Earlier today at Korakuen Hall Japanese fight fans had the chance to see IBF Atomweight champion Saemi Hanagata (16-7-5, 7) [田中冴美] take on unbeaten challenger Eri Matsuda (4-0-1, 1) [松田恵里] in what was a really interesting match up. A match up that became even more interesting when Hanagata revealed, win or lose, this would be her final bout before retiring.
It was, on paper, a veteran against a newbie, a pressure fighting warrior against an outside boxer, a stalwart of the Japanese professional boxing scene against an up comer. It was a bout with so many little stories, and sub-stories, going into it that would could have been here all day talking about the intricacies of the two women and their relationship, with the two having previously sparred and with Matsuda stating that Hanagata has helped her become a better professional.
Whilst we could spend all day talking about those stories, it makes more sense, now, to talk about the bout which finished earlier today and a few hours after finished was uploaded to streaming service Boxing Raise.
From the opening bell it was, pretty much, the fight everyone expected. It was Matsuda on her toes, bouncing around at range, trying to use her reach and footwork to keep Hanagata at range. At the same time Hanagata was trying to march in, pressure and press, getting inside to try and work away at the body of the challenger. It was compelling straight away and despite both women having been out of the ring for over a year both looked sharp.
Hanagata tried to up the pace in round 2 and had much more success in getting close to Matsuda, who was forced to tie up and spoil when Hanagata got in her face. Despite being under more pressure Matsuda dealt with it well at times, and landed some really catching uppercuts as the round flew bye. Hanagata also managed to keep things close in round 3, as she seemed to become more and more willing to take one to land some. Matsuda was, however, still having her moments and it was not a clear cut round either way.
In round 4 Matsuda began to land more and more uppercuts, using the shots to try to discourage Hanagata from rushing in. They worked to some extent, but Hanagata continued to press, trying to grind down the challenger who's lack of power was an issue.
By round 5 Hanagata seemed to have dragged Matsuda into her fight. Matsuda tried to create space, but all too often found herself either backing up or forced into a response. This made the action fantastic to watch and saw plenty of exchanges between two world class fighters. Sadly however at times it looked like the two women knew each other a little bit too well, and almost seemed to anticipate the other's next move.
We had assumed, going in, that the second half of the fight would be the point where Hanagata's experience really came to the fore. Instead however it seemed her weary, tired, legs were slowing. She continued to press but it was Matsuda who seemed to find a new gear and land the cleaner punches in round 6. That seemed to anger Hanagata, who upped the tempo in round 7, and forced an all out war between the two fighters which saw the champion landing some fantastic shots, including a brilliant straight right hand down the pipe in round 7.
The two began to look tired in the later stages, not a surprise given the tempo they had been fighting at, but they continued to shots, dig deep and fight up close. It was as if Matsuda had decided that boxing and moving was the wrong tactic, and instead she repeatedly engaged Hanagata in Hanagata's fight. Despite fighting the wrong fight Matsuda managed to take the final 2 rounds, something that proved vital to the result.
After 10 rounds of ferocious, thrilling and enthralling action we went to the scorecards. This was clearly a close one. It was one that could have gone either and they both knew it. They embraced at the final bell, the ball breaking out into applause at the brilliant fight they had seen.
The scores were read out 97-95, Matsuda, that judge was however over-ruled as scores of 95-95 came in from the other two judges, giving us a draw.
After the bout Hanagata confirmed she was done with the sport, and that she would become an elementary school teacher. She also gave props to Matsuda, and suggested she'd become stronger from this experience. Some we tend to agree with.
For fans with Boxing Raise this is worth going to watch right now. It was a fantastic 10 round bout, and once again showed how good female boxing can be when the fighters are matched in competitive contests. For those without the service, it's certainly something worth considering.
The first title fight of the weekend saw WBO Atomweight champion Mika Iwakawa (10-5-1, 3) [岩川 美花] make her first successful defense as she narrowly over-came the hard working and none stop pressure of Nanae Suzuki (10-4-1, 1) [鈴木菜々江], to claim a split decision.
The opening round saw Suzuki look the press the action, with relentless pressure. Although she was pressing and pushing forward, she was struggling to land anything of note, and when Iwakawa turned it on late in the round she showed the gulf in class between the two women.
