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.