This coming Saturday we get a lot of action to look forward to, with big names in action and some massive bouts. Given there are set to be so many big bouts this weekend it can be easy to over-look some bouts, including a potential female fight of the year between Naoko Fujioka (19-2-1, 7) and Marlen Esparza (11-1, 1), who look to unify the WBA and WBC female Flyweight titles. The bout hasn't had the huge fanfare that several other bouts have had, but could end up delivering incredible action and continue the string of thrilling female title bouts we've been having in recent years.
The 46 year old Fujioka, the current WBA female Flyweight champion, is a female fighter who should be destined for a hall of fame induction when she retires. She has been the star of Japanese female boxing for much of her career and done things that really weren't being done, especially not by Japanese fighters. She turned professional in 2009, following a successful amateur career, and despite being 34 when he debuted she has gone on to win world title from Minimumweight to Bantamweight, becoming Japan's only ever 5 weight world champion. Along the way to collecting a trophy cabinet full of belts she has beaten the likes of Naoko Shibata, Anabel Ortiz, Naoko Yamaguchi, Mariana Juarez, Shindo Go, Isabel Millan, Irma Sanchez and Sulem Urbina. She has also been able to travel for fights, with bouts in Germany, Mexico and the US.
In the ring Fujioka is a veteran, with bucket loads of experience, heavy hands, an aggressive style, a great chin and although she's not the tidiest fighter she is a rough, tough handful with decent boxing skills added to a fighters mentality. Even in her mid 40's she has proven to have impressive stamina, and actually gets better as fights go on, starting slowly before getting her engine going and simply out working, out battling and out fighting fighters. Despite a busy style, she's accurate, and lands shots that catch the eye, whilst also keeping opponents too busy to really fight back. Sadly in recent years she began slowing down, in part due to age and inactivity, but she's still one of the best female fighters on the planet, despite being the wrong side of 40.
Aged just 32 Marlen Esparza is something of a spring chicken compared to Fujioka and is part of the new wave of female fighters who turned professional after the 2012 Olympics, like so many of the other top current female fighters out there. As an amateur Esparza won bronze at the Olympics and a Gold at the 2014 World Amateur Championships, before finally turning her attention on the professional ranks in 2017. Sadly her career was somewhat slow to get going, though she did notable fighter in some of the few female bouts to have 3 minute rounds. After winning her first 7 bouts she then came up short against the sensational Seniesa Estrada ina bout for the WBA "interim" Female Flyweight title. In that bout she was out worked, out fought, out boxed and just out-everythinged by Estrada, before the bout was stopped due to a cut, leading to Estrada winning a technical decision. Since that bout Esparza has bounced back big time, and scored her 3 most notable wins, taking decisions over Sulem Urbina, Ibeth Zamora Silva and Anabel Ortiz.
In the ring Esparza is a well schooled boxer, and her amateur pedigree does show through. She's a clean, accurate boxer, who likes to have some space to work with, throws lovely straight shots, and has really good timing, especially on her left jab and short right hands. Sadly though she really struggles on the inside and lacks the power to maintain space, or get the respect of fighters, who will feel comfortable pressuring her and trying to out work her. She's quick and sharp, but is very much a fighter who needs to use her speed, and needs to avoid a tear up at all costs.
Given her youth, speed and style Esparza does have some advantages over Fujioka, and she will need to capitalise on them to beat the Japanese boxing Queen. Sadly though we feel the style of Esparza will be her own downfall. The pressure, tenacity, work rate, strength and stubbornness of Fujioka will almost certainly be too much for her. We expect Esparza to start well, taking the first few rounds with her movement and boxing. But as the rounds go on Fujioka will get closer and closer, before taking control of the bout in the middle rounds and dominating the final rounds.
There could be some suspect scoring to help save Esparza, but we don't see that being enough to deny Fujioka here. Instead we see the judges having it closer than they should, but being unable to deny the Japanese visitor.
Prediction - MD10 Fujioka
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.