The first world title bout to take place in Japan this year is a female one between two former world champions, who can't afford another loss at this stage of their career, if they are to remain relevant as top contenders. Both are heading towards and neither is in their prime, as injuries and age catch up with them. Despite that we are expecting a genuine fantastic fight as Etsuko Tada (19-3-2, 6) and Ayaka Miyao (23-8-1, 6) meet for the WBO female Minimumweight title.
Of the two it's Tada who is the older fighter. The Shinsei promoted 38 year old is a former WBA, IBF and WBO female Minimumweight champion who has fought at world level for a decade or so. She won her first world title in 2009, following an excellent amateur career, and has faced a genuine who's who of female boxing in the lower weights. She took her first title from ChoRong Son and went on to defend it against the likes of Ibeth Zamora Silva, Maria Salinas, Naoko Shibata and Yuko Kuroki before being dethroned by Anabel Ortiz. She would claim the IBF title 2 years later, beating Kareli Lopez, before losing in her first defense to Cai Zong Ju, then claim the WBO title in 2018 beating Kayoko Ebata.
In her prime Tada was fast, aggressive, a solid puncher, highly skilled, tough and a nightmare for anyone. As she's aged he speed has slowed, her combinations don't flow as they once did and she struggles to apply the same pressure she did when she was younger. She's still an excellent fighter, but often needs the right sort of opponent to shine against. Against a mover she struggles, and she's much better against a fighter who stands their ground. Despite that can chase, just not in the way she once could.
At 36 years old Miyao is no youngster herself, and she's no novice either, having made her professional debut in 2004, before the JBC even recognised female boxing. Her early career was tough, and she was 4-4-1 after her first 9 bouts. Since then however she has gone 19-4 and become a major figure in the Atomweight division, where she is a former WBA and WBA interim champion, who also fought in a unification bout with the then WBC champion Momo Koseki. During her long career she has beaten the likes of Mari Ando, Masae Akitaya, Gretchen Abaniel, and Nao Ikeyama.
At her best Miyao was a lighting quick fighter who could fire off lightning quick shots, and move around the ring with very quick footwork. She's been slowing down in recent years, but is still quick, skilled and hard to pressure. Notably she is moving up from Atomweight, 102lbs, to Minimumweight, 105lbs. It's going to be interesting to see how she copes with the extra weight, and the extra weight of her opponent. One other thing to note is that Miyao has previously suffered a nasty knee injury. She has fought twice since then, but it does leave some question marks about her body.
Here we expect to see Tada pressing, coming forward and Miyao boxing and moving on the back foot, using her feet to try and stay away from Tada's pressure. From there it really depends on who controls the distance as to who wins. We suspect that Miyao will have the early success with her foot work, but Tada will come on strong and begin to take control in the second half. This will not make it easy to score, but will make it very, very competitive, and very close.
Prediction - Draw (Split)
The Japanese female title scene is a very mixed one. Some of the title fights are brilliant, well matched bouts between two fighters on their way up the ranks. Other times it appears the JBC just want to full a vacancy, and anyone will do. On January 27th we get a bout that firmly fits in the latter category as Yumiko Shimooka (4-7, 1) and Yumi Narita (3-4-3, 1) battle for the Japanese female Minimumweight title.
Coming in each fighter has won just 1 of their last 6 bouts, and for both women they without a win in their last 3. These aren't the best female fighters in Japan at 105lbs but with a vacancy that needs filling they are facing off for the belt.
The 38 year old Shimooka made her debut in 2014, and immediately struggled. She was stopped on debut, and despite winning 3 of her following 4 bouts never really built any career momentum. She has now lost 5 of her last 6 and hasn't fought since a decision loss to Mont Blanc Miki in November 2018. You need to go all the way back to December 2017 for her last win, which came in an upset against Umi Ishikawa.
Watching Shimooka you can see why she's lost so many bouts. She's crude, lazy, wide open, slow and not particularly busy. She telegraphs her punches and stumbles forward, often eating more than she throws as a result, and what she does throw is so horribly off balance.
