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.
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 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.