True must win bouts are rare in boxing, but on April 14th we get a real must win, as former WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (17-6-1, 8) [黒木優子] takes on former WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (18-5-3, 5) [森脇恵子], with neither able to afford another loss if they are to remain relevant.
At 49 years old Ikeyama has been a testament to looking after yourself, hard work, dedication and doing everything a fighter can to prolong their career. She has however began to lose the battle to father time. Since the started of 2016 she has gone 1-2-2, with her sole win coming due to an horrific knee injury suffered by Ayaka Miyao, who would avenge the loss last year. She would lose the WBO Atomweight title to Mika Iwakawa last year and has shown signs of slow down, something that one would have expected to see from her much earlier in her career.
Ikeyama has been a bit of a low key legend of female boxing, beginning her career in 2003 but making a real name for herself in her 40's. She has been competing with world class opponents long after most fighters are retired. Even in her advanced age she hasn't been backing away from stiff competition, twice facing Miyao and twice fighting Saemi Hanagata in recent years. She has always been a busy fighter, her stamina is incredible even compared to younger women, but her lack of power has been an issue and she has certainly slowed down over the last few years.
Kuroki is the much younger fighter, at the age of 27, but she is also in the need of a notable win after losses to Momo Koseki and Saemi Hanagata in her last 3 bouts. At one point she was seen as one of the top female Minimumweights, with solid wins over the likes of Mari Ando, Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco. Those wins however look to be in the rear view mirror and her last win of note was a second bout with Ando at the end of 2016. She's certainly not looking shot, or old, but there is a need for a win here if she's to remain in the mix, whilst Ikeyama likely needs a win to keep her career alive.
At her best Kuroki is a talent, quick fighter, with a high work rate, good technical skills and exciting style. She is fan friendly, and a strong fighter at 105lbs, without being a powerful puncher. She has faced a real who's who and since her debut in 2008 she has lost to top fighters like Koseki, Hanagata, Naoko Shibata and Etsuko Tada. She is clearly a fantastic fighter, but one who is possibly low on confidence and this could be the perfect time to fight her.
We love Ikeyama's late success, and her career story deserves a lot more attention than it has has. Here however we see her coming up short against a younger, fresh, hungrier fighter. Yes Ikeyama is fighting for her career, but Kuroki can't afford a loss either, and she is the naturally bigger, stronger fighter as well as the younger woman. We see this being exciting, action packed, and with a lot of leather being exchanged, but we also see a clear win for Kuroki over 10 rounds. Potentially leading to another world title bout for the fighter from Fukuoka.
Over the last few weeks we've seen a lot of talk about a potential third bout between Gennady Golovkin and Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, after the two men competed in two razor thin bouts. Those two bouts have seen Canelo take a 1-0-1 lead over the Kazakh but the reality that neither man really out did the other during their two fights. This coming Saturday we get to see the end of a very similar trilogy, between two fighters who have had two razor thin bouts, with one resulting in a draw and one being a really narrow win.
The trilogy in question is a trilogy between Yuko Kuroki (18-5-1, 8) and Saemi Hanagata (14-7-4, 7), who fight for the IBF Atomweight title. Their first bout took place in June 2013, with Hanagata taking a hotly contested unanimous decision before the two fought to a draw just 6 months later, with the two women fighting for the OPBF female Minimumweight title.
Since their bouts both fighters have established themselves as genuine class fighters. Kuroki has gone to win the WBC Female Minimumweight title, which she won in 2014 and defended 5 times until losing it to Momo Koseki in late 2017. Hanagata on the other hand has had 3 world title challenges, losing the first by majority decision before twice fighting to split decision draws. Both are world class fighters, both have history with each other and both will be looking to score a win when they face off this coming weekend. The big question however, is what are we expecting?
Of the two it's Kuroki who arguably has more to prove. She's going in having failed to win either of the previous bouts between these two fighters and having been a world champion already. She's the younger woman, the more established fighter and the one who is moving down in weight.