Sadly that round was one of the highlights of the early parts of the fight with many of the other early rounds descending into a bit of a sloppy messy. For the most part Suzuki was pressing, Iwakawa was countering well and then holding. It was dire early on.
That was until round 5 when Iwakawa started to use her legs more, creating space and seemingly feeling the pressure get to her. From there the bout suddenly started to turn around, and in round 6 we saw action heating up, with both fighters letting their hands go more and giving us a thrilling exchange.
The action continued to get better in round 7 as Iwakawa realised she had to fight fire with fire. It made for a very entertaining round of back and forth action. It was certainly more entertaining than some of the earlier action but was also a sign that Suzuki was drawing Iwakawa into her fight.
Suzuki's pressure just didn't relent and she kept marching on and on. In round 8 that pressure made Ishikawa get back on her toes as she looked for space. Space wasn't going to be easy to come by thanks to Suzuki's incessant forward march.
By the start of round 10 it was clear that Suzuki's aggression, pressure and messy yet none stop forward march had made things incredibly close. She never looked close to being Iwakawa's equal in terms of skills, but her will to win, her stamina and her energy had made life incredibly hard for the champion. The champion seemed to land all the better shots, but she was taking huge breaks in rounds and only showing glimpses of what she could do.
After 10 rounds we were to the scorecards and there was a split decision. The scores read out were 97-93, 96-94 to Iwakawa and a dissent score of 97-93 to Suzuki.
Despite a solid start for Iwakawa the real story of the fight was the pressure of Suzuki, who was relentless and made things incredibly close. Sadly her lack of clean work did play against her. Despite the loss she will be back, and did seem to win over fans online, who likely hadn't seen her before but were impressed by her none stop effort.
Given Iwakawa is 37 this was probably a bit of regrettable match making from her point of view. She was in there with a bundle of energy and she could never really find her groove against the pressure and aggression of the challenger. The gulf in skills showed through out, and Iwakawa is on a different level in terms of skill, but Suzuki's will to win made things incredibly tough.
Sometime we just get fighters who are perfectly matched against each other. One such case is Saemi Hanagata (16-7-4, 7) [田中冴美] and Nao Ikeyama (18-6-4, 5) [森脇恵子], who met for the third time today, following two previous draws.
The first two bouts saw Ikeyama narrowly retain the WBO Atomweight title with the draws. She lost that title last year, and this time around it was Hanagata entering as a world champion, as she sought her first defense of the IBF Atomweight title that she won late last year.
Today's bout, as with their first two, saw little to separate the two fighters who once again put on a nail biting, all action nip and tuck 10 rounder.
Hanagata got off to a good start, taking the opening round as she showed fluid movement and landed good jabs at range. From then on however things got harder to call with Ikeyama stepping up her pressure and working up close. The pressure of Ikeyama saw Hanagata being dragged into a war up close and there was almost nothing at all two separate the two fighters through the first half of the bout.
In the second half the bout began to slow a little, due to Ikeyama's success with body shots, and Hanagata changed her gameplan slightly, rather than continued to brawl. It was then a case that Ikeyama's cleaner punching was catching the eye, just that little bit more than Ikeyama's work. Ikeyama seemed to realise that the bout was slipping away, and turned up the pressure again in round 10, as she did all she could to swing the bout back her way, but her effort wasn't quite enough.
After 10 rounds Hanagata got the win, via split decision, though again there was little to split the two fighters on the cards, with all 3 judges turning in scores of 96-94.
After 30 rounds we finally have a winner between Hanagata and Ikeyama, with Hanagata taking the series 1-0. It's worth noting however it took until Ikeyama was on the verge of her 50th birthday, for Hanagata to get a win over her.
With Ikeyama turning 50 next week it seems unlikely we'll see her in the ring again. Credit however needs to be given to her for the incredible performances she has been giving over the last few years. For Hanagata however the result will go down as one of her most significant.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Earlier today Japanese fight fans in Tokyo had the chance to see the fifth show in the Victoriva series of shows. The card are all female shows, and today's co feature bout was a WBA Atomweight title unification contest between "interim" champion Ayaka Miyao (23-8-1, 6) [宮尾 綾香] and the WBA regular champion Monseratt Alcaron (13-4-2).