Aged 30 Narita is the younger fighter, and the more active, with 2 fights last year. Incidentally she lost both of them by split decision, including a title fight to Chie Higano and a close loss to Sana Hazuki. Although she's win-less in 3 she was competitive in all 3 of those bouts and has interestingly drawn 3 of her last 6. One thing to realise when it comes to Narita is, win, lose or draw, she has generally been in close bouts.
Sadly however her limitations are very visible, much like Shimooka. She lacks power, she lacks variety and although she does have a busy jab, it lacks snap. It's more thrown as a stay away punch then a real scoring shot. Sadly when fighters walk through that jab she no real answer and often holds, leading to some messy action. Watching her she really doesn't appear to have anything at all on her back hand.
With the limitations of both should make this competitive but we can't help thinking that Narita, the younger, fresher, more active fighter, will do enough, just, to take this. Neither is particularly good but the jab of Narita, and her younger legs, are likely to prove the difference maker in a fight we expect to be very, very messy.
Prediction - SD6 Narita
The first world title fight to feature an Asian fight for the new year takes place this coming Saturday in Mexico as Chaoz Minowa (6-2, 5) takes on WBC "interim" female Light Flyweight champion Kenia Enriquez (22-1, 9) in Jalisco. For the Mexican this will be her 4th defense of the title she won back in May 2017 whilst Minowa will be looking to claim a world title at the third time of asking, and do so after more than a year away from the ring.
Although female boxing isn't huge in the English speaking world, despite growing notable in recent years, it has been popular in Latin American for years with numerous Mexican and Argentinian stars. The 26 year old Enriquez looks to be on her way to becoming another female star of the sport. She has bounced back excellently from her sole defeat, to Melissa McMorrow way back in February 2015, and is riding a 9 fight winning run at the moment. Whilst Enriquez hasn't yet beaten a who's who of the female scene she has scored notable wins over Katia Gutierrez, Maria Salina and Jessica Nery Plata and has become one of the clear faces of the female scene at 108lbs.
Watching Enriquez in action is different to watch many Latino female boxers. She doesn't look to set a hectic pace. Instad she's actually quite deliberate, but that's not an insult. She throws crisp, clean straight shots, works off her jab and is very accurate. She slips shots well and puts together heavy shots. She's not a concussive puncher, but she's someone with the thudding power that fighters feel every single time she connects. From a technical stand point she is very good, though perhaps a little on the slow side.
In 2016 Ayako Minowa turned professional, adopting the Chaoz Minowa fighting name. She was full of confidence and seemed like the sort of fighter that had success ear marked for her. She had been a fantastic amateur, had heavy hands, through combinations, looked tough and like a real handful. Just 3 months after her debut she had claimed the OPBF female Flyweight title and had spoke about winning titles in numerous weight classes. Sadly when her competition stepped up in 2018, when she took on Tenkai Tsunami she came up short, being broken down by the rugged Tsunami. A second world title fight that same year saw her fight valiantly but lose a clear decision to Ibeth Zamora Silva. Now aged 32, and with more than a year away from the ring, it's now or never for Minowa.
At the early stages of her career Minowa often fought like she was going to rip through opponents. That changed somewhat later in her career, and against Zamora she boxed smartly, though had her legs taken away through the fight and really slowed down in the second half of the fight. Whilst some of that slow down can be attributed to the altitude credit also needs to be given to Zamora for forcing a high tempo and going to the body. Here we're expecting to see Minowa fight smartly again, and with less problems from altitude she could well find her gas tank last better, especially given that Enriquez doesn't set a tempo like Zamora.
If Minowa wasn't coming in after such lengthy break we'd give her a decent shot, she has got the skills in her locker to give Enriquez issues. Sadly however the lengthy absence from the ring is a major issue, and we see that being a problem here for the challenger. That, combined with the effectiveness of Enriquez, and the Mexican crowd behind the champion doesn't bode well for Minowa.
We see the challenger having moments, she's too good not to, but we also see her coming up short, and losing a close but clear decision to the local favourite. We suspect Minowa will be in the lead early, but when Enriquez gets into the groove she'll start racking up the points and taking the decision.
Prediction - UD10 Enriquez
The final female world title bout of the decade will see Miyo Yoshida (13-1) defending her WBO female Super Flyweight world title as she takes on Chinese youngster Li Ping Shi (5-2, 2), as part of a super stacked card at the Ota City Gymnasium in Tokyo. For Yoshida this will be her first defense, after winning the title in June, whilst the 21 year old Shi will be getting her first crack at a world title, and look toe extend her current 3 fight winning run.