In the ring Kuroki is a pretty technical but busy fighter. She's quick, busy and applies pressure at a tempo of her choosing. She's not the most accurate but is happy to throw a number of shots to land one, whilst handcuffing her opponent. She has good movement, nice quick hands work and very intelligent foot work. Her lack of power is a glaring flaw, but she is technically a good very sharp and sharp shots will get the respect of her opponents, even if she does struggle to score stoppages. Where she perhaps struggles the most is when an opponent can cut the ring off and go to work on the inside, and that will be something she'll look to avoid here against the aggressive Hanagata.
At 33 years old, and in her 5th career world title bout, Hanagata will probably know it's now or never, however she will know that could have had a world title with just a small bit of luck. She was very unlucky against Naoko Shibata in 2015 and against Naok Ikeyama, in 2016 and 2017. She is a world class fighter and an absolute nightmare to fight. Sadly though she is a fighter who has had next to no fortune.
In the ring Hanagata is a fearsome fighter, who fights with a pressure fighter style, getting in her opponents face and really going to work with heavy, hard shots thrown in volume. Despite only having 7 stoppages in 25 bouts she hits hard enough to get the respect of everyone she fights. Her biggest issue is her technical ability, and despite being a busy pressure fighter she's not the most accurate and instead can be made to look wasteful, ineffective and crude. She cuts the ring off well, but can be made to miss up close.
Where expecting to see Hanagata get on the front foot and Kuroki to box and move. It's a fight that is stylistically perfect, with pressure against movement. Over 10 rounds Hanagata's pressure does tend to get to fighters, but Kuroki is a real talent the 27 year old has a great engine. We're expecting some fantastic exchange between the two. We however tip the younger, faster, more technically capable fighter here. We suspect she will be pushed all the way, but will come out on top with a razor decision, the equal the series 1-1-1.
On December 17th fight fans at the Kyuden Gym in Fukuoka get the chance to see a really intriguing female title fight, as two champions collide in what could be a passing of the torch bout or further proof of one fighter's legendary status in female boxing. The bout will see Yuko Kuroki (17-4-1, 8) defending her WBC female Minimumweight, for the 6th time, taking on the legendary Momo Koseki (23-2-1, 9), with Koseki looking to add a divisional world title to her collection.
The 26 year old won the title back in May of 2014 and her 3 year reign has seen her defeating the likes of Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya, Nancy Franco and Mari Ando and really showing that she is a world class fighter. Although her record is less than perfect she has gone unbeaten for more than 4 years, and is 8-0-1 (3) since her last loss, which came when she was just 22. Kuroki has really matured in that time to become a good boxer-mover and she has shown her toughness, her ability and almost a new found confidence and self belief.
Despite being on an impressive run Kuroki perhaps lacks a real defining win. She has good wins, Franco and Gutierrez are very good wins in fact, but there is no monster win on her record and nothing that really has gone and told the division “I am the queen”, a win over Koseki would do that, and would really allow Kuroki to make a statement.
Whilst Kuroki is looking for a defining win the same can't be said of Koseki who has had an incredible career. The 35 year old from Tokyo is riding a 24 fight unbeaten run which has seen her record 17 world title defense, unify the WBC and WBA title and holds wins over almost every notable fighter in the division, such as Ayaka Miyao, Nao Ikeyama and Saemi Hanagata. She has been a staple of the 102lb division almost a decade and both of her losses came in very close bouts in Thailand.
In the ring Koseki is a tough as old boots fighter with a brawling action style. She comes to fight and presses the bout, with a combination of rough tactics, under-rated boxing skills, great energy and fantastic use of being big and strong. Although she's moving up in weight here, by 3lbs, she is a very big Atomweight and she has looked bigger than former Light Flyweight champion Naoya Shibata, in fact she looks like she would be very competitive fighting at Flyweight, if not Super Flyweight.
To date Kuroki has had things mostly her own way, at least in the last few years. Here however she's in with a fighter who will be coming with a point to prove, and a statement to make, a fighter given a chance to become a 2 weight champion. Kuroki will be the home fighter, the fighter who is naturally bigger and the fighter who will be defending her title, she will however be up against an elite level fighter, and we suspect Koseki's aggression and world class energy and toughness will simply be too much for the champion. Koruoki will have moments will her skills, but will be out worked, and out pointed.
