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
One thing we hate to see are fights put together at late notice, especially if they are re-matched of bouts that took place relatively recently and were one sided. Sadly this coming Friday we get one such bout, as 37 year old Sana Hazuki (8-5-1, 2) challenges IBF Minmumweight champion Yokasta Valle (23-2, 9), for the second time, in Costa Rica.
The two women fought in January 2021, with Valle dominating Hazuki over 10 rounds, and it was clear in their first bout that Valle was levels above Hazuki. She was too quick, too accurate, to sharp, too skilled and too good. In that bout Hazuki was given decent notice, though it certainly wasn't a lot of notice. This time around, some 14 months later, it appears that Hazuki has been given even less notice, and only travelled for the bout this past Monday, giving her no real time to acclimatise to time zone and local conditions. In fact she was only given 2 to 3 weeks notice to take the fight, which is unlikely to be a competitive one.
Valle is one of the best female fighters at 105lbs. She might not be a truly elite level female boxer, akin to Seniesa Estrada, Katie Taylor, Amada Serrano, Naoko Fujioka or Claresa Shields, but she's a very, very capable fighter with experience against top fighters, a willingness to prove herself on the road and the confidence of someone who has won her last 10 bouts.
In the ring Valle is light on her feet, boxes and moves well and although not a big puncher, she hits hard enough to get respect from her opponents. Her real strength is her activity, accuracy and work rate, all of which were on show against Hazuki last year, in a bout that had competitive rounds, but wasn't particularly competitive overall.
Hazuki on the other hand is a clumsy but very game and aggressive fighter, who presses the action trudges forward and looks to make bouts into real fights. Sadly for her she does often over-reach with her shots, leaves herself open to be hit and doesn't have the quickest of feet or hands, allowing others to counter her and create space against her. Sadly against someone as quick and accurate as Valle her flaws are there to be taken advantage of, albeit she does make for fan friendly and exciting bouts.
Much like their first bout we don't see this being close, but it will have competitive rounds. As with their first the speed, movement, accuracy and fluidity of Valle will be too much.
After 10 rounds we expect this to be a clear win for Valle, but the bout will certainly be a fun one with some exciting exchanges. Sadly though the short notice for Hazuki, and very late travel to Costa Rica, will not do her any favours. She will be game, but will not have the tools in her arsenal to beat Valle.
Prediction - UD10 Valle
On January 30th we’ll see the IBF female Minimumweight champion Yokasta Valle (20-2, 9) defending her title against Japanese challenger Sana Hazuki (8-4-1, 2) in Costa Rica, the first world title fight to feature a Japanese fighter this year. The bout isn’t a huge one, but it is an interesting one, in a division where there are some very good female match ups to be made, and the winner here will find themselves well in the mix for bigger figures. In fact prior to this bout being made there was supposed to be a much, much bigger bout lined up for Valle, but more about that in a few moments. Sadly however this bout has been put together on relatively short notice, and it could end up being a case that neither fighter is quite 100% for this clash. Despite that we do expect an interesting contest.
As mentioned Valle was supposed to be in a much bigger bout. Originally she had planned for a mid-January bout against German fighter Tina Rupprecht, to unify the IBF, WBC, IBO and Ring Magazine titles. That bout was sadly cancelled earlier in January, and the IBF ordered a mandatory between the champion and Hazuki as a result.
The now 28 year old Valle has been a professional since 2014, and has really proven herself as a talented fighter in recent years. That was despite a slow start to her professional career in which she fought a lot of low level bouts early on. Despite the slow start to her professional career she did claim the IBF Atomweight title in December 2016, beating Ana Victoria Polo to become the inaugural champion. Sadly she didn’t actually defend that title, instead looking to face bigger names, and in 2017 that led her to facing Naoko Fujioka in Japan, and suffer her first loss. Just 6 months after losing to Fujioka she travelled to Germany and lost to Tina Rupprecht. Within just a few months Valle had gone from 3-0 to 13-2, but had fought two highly talented fighters and proven her ability.
Since the back to back losses Valle has claimed the IBF female Minimumweight title, beating the hard hitting Jaoana Pastrana in Spain in 2018, and defended it once, stopping Carleans Rivas in 2020.
In the ring Valle is an aggressive fighter, who throws a lot of leather and believes in herself. She’s tough, energetic, and has more than a respectable amount of pop in her punches. She throws a very nice, crisp jab and a clean, straight, right hand. Given her power, work rate, big over hand right and speed and movement she’s not an easy fighter to beat, and she really does know her way around the ring. Unlike some female fighters she’s not all out aggressive and is more of a boxer-fighter than some of the swarmers we see out there in the lower weights.
The Japanese challenger, who also debuted in 2014, is now 36 and is likely on the back end of her career. Despite that she’s not got a great deal of wear and tear and will be getting her first world title in just her 14th professional contest. Despite not having much wear and tear she’s also not proven herself as a viable world title contender, with her most notable win coming over the then 5-0 Eruka Hiromoto in 2019, a win that netted her the OPBF female Minimumweight title. That win aside has little else of note on her record in terms of success. In fact the other notable results on her record are losses to Eri Matsuda and Nanae Suzuki, and a draw to Suzuki.
Despite her less than stellar results it’s hard to fault Hazuki’s work rate. In the ring she’s all effort, all energy and always coming forward letting her hands go. There’s a lack of quality and crispness to her work, but few can fault her tireless engine, with to win and all out fighting mentality. Sadly though she lacks the nuance to make the style work and the power needed to get her opponents respect. A lot of her shots are slapping shots, and there’s a really trudginess to her pressure. She’s a fun fighter to watch, but someone who’s deficient in too many areas to really compete at world level.