Originally this bout was pencilled in to take place last November, but was cancelled when Alcaron was forced out with an injury. Today however we saw the two put on an ultra-competitive, but sadly for the local fans it wasn't to be for Miyao.
The opening round was a good one for Miyao, who's speed seemed to bother Alcaron. Sadly though it wasn't long until Alcaron found her footing in the bout and she swept rounds 2 to 4 on all 3 cards. The Mexican had taken the lead with her pressure, and although she seemed to struggle to land really hurtful blows her aggression was impressing the judges.
Strangely the judges really struggled to agree on things after round 4, with only 2 of the last 6 rounds have complete agreement from the judges. They were either caught up with the aggression and pressure of Alcaron or the speed and movement of Miyao. From the last 6 rounds one judge gave the Mexican rounds 5 through to 9, whilst another gave Miyao everything in the second half, other than round 6. It was the third scorecard that was the most interesting, giving Alcaron rounds 5,6 and 9 and Miyao rounds 7,8 and 10. The only rounds all 3 agreed with was rounds 6, to Alcaron, and 10, to Miyao.
Although the judges were obviously seeing different things to each other what they were all seeing was a high tempo fight between fighters with styles that just gelled really well and made for an action bout. Sadly for Miyao however the success of Alcaron in the first half was essentially the difference and after 10 rounds the Mexican was declared the winner of a split decision, with scores of 98-92 and 96-94 in her favour against a score of 96-94 for Miyao.
At the moment it's unclear what is next for the two. Miyao would likely be very interested in a rematch, and a chance to avenge this loss, though Eri Matsuda, who picked up a win on the under-card, may also be interested in favour Alcaron for the WBA title. Alcaron on the other hand might prefer to go back to Mexico and build at home from this win.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
Earlier today at the Korakuen Hall fight fans saw Ayaka Miyao (23-7-1, 6) [宮尾 綾香] finally over-come Nao Ikeyama (18-5-3, 5) [森脇恵子], in what was their third meeting, to claim the WBA "interim" Atomweight title.
The bout, which came about when regular champion Monseratt Alcarron (11-4-2) was forced to pull out of a clash with Miyao, had a good sense of history behind it. In their first bout, years ago, Ikeyama had stopped a then fresh faced Miyao, whilst in 2016 Miyao was stopped again after suffering a freak leg injury. It was clear they had unfinished business from their 2016 clash, and both wanted to use this bout to put the final chapter in their rivalry.
The fight saw the 35 year old Miyao using her feet and boxing well on her toes, using her significant edge in speed to out box the much older Ikeyama, who at the age of 49 really has impressed in her longevity but has slowed significantly in recent bouts. The speed of Miyao and her energy and work rate, as ever, impressed as she made Ikeyama look slow and clumsy, dropping her in the first round, en route to a clear 10 round decision, with scores of 97-92, twice, and 96-93 in favour of Miyao.
We're expecting Miyao to now face Alcarron in 2019, whilst Ikeyama is almost certainly going to be retiring.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
Earlier today at the Korakuen Hall fight fans got an absolute treat of a female bout, as former foes Yuko Kuroki (18-6-1, 8) [黒木優子] and Saemi Hanagata (15-7-4, 7) [田中冴美] clashed in their third meeting. Their first two bouts had both been action packed encounters but today's was a little bit extra special being fought for the IBF Atomweight title. For Kuroki the bout was a chance to become a 2-weight champion whilst Hanagata was looking claim a world title after coming up short in 4 previous world title bouts.
We were expecting a great fight, just given their history and styles, but we got something even better than expected as the two really looked to take this one out of the judges hands.
Hanagata immediate set the tempo and attitude of the bout, pressing the more technically capable Kuroki on to the back foot. Kuroki had no issue fighting off the back, when she could create space, using her better straight punches and foot movement, to land clean blows. Sadly for Kuroki however she was regularly dragged into Hanagata's fight, a brawl.
Whilst it was Hanagata's style of fight that seemed to dictate the action in the early going Kuroki had her moments, despite being rocked hard in round 2. The moments for Kuroki tended to come when the two women both threw, and Kuroki's shots just had that little bit more zip on them. Despite the zip on Kuroki's shots it was usually the work rate of Hanagata that left a lasing impression during the back and forth action.