In May 2014 Japanese youngster Yuko Kuroki (16-4-1, 8) made good on her early career promise by defeating Mari Ando (13-9, 6) to claim the WBC female Minimumweight title. That win put Kuroki on the proverbial map an opened doors for her to grow into a genuinely notable fighter. Since that title win she has made the most of her opportunity and scored notable wins over Katia Gutierrez, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco, whilst recording 4 defenses of the title whilst Ando has struggled.
This coming Sunday the two women will face off again with Kuroki looking to record her 5th defense of the title and Ando looking to revive a career that is now struggling, in fact Ando has gone 2-2 since the first bout and is now very much in last chance saloon.
Kuroki really has gone from strength to strength since winning the title. She was always a fighter with a lot of potential, as early career performances against the likes of Naoko Shibata, Mika Oda and Etsuko Tada showed, but it wasn't until she became the champion that we really got the chance to see how good she was. Since becoming the champion she really has looked like a truly brilliant fighter with under-rated skills, great work rate, hurtful power and the sort of building confidence that could make her a real nightmare against other world class fighters in the years to come.
Whilst Kuroki isn't one of the stars of female boxing, and she's not one of the truly elite among the Japanese female fighters, like Momo Koseki or Naoko Fujioka, she is a top class fighter who is showing all the signs of becoming a top fighter for the years to come.
With Ando the best looks to be behind her. The 29 year old struggled to get going, losing her first 2 bouts, before defeating Amara Kokietgym in September 2011 to claim the WBA Atomweight title and became a world champion. Her reign however was a short one, losing the belt in her second defense to Ayaka Miyao. Despite losing the WBA title to Miyao we did see Ando continue to compete at the world level, losing in title challengers against both Miyao and Su Yun Hong, before claiming the WBC female Minimumweight title with a win against Jasseth Noriega in 2013, lsoing that title in her first defense to Kuroki.
Since losing the title to Kuroki we've seen Ando come up short against Zai ong Ju and Ibeth Zamora Silva, with Silva stopping Ando in the 6th round of a horribly one-sided contest. That loss to Silva seemed to suggest that the hard career of Ando was taking it's toll, though may well have said more about how good Silva is, with many regarding her as one of the truly elite female fighters.
With Kuroki claiming a win in the first fight, and improving whilst Ando has seemingly regressed, the winner her will almost certainly be Kuroki again. The question however will be whether the champion scores a stoppage or another decision. We think Kuroki will go on to stop Ando here, with Ando likely to retire afterwards.
Over the last 2 years or so we've seen several fighters emerge, improve and become credible fighters at various levels in the sport. One of the most remarkable developments during that time has been that of Japanese fighter Yuko Kuroki (15-4-1, 7). Back in April 2014 Kuroki was 10-4-1 and had gone 1-2-1 in her previous 4 bouts, in fact it seemed like she was going to toil on the fringes of the OPBF title scene. Since then however she has gone 5-0, claimed the WBC female Minimumweight title and scored notable wins over Mari Ando, Katia Gutierrerz, Masae Akitaya and Nancy Franco.
This coming Monday Kuroki looks to continue her reign as a world champion as she takes on Filipino title challenger Norj Guro (7-5-1, 4), who is challenging for a world title for the second time.
The champion is a fighter who has improved significantly. She's skilled, hard working, tough and knows that every fight can be a stepping stone towards becoming a better fighter. Although she has got losses on her record they have typically come to good fighters, like Naoko Shibata, Saemi Hanagata and Etsuko Tada. Those losses were set backs but they were also developmental fights allowing her to work on things, push herself and gain valuable experience in her young boxing career.
The challenger hasn't yet proven herself as being a fringe world class fighter, despite this being her second world title bout. Going through her record we see no wins of note, in fact 6 of her 7 wins have been against debutants. Notably she has been fighting at higher weights than Minimumweight but has lost to every opponent with any value, such as Riyo Togo, Hee Jung Yuh, Buakaew OnesongchaiGym, Nao Ikeyama and Jessica Chavez. Although Guro has lost every time she's fought someone with a win, she has shown her toughness and has only been stopped once, by the big punching Riyo Togo.