Although Hazuki is an all aggression fighter we don’t really see that aggression working too well against Valle, who we suspect will use her feet well, set up the counters and land big, heavy, clean shots. Hazuki will come forward all night, but eventually an accumulation of clean head shots, and the gulf in skills, will prove to be the difference, and we suspect Hazuki will end up taking a lot of leather until the referee steps in.
Prediction - TKO 8 Valle
On February 8th Costa Rican fighter Yokasta Valle (19-2, 8) will be making her first defense of the IBF female Minimumweight title, ash she goes up against Filipino challenger Carleans Rivas (8-6-4). This will not only be Valle's first defense but also Rivas' first world title challenge, after having fought numerous times for regional titles.
Although not a global name by any means Valle is a talented fighter, The 27 year from San Jose has shown a willingness to travel and to take on the best. This has seen her lose on the road to the likes of Naoko Fujioka and Tina Rupprecht, running Rupprecht very close in Germany, and actually winning this title in Spain last August. The belt she currently holds is her second, after having previously held the IBF's version of the 102lb title in 2016, and she has proven to be a tough fighter to beat.
In the ring Valle is small, even for a female fighter at 102lbs or 105lbs, but she uses her diminutive size well. She makes herself seem smaller, darts in an out well, and is very aggressive. She's not the most powerful puncher out there but she throws a lot of leather, has a busy lead hand and throws in bunches, often getting flurries off before an opponent can respond. It's her activity and aggression that make her a nightmare to fight and not many fighters will have the work rate to go with her, or the power to make her think twice about letting shots go.
The 31 year old Rivas has really struggled when she has fought above Filipino level, and in fact even at domestic level she has been beaten by the likes of Jessebelle Pagaduan and Lady Love Sampiton. Above domestic level she has lost to the likes of Tamao Ozaw, Chaoz Minowa, Tenkai Tsunami and Yumeni Ikemoto. Sadly for her she hasn't been able to win when she's stepped up and she's also rarely even been competitive at regional level. She is also 0-4 outside of the Philippines.
Whilst she's not totally terrible she isn't particularly good either. She lacks power, throws a nice jab but a very slow and loopy right hand and often puts herself off balance. There's a fighter that could have been competitive at regional level if her team had managed to polish her rather clear visible flaws, but instead those issues are still clearly there and clearly limit her potential to go far in the sport.
Although we don't see Valle as an emerging superstar of female boxing, she is a talent and we expect her to make this first defense look very, very easily. We would be massively surprised by anything but a dominant win by the Costa Rican champion.
Prediction - TKO8 Valle.
One of the top, if not the top, female fighter in Japan has long been the sensationally talented Naoko Fujioka (16-2, 7), who became Japan's first ever 4 weight champion earlier this year. The 42 year old Japanese veteran has claimed titles at Minimumweight, Super Flyweight, Bantamweight and Flyweight. To end 2017 Fujioka drops down to Light Flyweight, to face Yokasta Valle (13-0, 5) in a bout for the WBO female Light Flyweight title. Interestingly Fujioka is dropping down from Flyweight for this bout, whilst Valle is a former IBF Atomweight champion, having claimed that title last year.
Fujioka has had a genuinely remarkable career and is regarded by some as one of the top 10 female fighters, pound-for-pound, in the sport. She debuted at the age of 34 and after just a year in the sport claimed the OPBF Minimumweight title. The following year she claimed the WBC title, stopping Anabel Ortiz. In 2013 Fujioka claimed the WBA Super Flyweight title, she added the WBO Bantamweight title in 2015 and then the WBA Flyweight title earlier this year. Whilst Fujioka has obviously been collecting titles she has also been facing stiff competition, with bouts against the likes of Naoko Shibata, Anabel Ortiz, Victoria Argueta, Naoko Yamaguchi, Susi Kentikian, Mariana Juarez, Shindo Go and Jessica Chavez.
In the ring Fujioka can fight, box or brawl. She's the type of fight who can adapt, and when she needs to make things rough she can, as she did in the final stages against Mariana Juarez. Although she has two defeats against her name both were close and controversial, and more importantly on the road with the loss against Chavez being one of the most questionable decisions of recent years. At 42 there is some question marks about how many more top performances she has in the tank, but she's not yet showing signs of slipping.
Aged 25 Valle is one of the stars of Costa Rican boxing, and has ben a professional since mid 2014. Much of her career has been spent at home, in Costa Rica, though she did venture to El Salvador for a bout last year. It was at home last year that she defeated Ana Victoria Polo to claim the IBF title at 102lbs, though since then she has moved up to 105lbs, where she beat journey woman Yadita Perez. Sadly the key thing to note about Valle is her level of competition, and it has been dire, with none of her opponents having any name value, and very few having any sort of a record.
Although Valle's best win has been down at 102lbs she is actually a big fighter for the lower weights and shouldn't have any issues making 108lbs and being a fully fledged fighter at the weight, in fact she may be stronger than she has been whilst draining herself down. The problem for her however is that she's not really shown herself to be world class. There is some ability there, and it's clear that a really top level trainer could take her quite far, but the fact she's so untested and stepping up in such a huge way that it's hard to see he she can win here.
We don't think Fujioka is a huge puncher,but she certainly holds solid power in both hands, and we suspect that power will have telling effects late on, with a stoppage for the Japanese in the later rounds.
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.