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.
Last night in Costa Rica fans had the chance to see the aggressive Sana Hazuki (8-5-1, 2) [葉月さな] get her first world title fight, as she challenged IBF Minimumweight champion Yokasta Valle (21-2, 9).
For Hazuki this was a career defining opportunity, though she was, obviously, the under-dog against an incredibly talented Valle, despite that she went over to Costa Rica with hunger and desire and that showed against a champion looking to record her second defense.
From the early going Hazuki was on the front foot, trying to attack Valle and pressing. Sadly however Valle's skills, counter punching, speed and timing were a massive difference and she neutralised Hazuki's pressure and made her pay for her ambition and aggression. Hazuki never stopped trying to bring the attack, but she lacked the nuance and skills to make her aggression pay, whilst Valle outboxed her, out skilled her and won round after round.
After 10 rounds there no faulting Hazuki's effort, but there was also no way to give her more than a round or two. That was shown on the scorecards, with two judges having it a 10 round shut out to the local star, and the third judge having it a little bit closer at 98-92.
After the bout Hazuki told the Japanese media "I didn't feel the power, but the height of the opponent was shorter than I expected and it was difficult to do. Even if I hit the punch, I felt the difference in career because of the quick judgment to turn to defense."
As for the future, Hazuki suggested that she was unsure if she would continue her career. It would be sad to see this be the end of her career, but at the age of 36 it's clear time is ticking on her career and if she bows out now, it's at least on the back of a world title fight.
On Saturday night in Costa Rica IBF Female Minimumweight champion Yokasta Valle (20-2, 9) recorded her first defense, as she took a stoppage win over the over-matched Carleans Rivas (8-7-4), from the Philippines.
Rivas, fighting in her first world title bout, had struggled to make a mark against top regional talent and seemed to a hand selected first defense for Valle, who had won the title last year with an excellent win in Spain over Joana Pastrana.
Valle was too good from the off, and sadly Rivas, whilst game, was out of her depth.
In front of a rapturous home crowd Valle out worked, out fought and out battled Rivas through the first 5 rounds, sweeping them.
The one sided nature of the bout continued into round 6 with the referee calling a halt to the action just after the midway point of the round, giving Valle her first defense.
Sadly for Rivas, who didn't look like she belonged in the ring here, this is her third stoppage loss, and it's very, very clear, that her limitations are really Filipino scene.
Whilst we under-stand Valle wanting an easy home coming defense questions need to be asked of the IBF for allowing Rivas to fight for the title. Her last 3 wins, dating back almost 4 years, have all come against domestic foe Floryvic Montero, who accounts for 3 of Rivas's 8 wins. Really the IBF shouldn't have sanctioned this, and in the end it goes to devalue their title. Their champion is excellent, but with a challenger like this the champion and title look bad by association.
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)
Yesterday in Spain Thai veteran Samson Tor Buamas (40-5, 22) challenged IBF female Minimumweight champion Joana Pastrana (14-1, 5).
Unfortunately for the Thai she was second best through out and suffered her first stoppage loss, as Pastrana showed her would class ability and why she is regarded as a rare beacon of success for female boxing in Spain.
Pastrana went on the attack straight away and imposed her will on Samson, who looked out of sorts from the start. Although defensively Samson had some moments of success, avoiding the blows of Pastrana, she couldn't ever get the respect of the Spanish fighter, who kept coming forward and landing powerful blows. Those included a huge right hand in round 7 that sent the challenger down. She would recover to her feet but was out of it as the referee stopped the contest.
Given that Samson is now 35 we wouldn't be surprised to see her hang them up and go into retirement following a very long and successful career.
(Image courtesy of Marca.com)
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.
Late on Saturday fight fans in Argentina saw Japan's Terumi Nuki (9-3, 6) [ぬき てるみ] challenge IBF female Super Flyweight champion Debora Anahi Dionicius (27-0, 6), with the local easily retaining her title with a wide decision.
The Japanese fighter, fighting in her second world title bout, looked hungry and had travelled as a fighter with a lot of belief. Tha belief was shown in the way she fought, but unfortunately she lacked the skills and speed to neutralise the champion, who was too quick, too sharp and too good.
Nuki came out looking for a fight but the footwork of Dionicius was too smart and she she managed the distance brilliantly, getting in and out and letting her shots go with ease. There were moments where Nuki had some success, but those moments were few and far between with the local really just doing things at her tempo.
At the end there was no arguing about the winner, with Dionicius taking the decision 99-91, 99-91 and 98-92.
For Nuki this was her second set back in a world title fight, following a previous loss to WBC female Bantamweight champion Mariana Juarez last year. As for Dioinicus this was her 11th successful defense of the title.