The 31 year old Yoshida has made a name for herself over the last couple of years, with her rise from relative obscurity to Japanese, then OPBF and now world champion, all in the space of just over 2 years. She has done so as a single mother, which the Japanese press love to remind us, and has really shown she much improvement from her early days as a boxer. She has stepped up the levels and improved every step of the way, avenging her sole defeat along the way and beating the likes of Tomomi Takano, Yoshie Wakasa and, most recently, Casey Morton.
Although completely devoid of power Yoshida is a solid boxer-mover. She likes to establish range, using her speed and movement to get in and out and ties up well on the inside. Although not a powerful puncher she is surprisingly strong in the clinch, and has pushed around the likes of Wakasa with no issue. What she does really well is time her opponents, and although he shots don't have much weight behind them they do look damaging due to how well she lands her counter shots.
Whilst Yoshida has proven her self at every level whilst climbing through the ranks the same cannot be said of Shi, who is a relative unknown, even in Asian boxing circles. She has been selected as an easy first defense, though with some momentum behind her, including a good win over Yuko Henzan last time out, the challenger will not be there to make up the numbers, and will be going in with some genuine self belief. She has had 3 wins coming into this and despite her youth she does look like a solid, confident and aggressive fighter. Like Yoshida she lacks power, but she comes to fight, and is very much the woman who is going to be pressing the action with her pressure.
Whilst there is plenty of footage of Yoshida out there, including quite a lot on Boxing Raise, the same cannot be said of Shi, though we did manage to get a copy of her 2018 bout against Hyun Hee Gil to get something of a read on her. That footage suggests that she could be a very interesting test for Yoshida, and not the gimme defense that her record suggests. She managed to regularly rush Gil, making the Korean incredibly uncomfortable through out. It wasn't a consistent rush, but it was a regular tactic that left Gil off balance and unable to really respond. A tactic that could unsettle the timing and counters of Yoshida.
We suspect that Yoshida will have to work incredibly hard to take home the win here, though we do expect her to do enough to squeak the decision. Shi will come to win, she will rush, attack and be happy to take one to land one. She's not a big puncher, but the challenger has the aggressiveness to make up for it, and her hooks are thrown with bad intent. Yoshida might be the better boxer, but she will have to take some big shots en route to a win here, and may even be hurt early on by the huge over hard rights that Shi unleashes.
Prediction - Yoshida UD10
It's fair to suggest that 2019 is going to go out in style, and to end the decade Watanabe gym will be promotin a show with a staggering 6 title bouts on it. Of those 6 bouts 3 are world title bouts, including a female title bout, two are regional title bouts and one is a female Japanese title bout.
Of course the least notable of those bouts is the female domestic title bout. Whilst the least significant it is actually a well-matched bout that deserves more than just a passing glance from fans more interested in the bigger bouts. In one corner will be 19 year old hopeful Yume Hirayama (4-0), whilst the other will house Marina Sayama (4-1-1, 2), they are the top two ranked Japanese domestic female Flyweights and they are both hunting their first title. They are also meeting for the second time, after first fighting back in 2017.
Back in 2017, when the women first fought, Hirayama took a decision win over Sayama. It was Hirayama's debut and she was the clear winner. Since then Hiayama has slowly carved out a a small but notable winning run, racking up victories against the then unbeaten Yui Akai and defeating Sachiko Kondo, who was recently the opponent of Tomomi Takano in her Japanese ring return. Although lacking in power she's an energetic fighter, bouncing around the ring with ease, boxing wonderfully out of a southpaw stance and controlling range well. Not only is she smart with her feet but she has enough sting on her shots to stop opponents in their tracks typically, especially with her sharp left hand.
