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 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 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.
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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.
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Fans at he Korakuen Hall today were treat to several treats, including two female world title bouts. Whilst the WBO female Bantamweight title fight between Naoko Fujioka and Shindo Go may go down as the female fight of the year, the co-feature, a bout between WBO Atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama (17-3-2, 4) [池山直] and exciting challenger Saemi Hanagata (12-6-3, 6) [花形 冴美], was also thrilling.
The bout saw Ikeyama, the oldest world champion in Japanese boxing history, narrowly retain her title with a split decision draw whilst Hanagata suffered her third setback in a world title bout.
From the off the bout was a real fight with both letting their hands go. It wasn't classically pleasing but it was engrossing, action packed and enthralling with neither knowing when to back down, or when to back off.
With the style of the bout, and the all action mentality of both it was clear that the bout was going to be a hard one to score and that was seen in the cards which read 96-94, 95-95 and 94-96 to give a fair, but frustrating, split decision draw.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
This past Saturday in Sri Lanka fight fans saw history being created as the 46 year old Nao Ikeyama (17-3-1, 4) became the first world champion to successfully defend a world title in the country. The Japanese veteran claimed her place in history by taking a clear unanimous decision over experienced Filipino Jujeath Nagaowa (13-16-1, 8).
The bout, which took place in a stunning venue, was a competitive bout with Nagaowa not allowing Ikeyama to control the pace and instead the two were forced to trade shots. Although it wasn't Ikeyama's "style" the champion was able to out land and out work the cruder Filipino, who again showed why she keeps getting notable fights.
Whilst the bout did create history by becoming the first world itle fight in Sri Lanka, it does seem like that's not the only piece of history Ikeyama wan't to record and a rumour now is that she may be set to become the first world champion to defend her title in Myanmar, another country that has yet to really see professional boxing.
With the win Ikeyama keeps her WBO Atomweight reign alive whilst Nagaowa has once again proven that she will always force a fight and will almost certainly get another big one in the near future.
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Age seems to be a talking point in boxing right now. Last weekend the 37 year old Floyd Mayweather retained his unified Welterweight titles and this past Friday the 39 year old Omar Andres Narvaez retained his WBO Super Flyweight title. Those two fighters seem like little boys however when compared to Japanese veteran Nao Ikeyama (15-3-1, 4) who retained her WBO Atomweight title earlier today with a narrow and hard fought decision over fellow Japanese fighter Masae Akitaya (9-5-2, 3).
Despite her age Ikeyama looked like a ball of energy and fought the entire contest at an unbelievable. This was simply too much for Akitaya who was dropped in round 2 and generally forced to fight off the back foot.
The challenger, a relative spring chicken at "only" 36, tried to answer back and often succeeded with slightly more crisp and accurate work though at the end of the day she was simply unable to meet Ikeyama's pace. As a result the champion took a unanimous decision to retain her title.
With the win Ikeyama became one of the oldest champions in history to defend a world title. She might not quite have matched Bernard Hopkins but she has hit the form of her career and with performances like there is a chance she could retain that title for quite a while. She might not be classically skilled but with her relentlessness she's going to be very difficult to beat.
As for Akitaya she actually made history as she became to first fighter to fail in title efforts at all 3 Atomweight titles. This loss has followed a technical draw with the indomitable Momo Koseki and a loss to the all-action Ayaka Miyao and unfortunately it seems likely she will become one of those fighters who never gets over the line and never becomes a world champion despite fighting a number of fights at the top level.
(Image courtesy of boxingnews.jp)
Today was an historic day for the WBO and the Atomweight division as, for the first time ever, the WBO crowned a champion the smallest division in professional boxing. Surprisingly we think they may also have crowned the oldest ever "first time" champion as recognised by one of the big 4.
That fighter was the 44 year old Nao Ikeyama (14-3-1, 4) who added the newly created WBO Atomweight title to the lightly regarded WIBA title she he held, for a short period, back in 2007-2008.
Ikeyama's victory was a real shock as she took on the previously unbeaten Filipino Jessebelle Pagaduan (6-1, 4) who was not only unbeaten going in to this bout but was also 15 years younger than Ikeyama.
We, like many, had thought this was a forgone conclusion and the younger, fresh Pagaduan was going to walk through the older fighter, out work her, out speed her and generally dominate with youth. Instead however it was a masterclass like a teacher gives a young student and Ikeyama, despite her age, was still too quick for Pagaduan, not only that but she was also too good for the younger fighter who was made to look completely out of he depth.
Although older and with a lot more miles on the clock this bout proved, a lot of Bernard Hopkins bouts do, that skills can over-come age, knowing how to box can be the key to winning. That's not to say that Ikeyama is half the fighter that Hopkins is but this was nothing short of a fighter proving that father time can be held off if a fighter is simply on another level to their opponent.
For Pagaduan this is embarrassing though probably less embarrassing than if she had faced Momo Koseki who would have mauled her, roughed her up and mentally broke her. As it was Ikeyama just took a clear decision with cards of 98-92, 99-91 and 99-91 again, there was no doubt over who deserved the victory.
With Ikeyama saying she would retire if she lost we're expecting to see her make at least 1 defence of the title, though we're unsure who the WBO will accept as an opponent for their newest champion. By the time of her first defence Ikeyama may well be 45 years old though if she can fight as well as she did here then there may well be no need for her to even consider retirement again any time soon.
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On a show headlined by a scrap for the WBC female Minimumweight title there were several female contests. Not only did fans get the chance to see Mari Ando (11-6, 5) claim the WBC Minimumweight title with a decision over Jasseth Noriega (16-3-1, 5) but they also got the chance to see 4 other female contests, which made the bulk of the 6 fight show.
The card opened with Emi Kitawaki (3-4-1, 1) taking a 4 round decision over Misaki Hirooka (2-3) in a very competitive and closely scored contest. This was later followed, after 2 male bouts, by the return to action of Nao Ikeyama (13-3-1, 4). The 44 year old Ikeyama, who had been inactive for more than 3 years, managed to take a 6 round majority decision over Mika Iwakawa (3-2-1, 1). Interestingly, given Ikeyama's break from action, this was Iwakawa's 3rd bout of the year.
The card also featured 2 bouts scheduled for 8 rounds. Of those one went the distance, as Tamao Ozawa (6-1, 2) defeated Thailand's win-less Tanyakorn Sor Thammajak (0-4) via a clear decision. The other 8 round bout lasted just 107 seconds as Kumiko Seeser Ikehara (4-1-1, 3) swiftly took out the debuting Supa Tor Narong (0-1).