Coming into this one it's impossible to think that the title will be changing hands, this is a huge step backwards for the champion but should work as a launch pad to bigger and better fights. What will be interesting however will be the manner of the win. Kuroki could take a shut out win without any problems, but if she's looking to a chase a stoppage she could make a statement, doing what the brilliant Jessica Chavez couldn't do. That really has to be the target for the champion.
The final Asian world title bout before Christmas comes on December 20th with fans in Fukuoka being the lucky ones who get the chance to watch it. Not only is it the final title bout before Christmas but it is also a very well matched one, between two world class fighters looking to ensure their place among the top in their division for the start of 2016.
If there is something to hold against the bout it is a female bout, but it really a brilliant one as WBC female Minimumweight champion Yuko Kuroki (14-4-1, 7) defends her title against former IBF champion Nancy Franco (14-6-2, 4). For Kuroki this will be her third defense, as she looks to continue her reign that began in May 2014, whilst Franco will be looking to become a 3-time world champion.
The champion, who is regarded as one of the few fighters who really combines looks with ability, turned pro back in 2008 and surprisingly lost 2 of her first 3 bouts, albeit one of those did come to future champion Naoko Shibata. Since the less than great start Kuroki has improved, going 13-2, losing to the world class Etsuko Tada and the fringe world class Saemi Hanagata.
Since those losses Kuroki has shown yet more improvement, winning 5 in a row. That 5 fight run has seen her claim the WBC title, beating Mari Ando for the title, and defending it against Katia Gutierrez and Masae Akitaya.
Aged 24 the champion is still a very young fighter. Despite that she has been in 4 world title bouts, racked up 19 career bouts and 106 rounds. She is very experienced and has been fighting at the top level for the past few years, those bouts with top opponents will have helped her develop her skills significantly. She is however lacking in power and still a flawed fighter, she is also rather short at just over 5'0”. Despite not being a puncher she is a busy and tough southpaw, a real night mare to fight.
Mexican fighter Franco is interesting fighter who has, much like Kuroki, come through the hard way. The 26 year old “Chatita” debuted in 2008 and in her third bout took on Arely Mucino, who stopped Franco inside a round. After just 8 bouts Franco was 3-3-2, having also been stopped by the fantastic Ibeth Zamora Silva. Since hen however Franco has been excellent going 13-3, becoming a 2-time world champion and spending the last few years mixing with top class competition.
Among those that Franco has fought recently are Ana Arrazola, Kayoko Ebata, and Victoria Argueta. Of those opponents she has beaten Ebata in Japan, out pointe Arrazola and went 1-1 with Argueta. In those bouts she has proven her ability, her will to win and her desire. She's not the most technically impressive
Last time out Franco won the IBF female Minimumweight title, she was however stripped of that belt meaning this isn't a unification bout. That however shouldn't take away from the fact the she is among the elite fighters in the division and is a fighter who has given up her title, travelled around the world and chosen to face another champion, when she could have chosen a much easier match up instead.
Given the ability of both fighters we're expecting something very special here. An all action, high skilled, 10 round battle. Generally however those bouts go to the home fighter and we suspect that will be the case again here with Kuroki claiming a very narrow, and likely debatable, decision.
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 we saw Japanese fighter Yuko Kuroki (11-4-1, 6) prove she was more than just a pretty face as she over-came Mari Ando to claim the WBC female Minimumweight title. The bout was Kuroki's second world title shot in a little over a year though the improvements in her as a fighter were remarkable. In her first world title bout she looked totally out of her depth as Etsuko Tada dominated her on the score cards. In the second she looked very good in over-coming Ando, herself a 2-time world champion.
In her first defense Kuroki will find herself up against the much more experienced Katia Gutierrez (19-4, 4) of Mexico. herself a former IBF world champion with notable wins over Hollie Dunaway, Ara Arrazola, Olga Julio, Susana Cruz Perez and Gretchen Abaniel, in fact she's the only fighter to have stopped Abaniel.