At the age of 32 Sayama is looking to prove herself in a second sport, after having had a career as a professional football player, or soccer player for our American readers. She turned to boxing after she turned 29 and was probably a bit too old to make a major mark on the sport, though she did have the fitness to give it a good run. She won her first 2 bouts before losing to Hirayama in December 2017, then had a draw with Sachiko Kondo. Since the draw she has beaten Kondo in a rematch and stopped Korean for Chan Mi Lim, though sadly that Lim bout was over a year ago and she's been out of the ring since. Whilst Hirayama fights like a smart boxer with a bit of amateur experience, Sayama looks like someone who took to the sport late, but has done well to craft a style that works to her strengths. She's not as crisp, or as clean or as natural as Hirayama, but she does look very powerful, and her right hand is very much a big punch for her, though there is little else in her arsenal. It's also worth noting that Sayama had been dropped in the past, and we do wonder about her chin and overall durability.
Whilst Sayama is clearly the stronger, more physically mature and powerful fighter, we expect to see Hirayama using her footwork, speed and crisper punching to neutralise the advantages of Hirayama and take the decision win. We don't see her asking real questions of Sayama's toughness, but we do see her coming out on top whilst relying on her boxing skills.
Prediction - UD6 Hirayama
On December 14th Tenkai Tsunami (26-12-1, 15) will return to the Light Flyweight division as she seeks her second defense of the WBO female Light Flyweight title. In the opposite corner to the champion will be 2-time world title challenger Jessebelle Pagaduan (12-1-1, 5), from the Philippines, in what looks like a very interesting match up on paper.
The champion, who is a proper veteran, has been a professional since 2005 and this will be her 40th professional bout. On paper her record does look blotchy to say the least, but she has been in 12 world title bouts and faced a genuine who's who of female boxing during her long career. During that she has faced the likes of Ayaka Miyao, Kayoko Ebata, Naoko Yamaguchi, Janeth Perez, Mariana Juarez, Zulina Munoz, Jessica Chavez and Naoko Fujioka. Given that level of competition there is no wonder she has picked up losses, with all of them coming by decision and the majority coming in her opponents back yard.
Although not an elite level fighter Tsunami is clearly world class and is a 2-weight world champion, having won the WBA Super Flyweight title more than a decade ago before dropping in weight to win her current title last year. She's tough, sets a good work rate and hits solidly, without being a concussive puncher. To beat her an opponent needs to keep her off balance, using quick feet and making her chase them. That however is easier said than done and few have the stamina, toughness and physicality to do so over 10 rounds.
Pagaduan has twice challenged for world titles in Japan, and twice been rather unfortunate. Her first world title fight came back in 2014 when she came up against the excellent Nao Ikeyama, who was simply too good for Pagaduan and came far too early in Pagaduan's career. Her second ended after a round with a technical draw against Kumiko Seeser Ikehara. Since then she has won 5 in a row, though all 5 wins have come against very limited opposition.
Footage of Pagaduan isn't too great, though what is available shows an aggressive, speedy yet small fighter. She has the speed and aggression to be in some exciting fighters, and if she can get back down to 102lbs she could be a really fun fighter down there with the other small fighters. Sadly at Light Flyweight, and against a strong Light Flyweight like Tsunami, her size is going to be a real issue and she'll be bullied around.
We suspect that Pagaduan will come to will and will start fast, with a lot of early success thanks to her speed. That however will change as the bout goes on, and the weight, strength and power of Tsunami will wear her down, breaking her spirit and stopping her late on.
Prediction - TKO9 Tsunami
Whilst we have 2 title fights in Tokyo this coming Saturday it's worth noting there will actually be a third title fight take place in Japan, with the lesser of those coming in Kanagawa as Japanese veteran Kimika Miyoshi (14-12-1, 5) defends her Japanese female Featherweight title. In the opposite corner to the 35 year old champion is little known challenger Aira Midorikawa (5-0, 1), also 35, in what will be her first title bout of any kind.
Miyoshi is a legitimate veteran, with more than 11 years professional experience behind her. That long career has been filled with ups and downs, from losing her first 2 pro bouts to winning her OPBF title back in 2013, fighting in world titles bouts and becoming a rare 3 weight OPBF champion. She's not had a smooth career, but she has had an under-rated, and successful, one with bouts across the bout and getting chances to test herself with some of the best out there.
Although an inconsistent fighter through her 27 fight career Miyoshi has proven to be tough, exciting and aggressive. Sadly though Miyoshi is slow, cumbersome, technically limited and has neither impressive hand speed or foot speed. She's a trier, we'll give her that, but she's incredibly slow, often following opponents around the ring and struggling to get her shots off before her opponent gets away. When she managed to get her work off on the inside she looks good, but it often takes a willing opponent for her to get the action up close.