Kuroki, to her credit, did find rounds where she established her style. Where she managed to use her legs and avoid a tear up with Hanagata. When that happened she looked like the fighter who had had an excellent reign at Minimumweight. Those rounds however never seemed to build on each other and seemed like one off rounds before she was dragged into a fight.
By the final rounds the pace had taken it's toll on both women, as had the accumulated damage of head shots and headclashes, several of which stopped the action in round 7. The slowing pace lead to a final round that was mostly wrestling, as the two try to grind out the result.
Going to the score-cards, and given how Kuroki had held her own for the most part in the short trading sequences the two had, it seemed like we had a close decision. That proved to be the case when the judges score cards were announced, with scores of 96-94, twice, in favour of Hanagata whilst the third judge favoured Kuroki 96-95.
We had the bput 96-94 to Hanagata who was very emotional after the win, having finally claimed a world title in her 5th attempt. We suspect Kuroki will bounce back, but today was about Hanagata who will be very hard to dethrone with her toughness, energy and work rate.
Earlier today Japanese fight fans in Kyoto saw the WBO Atomweight title change hands, as veteran Nao Ikeyama (18-4-3, 5) [池山直] was dethroned by the unheralded Mika Iwakawa (8-5-1, 3) [岩川美花] in a thrilling 10 round war.
The 48 year old champion, who had held the title for more than 4 years, was expected to secure her 7th defense and score her second win over Iwakawa. Instead however Iwakawa came out on top of a pulsating back and forth battle that left fans knowing the two fighters had given their all.
Iwakawa got off to a good start, taking the opening round with her work rate, in the second Ikeyama came back managing to control the distance slightly better before the fight just became an all out, tit-for-tat battle of attrition.
The difference between the two seemed to be the variation of Iwakawa, who effectively switched her stances in round 4, and gave Ikeyama a lot to think about then showed her defense a few rounds later when Ikeyama tried to take control of the action, and she did rock Iwakawa who bounced back and recovered amazingly well
With neither giving an inch the crowd were on their feet in the final round as the two fighters delivered the grandstand finale. Sadly for Ikeyama however it wasn't to be enough, with Iwakawa taking a split decision, with two cards of 96-94 in her favour whilst the dissenting judge had it 96-94 in favour of Ikeyama.
After the bout Ikeyama made it clear she would be retiring, but wanted to stay involved in the sport making it sound like she would either work at, or set up, a gym. As for the new champion she spoke about wanting to unify titles and inherit the strength of Ikeyama, who's late career surge really was impressive.
(Image courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Earlier today Japanese fight fans at the Korakuen Hall had the chance to see a thrilling WBO Atomweight world title fight, resulting in veteran Nao Ikeyama (18-3-2, 5) [池山直] narrowly hanging on to her title.
The 47 year old champion, was making her 6th defense of the title, and was facing former foe Saemi Hanagata (13-6-3, 7) [花形 冴美], following a draw last year. And once again the judges struggled to separate the two wonderfully matched fighters.
In the early stages it seemed like the younger Hanagata was just doing enough to net the rounds, and was in the lead on all 3 cards after 4 rounds, with scores of 39-37 on all the cards. Although she was leading the judges were having problems deciding on which rounds to give the champion, with one judging giving her round 1, another giving her round 2 and the other giving her round 4.
In the middle rounds it was Ikeyama who came on strong, winning rounds 5 and 6 on all 3 cards to put her self level. From then on it really was anyones with Hanagata winning round 7 unanimously and Ikeyama taking round 10, but the judges being split on rounds 8 and 9. Thsi resulted in a split decision draw with scoresof 96-94, 95-95 and 94-94.
Whilst neither fighter will feel happy about the draw neither can really complain as they cancelled each other our brilliantly at times, with neither getting much of an upper hand for long. The bout was fought on margins and when all was set and done a draw was a fair result, in what was a real back and forth contest with both fighters landing solid shots on the other.
With this being a second draw between the two women in around 13 months the logical step would be a third clash, though we could understand both looking else where as these bouts were punishing, and with neither clearly being able to prove themselves the better fighter it could be worth leaving the serious tied at 0-0.
With her 48th birthday just around the corner Ikeyama really does continue to amaze, matching younger fighters as she did here, showing great stamina through out and battling herself out of an early hole. It is however worth wondering how long she can have these tough battles before her body ages over-night, and when that happens it could well be to a lesser fighter than Hanagata.