(Image courtesy of Hiroki Ioka Gym)
This past Saturday saw the boxing world focus on Wales, where Anthony Joshua faced off with Carlos Takam, that however wasn't the only show of note, with Macau hosting a female world title fight between IBF female Minimumweight champion Zong Ju Cai (10-1, 1) and Filipino challenger Gretchen Abaniel (18-9, 6).
The bout started at an exciting pace with the challenger pressing the action and the champion being forced to fight off the back foot and counter the very aggressive Abaniel. It looked like it was going to be a very tough first defense for Cai but mid way through round 2 she began to grow in confidence and make the most of her southpaw stance with raidng attacks and lovely clean punches between the messy assaults of Abaniel.
As the fight went on Abaniel's assaults began to call shorter and shorter and her output dropped, allowing Cai to dictate the pac with more ease. There was still flurry's from Abaniel, but they were less and less effective, with Cai holding when she needed to bunt the Filipino's assaults. It always seemed that whilst Abaniel was having more attacks than the champion they were much less effective than the faster, more accurate punching of the Chinese fighter, who showed good movement through out.
In the final rounds Abaniel tried to up the ante and press with more intensity, really forcing Cai backwards through out round 9, as it seemed she needed to try and turn the fight around. It broiught her more success, though she did seem to be stung by a counter of Ca's at one point in round 9 and lacked the energy, and power, needed to hurt the local favourite. The same intensity from Abaniel was seen in round 10 and caused Cai to commit a number of fouls, which almost saw her being deducted a point.
At the final bell Abaniel celebrated loudly, but it did seem like she hadn't quite done enough to dethrone the champion, despite a lot of effort in the final rounds, whilst the champion looked calmly confident of having retained her title. The view of Cai's was confirmed by the judges who scored the bout in favour of Cai with two cards of 97-93 and one of 98-92 in favour of the champion.
Although it seemed clear that Abaniel felt she had done enough she lacked the effective work needed to win over the judges, who would have been impressed by Cai's accuracate and effective work.
Yesterday in Argentina fight fans saw Japan's Yunoka Furukawa (9-2-2, 6) [古川 夢乃歌] on local star Leonela Paola Yudica (13-0-3) in a bout for the IBF Flyweight title, which Yudica was defending.
Sadly for Furukawa, the WBA Atomweight champion, the bout didn't see manage to become a 2-weight champion. Instead she came up on the losing side of pretty clear decision, despite giving the bout her all.
The challenger pressed the action from the off, always coming forward and applying pressure. Unfortunately however the speed and accuracy wasn't there from the travelling fighter, and instead of being worn down Yudica used Furukawa's aggression against her. As a result Yudica was landing her jab, and straight and rolling off to the side before Furukawa could land her bigger shots. It was a determined effort from the Japanese warrior, but one that lacked the bite needed to really trouble the Argentinian skillster.
Although Furukawa came up short here, she does remain the WBA Atomweight champion and is likely to head back down in weight going forward, where she can make the most of her marauding style and aggression.
As for Yudica the future does look promising, but we suspect she will have much tougher bouts than this. It's not that Furukawa's a bad fighter, but she was stylistically just a bit too slow and a bit too light for the champion, who is very smart and very accurate.
To end an action packed Saturday our attention turned to Mexico where the IBF female Light Flyweight title was on the line, as Japan's Naoko Shibata (16-4-1, 5) [柴田 直子] sought to continue her reign and do the double over Mexican foe Alondra Garcia (17-3-1, 1), the woman she originally beat for the title back in November 2013. Sadly for Shibata her 3 and a bit year reign came to end, after 5 successful defenses.
The bout didn't seem to start with round 1 of fight 2 but instead round 11 of the Shibata Vs Garcia rivalry, and was fought at a brilliantly high tempo pace which just got better and better as the rounds went on. The high octane nature of the fight wans't just exciting but also compelling with both fighters having their moments in a back and forth round.
The back and forth action continued through a number of rounds, with only a number of clear cut rounds either way, such as round 2 and 9 for Garcia and rounds 5 and 8 for Shibata. Unfortunately though with 6 close rounds it was clear the score cards could have been all over the place, and unfortunately for Shibata they were all against here.
The close nature of the rounds, and the back and forth highlights that both ladies had, meant almost any score was allowed,though all 3 judges favoured Garcia with cards of 94-96, 92-98 and 93-97. It's fair to say the 94-96 card was the nearest to ours, and whilst we could see the the other two cards they did seem hard, especially the 98-92 card. Incidentally the cards were exactly reverals of their first bout, which Shibata won 96-94, 97-93 and 98-92.
A third bout would make sense going forward but we wouldn't be surprised by Shibata taking another option and Garcia looking for bigger paying opportunties instead.