Debuting at the age of 33 in 2017 Midorikawa really didn't have much time to impress and sadly she hasn't really managed to do much at all as a professional. Her competition so far has been novices, and she hasn't looked great, despite remaining unbeaten. She's looked slow, clumsy and very light punching. Unlike some fighters in female boxing, who can turn pro late with a strong amateur background, there doesn't appear to be a natural fighter here, but instead someone that Watanabe Gym are trying to make into a fighter. Had this happened at a younger age Watanabe might have been able to get something out of her, but wee feel it's too little too late.
Watching Midorikawa we see a strong and big looking fighter, she has a cautious style yet has an aggressive mentality, coming forward, but doing so with a lot of jabs and a lot of weight on her back foot. She doesn't appear to have much in the way of power, and struggles to get respect of opponents, which is a genuine issue. That lack of power isn't helped by the fact that Midorikawa doesn't really throw a very good right hand. Her power shot comes from last week, and is so badly telegraphed and slow that it is unlikely to ever stop any one.
Whilst it's clear Miyoshi's career hasn't got long left, we can't help but feel she should have far, far too much for Midorikawa, who has shown little to test the veteran champion. We expect Miyoshi's pressure and work rate to be the difference here and for her to out work the challenger en route to a clear decision.
Prediction - UD6 Miyoshi
The female boxing scene in Japan is an interesting one, with a wave of young and emerging talent looking like it will create a golden generation, lead by Kasumi Saeki and Eri Matsuda. Others following in the lead of those two include talented teenager Eruka Hiromoto (5-0), who looks to extend her perfect record this coming on November 17th, when she defends the OPBF female Minimumweight title against Sana Hazuki (7-4-1, 2).
Aged just 19 years old Hiromoto is one of the youngest Japanese female prospects actually making a mark of some sort on the sport. She made her professional debut in October 2017 and quickly impressed, take 3 unbeaten records in her first 4 fights. Although her competition wasn't great she was stepping up and won a 6 rounder in her 4th bout and the OPBF title, over 8 rounds, in her 5th bout. She's not looked super impressive all the time, but there is a lot to like about the talented youngster, who is maturing and growing into the sport.
Fighting out of the southpaw stance Hiromoto is a talented and quick fighter with a sharp jab and intelligent movement. She does however lack power, works incredibly hard for her success and always looks a little bit like a child in an adult's sport. She looks like for all her skills, and she really is a talent, she can be bullied and a strong, aggressive pressure fighter could really be her Kryptonite and she does need to be careful. What also needs to be noted is that she slows down, a lot, as the fights goes on, and in an 8 rounder she needs to be more conservative early on.
Aged 35 Hazuki is certainly closer to the end of her career than Hiromoto, but she's not shown real signs of ageing and in fact like many female fighters seems to be getting with age, and has "only" been a professional for 5 years anyway. She's proven to be a handful and win or lose she's always in the fight with an intense and aggressive mentality that makes her a real nightmare to go up against. Even with 4 losses in 12 bouts she has never given anyone an easy night, and even gave the sensational Eri Matsuda a serious test in 2018.
Although not the most naturally skilled of fighters or the biggest puncher Hazuki is a rugged, ugly, pressure fighter, who applied pressure from the first round, popping her jab out as a distraction whilst trying to get close and work away on the inside. For fighters who can't get her respect Hazuki is a complete horror to go up against, even if she's up against someone more skilled and with better ring IQ.
We think Hiromoto is a real talent and a proper one to watch for the future. This however is a bout that we suspect will be very, very tough for her. Hazuki is a really horrible match up for Hiromoto, especially this early in her career. In a few fights time, when Hiromoto has a few 8 rounders under her belt, this might have been a good test to see how far she has improved. Here however it's a very high risk bout for a talented young fighter with a lot of promise. We suspect that Hiromoto will do enough to win, but only just in a very, very close bout. Though we certainly wouldn't be massively surprised by an upset here
PRediction - SD8 Hiromoto
This coming Monday we'll see OPBF female Featherweight champion Wakako Fujiwara (8-3-2, 3) return to the ring as she hunts her second defense, and takes on the once beaten Yoshie Wakasa (6-1, 2) at the EDION Arena Osaka. On paper this bout does show the lack of depth in female boxing, but that's not to take away from a bout that should be very entertaining and hotly contested.
