challenger Norj Guro (7-3-1, 4) who will be fighting in her first “Big 4” world title bout and although she is much younger than the champion she is still viewed as the notable under-dog.
Although the champion is 45 she is full of desire and energy that belie her years. As well as her brilliant engine she is also tough and has shared the ring with several notable fighters, including Nanako Kikuchi, Ayaka Miya, Krisztina Belinszky and Momo Koseki, and has a career dating back to 2003. The desire to be a world champion drove her to winning her title and that same desire will see her doing all she can to keep it for as long as possible.
It's hard to say too much about Guro in terms of what she's like as a fighter due to next to no footage of her being available however we can get a read of her from her opposition and her record.
The Filipino started her career 5-0 (4) though all 5 of those bouts came against debutants. Her running came to an end when she faced her first notable opponent, Japan's Riyo Togo, who stopped her in 4 rounds. Since then Guro has gone 3-2-1 with her wins coming against a debutant and a 0-1 fighter whilst her losses have come to the only fighters with more than a single bout of experience.
Going on what we know of the two fighters it's hard to see anything but a clear win for Ikeyama who should retain her title with out too many worries. The only worry we have for Ikeyama is her age and there is a chance she could “get old over-night”. There is a chance of that but it's slim and even if that happens we still suspect she'll know enough trick to over-come Guro.
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.