Kuroki is a tough fighter who, like we mentioned, is improving quickly. When she began her career she lost 2 of her first 3 bouts, both were closes losses but losses all the same, including one to Naoko Shibata. Since then however she has only lost twice, the loss to Tada and a close loss to Saemi Hanagata, who she later drew with in an immediate rematch. The improvements have come fight after fight and at just 23 years old some seem to believe she has the potential to be a cross over star given her good looks and marketability outside of the ring.
With the 25 year old Mexican challenger have a very experienced and world class fighter looking to gate crash Kuroki's rise to stardom. Although she is experienced, and has shared the ring with some big names, including both Jessica Chavez and Irma Sanchez who have inflicted 3 of the 4 losses on Gutierrez's record. Notably however this bout will be her first outside of Mexico where she has fought all 23 previous bouts
For Kuroki this is a bout that she needs to win to authenticate her title reign. A win over Ando won her the title but she'll need this to really make it feel real. As for Gutierrez she'll come into this bout feeling it's a great opportunity to become a 2-time world champion, something she would likely love.
For us the deciding point isn't skills, style or experience of the two. We think in all honesty they are very similar fighters, both lack the power to score stoppages on a regular basis so both throw a lot and both work incredibly hard to win rounds to win fights. When it comes to winning rounds away from home, half way around the world, a fighter needs to win them cleanly. We think that due to how equal the two are, and that Kuroki is improving markedly, the champion will retain her title, though she will have to really work for it in what we suspect will be a very hard fought contest.
(Image courtesy of http://yukofbg.com)
Numerous fighters have misleading records. We often see it with Filipino men, like Rey Loreto and Rey Megrino, though we also see it with some Japanese women, such as Tenkai Tsunami (20-10, 9). This misleading records can arise for various reasons, for example a fighter being matched incredibly hard at some point in their career or having a few controversial decisions go against them.
This coming Saturday we see two fighters with misleading records facing off in a WBC female Minimumweight title fight that really could end up being an absolute barn burner.
On of those women is the defending champion Mari Ando (11-6, 5), a tough as nails fighter who has been fighting at the world level for almost 3 years. She is a former WBA Atomweight champion and has fought the likes Ayaka Miyao and Su Yun Hong, both world of whom are world class fighters
The other woman is the under-rated Yuko Kuroki (10-4-1, 6) who has shared a ring with the excellent Etsuko Tada and the talented Saemi Hanagata. She may never have won a world title but she is a talented and accomplished fighter who, at just 23, is improving drastically between fights.
The two women have a lot in common. Both lost some early, and close, fights which marked up their records in bouts some people felt they deserved to win. Both scored notable wins over Thailand's Amara Kokietgym and both are young fighters who have a lot more to give the sport. It's fair to say neither is close to their prime and neither is likely to be close to their prime for another few years. And, finally, both fighters have a similar amount of fights, wins and losses.
An initial look at the two fighters would see many favouring Ando. She has been in with Miyao twice, giving her hell in both bouts, and has been in Hong, again giving the world class fighter a tough time. Kuroki may have been in the ring with Tada but wasn't competitive. That however doesn't tell us how far along Kuroki has come in recent bouts as she's gone from a young lady to a now mature fighter. Kuroki is still young but a drastically different fighter to the one who fought Tada.
Ando is an aggressive, mentally tough fighter who comes for a fight. She applies pressure, she tries to turn fights into a tear up and makes them action packed. She may not be the most technically skilled but she's always exciting and she's always looking for a fight in the ring. Less of a boxer and more of a born fighter.
Whilst Ando is a pure fighter Kuroki is more of a boxer-puncher who uses intelligent footwork to line up he straight land hands. She may not be the most technically correct fighter but she is more of a boxer than Ando. She's good speed, like Ando she's proven to be tough and, as with most southpaws, she looks like tricky fighter to beat.
Going in to this fight we really view it as a 50-50 type of fight, though lean, ever so slightly, towards Ando who is the more experienced fighter, especially over 10 rounds, and is the home town fighter, though we wouldn't even dream of betting on this contest which is really, really hard to call.
(Picture, of Mari Ando, courtesy of http://www.zukunft.co.jp)
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.