The champion is 38 but has proven to be a late bloomer. She was stopped on debut, and was 1-2-1 after 4 bouts, but since then she has gone 7-1-1, with her only loss in that stretch coming to world champion Hyun Mi Choi this past June. Not only has Fujiwara's record turned around but she's go one to avenge one of her losses, stopping Kana Fukuda in 2017 to avenge her debut loss, and has scored two wins over veteran Kimika Miyoshi, a 3 weight OPBF champion. Unfortunately for her she's what we'd describe as a "battler", with a lack of world class power. She can box, but tends to find herself involved in wars on the inside, which are entertaining but she up her lack of boxing IQ. Like many female fighters at this level, skills seem to come second behind work rate, which is fun to watch, but does magnify the difference between the fringe contenders and the truly world class.
Aged 31 Wakasa is no youngster herself, but she is still significantly younger than the champion. She debuted more than 5 years ago and began here career with 6 straight wins, though they were mostly against limited opponents with the best being Asami Jinnari and Tomoko Okuda. last time out she stepped up, massively, to take on Miyo Yoshida and suffered a wide decision loss to Yoshida in a Japanese female Bantamweight title fight. When you consider that she's going up from 118lbs, for that bout, to 126lbs for the bout, that's a big ask for Wakasa, who will be up against her second best opponent so far.
There's a chance that, over the next few years, Wakasa will cement herself as a title level fighter. Here however we see her taking on someone in form. who's, stronger, bigger and more experienced. Fujiwara is unlikely to ever win a world title herself, but we see her taking a very, very comfortable decision over her fellow Japanese fighter here, even if she does end up resorting to using her size to take the win.
Prediction - UD8 Fujiwara
The female boxing scene is a rather weird one right now. We have a lot of really exciting emerging talent around the globe and then we have a big drop off to the domestic type fighters. That's seen quite clearly in the upcoming Japanese Featherweight title fight between Miki Mitsuda (5-5, 4) and Kimika Miyoshi (13-12-1, 5), who are both rather limited fighters. On paper this looks like a 50-50 bout, which is always a good thing, but it certainly doesn't look like a title fight.
Despite it's looks this is going to be a bout for the national title, and that's kinda disrespectful to the belt in some ways.
Despite our complaints however the bout looks like it could be a fun one to watch.
The limited, but relatively hard hitting, Mitsuda enters as the Japan and will be looking to make her first defense of the title. She won the belt this past April, when she stopped Asami Jinnari in their second bout, following a stoppage loss to Jinnari in 2018. She's turned her career around from a 1-4 start, but has yet to impress and has fought pretty much her whole career against low level domestic opposition. On paper she looks like a fearsome puncher, but in reality her record says more about her opposition than herself, and she's never likely to find herself competing on the world scene. She's crude, open and really just proof of why sometimes having a title says more about eligibility than skills.
At 35 years old Miyoshi is probably on the slide, though as we've seen in recent years female fighters do tend to slip a lot slower than their male counterparts. Sadly for Miyoshi she has lost her last 4, though that has included losses to Shannon O'Connell, Hyun Mi Choi and Wakako Fujiwara. At her best Miyoshi is a fringe world class fighter who has claimed OPBF titles over 3 weight classes, Bantamweight, Super Featherweight and Featherweight and has proven to be a durable fighter. Sadly she's certainly slowing down and is not the fighter who upset the likes of Riyo Togo and Chika Mizutani. Instead she's a fighter who is low on confidence and getting older by the fight.
Coming in to this it seems like the fighter on the 4 fight slide should be the under-dog against the champion, who has stopped her last 2 opponents and avenged her most recent loss. We however are picking the experience, toughness and durability of Miyoshi. We feel Miyoshi will simply wear down and Mitsuda, mentally and physically to take the win. Mitsuda will likely start the better of the two, but Miyoshi will come on strong to take the win.
Prediction - UD6 Miyoshi
Here we preview the key female title bouts involving an Asian fighter.