Sadly for Hanagata this was a 4th set back in a world title bout, where she is now 0-2-2. She has proven she really does belong at this level and will also take a lot from the fact it took her mentor Susumu Hanagata until his 5th world title fight before he finally won a title, claiming the WBA Flyweight title back in 1974 when he defeated Chartchai Chionoi in their second bout.
For those interested in this bout it will be on subscription service Boxingraise.com.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Today fight fans saw the heavy handed Yunoka Furukawa (9-1-2, 6) [古川 夢乃歌] record her first defense of the WBA Atomweight title as she out pointed OPBF female Light Flyweight champion Mika Iwakawa (6-5-1, 2) [岩川 美花] in a tremendous war of high octane action and heavy handed blows.
To begin the bout it was the challenger who started fast, taking an early lead as she used her superiour size and reach to keep the champion at range. In round two Furukawa tried to amp up the pressure but was met by Iwakawa fighting back and the champion struggled to impose her will on the bout.
Despite the good start from the challenger it was clear that she was going to struggle to keep the aggressive Furukawa at range and as the bout went on Furukawa's pressure began to take ahold of the bout, with Iwakawa having her size advantage negated by the relentless pressure of the champion.
Iwakawa continued to try and fight back but as we got into the later rounds the champion extra fitness, power and youthful aggressiveness showed with the champion sweeping many of the later rounds en route to a very hard fought first defense of the title, winning with scores of 97-93, 96-94 and 95-95.
With her first defense under her belt we're expecting to see huge things from Furukawa who looked like she improved during the fight, and looked more like a champion at the end of the bout than she did when she entered the contest. There are still flaws with the champion but she looks like someone who is going to be very tough to dethrone, and every bout is likely to see her improving, bit by bit.
As for Iwakawa the bout might be another loss but she proved that she can compete at this level and will likely bounce back better next time out. She did seem to tire, though a question is whether that was at least partly down to moving down in weight, just as much as the aggressive work of Furukawa.
For fight fans interested in watching this bout it will be on the boxingraise service during the next 24 hours and is well worth a watch for fight fans who enjoy high octane action, even if they don't typically enjoy female boxing.
(Images courtesy of boxmob.jp)
Some wins are more fulfilling than others and it's fair to say that WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (18-3-2, 5) [池山 直] will have been unfulfilled by her most recent win, a win that saw her scoring a 5th round TKO victory over former WBA champion Ayaka Miyao (21-7-1, 5) [宮尾 綾香], and despite it being the best win of Ikeyama's career it will also be one that will leave her the most empty.
The bout, which promised so much given the action styles of both women, was seen as a real treat for both fans at the Korakuen Hall and fans who use subscription service Boxingraise. It was the chief-support bout for Dangan Ladies 3 and was one of two world title bouts that were set to help ignite the Atomweight division. Instead it left fans feeling under-whelmed, and despite getting 4 rounds of action it wans't the bout that many had hoped for.
The bout started well with both fighters showing their skills and aggression early on, Miyao tried to her jab whilst the 47 year old Ikeyama managed to work her way in and out. In the second round Miyao seemed to begin taking over, getting her engine going and giving the champion some real worries. It was clear that Miyao had the ability to really let loose with her high work rate and could give Ikeyama, a more aggressive fighter, some real problems.
Rounds 3 and 4 were nip and took affairs with neither fighter really getting the best of it, though Miyao did seem to land a really notable shot towards the end of round 4 which looked like it could have sewed the seeds for a future break through. Sadly for Miyao the break through never came and instead it seemed that Ikeyama was fired up, taking the fight to Miyao hard in round 5.
In round 6 Miyao hit the canvas, with her right knee looking like it was the cause of her falling. The brave challenger recovered to her fight but was in incredible pain and a follow up by Ikeyama sent the challenger down to the canvas again, this time forcing the end.
Some have suggested that Miyao's injury could be a very serious ligament issue, and could potentially threaten her career, with the fighter being stretchered out of the ring and looking in pure agony.
For Ikeyama the win was a huge one on paper though one that she won't have felt too pleased by, and her face as her arm was raised seemed to be one of discontent rather than jubilation, showing the concern to her fighting sister.
(Image courtesy of boxnob.jp)