Saemi Hanagata Wins in Tokyo, Miyo Yoshida in Kagoshima
By Yuriko Miyata
A couple of important fights took place in Japan as Saemi Hanagata honored her namesake by winning a world title in Tokyo and Miyo Yoshida made a defense in Kagoshima, Japan.
After six years, endurance and hard work finally paid off. Saemi Hanagata (15-7-4, 7KOs) holding the OPBF minimum weight title defeated former WBC minimum weight champion Yuko Kuroki (18-6-1, 8Kos) via a split decision in a 10 rounds bout for the vacant IBF atomweight championship on September 29th at the traditional Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan.
It was fifth attempt for her to become a world champion and a goal she had badly dreamed of attaining since challenging Momo Koseki for her WBC atomweight title at the end of 2012. She also lost a very close decision to IBF light flyweight champion Naoko Shibata in 2015, and drew with WBO atomweight queen Nao Ikeyama two times in 2016 and 2017.
Sometimes things happen in due time.
Hanagata, a brave aggressor, and Kuroki, a quick-footed southpaw, knew each other well as they already fought two eight- round bouts in a row in 2013.
The first decision went to Hanagata and second one ended in a draw.
“She cannot overcome me.”, said Hanagata confident this time because of results of the past, even though the rival captured a world title then and defended it for five times until she gave it up to Koseki last December.
Kuroki with big hopes of returning to the throne, started off great with her right jabs to measure the distance to connect effective and straights lefts and right hooks. She kept a good rhythm in round 2 too.
Hanagata then managed to get inside and pressed Kuroki back to the ropes with a big right cross in the third round. Throughout the middle rounds of the fight Hanagata took control.
It seemed that Hanagata was no longer disturbed by Kuroki’s constant jabs and sent her right fist to the opponent’s stomach and a left hook chaser to the chin. Only one thing disturbed her: those head butts that come when battling against a lefty. A severe collision of heads occurred in the seventh round that got them a short break. But the accidental clash seemed to slow down Hanagata a little.
Kuroki did her best with a barrage of jabs and solid lefts while Hanagata was trying to avoid punches with clinching in the closing rounds. But Hanagata had enough points early on and that was proven as two judges favored her 96-94 while one scored it 96-95 for Kuroki.
As soon as the new champion heard the call, she ran to the corner to lift her all time manager and mentor Susumu Hanagata up to her shoulder to celebrate. She cried and squeezed some words somehow. “I have no idea what to say but Thank you all. I am so happy to make my dream finally come true in this fifth challenge.”
Susumu and Saemi Hanagata are not relatives but their bond has been more than a real father and daughter. Saemi, whose true last name is Tanaka, has devoted herself to this sport so intensely that Susumu gave her his family name as a ring name for the first time. And the number “5” became a special figure to share. This was the fifth challenge for Saemi to become a world champion, and that was the same number that Susumu attempted to reach to the top of the world.
Susumu Hanagata won the WBA flyweight title by beating Chartchai Chionoi of Thailand back in 1974 after four disappointing world title losses in other attempts, though in nontitle bouts, he upset world title holders such as Masao Oba in 1968 and Efren “Alacran” Torres in Los Angeles in 1969. That win against Chionoi was his only victory in world championship fights.
When Saemi Hanagata won the world title in her fifth attempt just like her mentor, it had outstanding significance.
Immediately after Saemi Hanagata won the title she bowed and said, “I will defend this belt for my boss. That’s my next goal. I won’t avoid anybody. I will fight anybody to go to another level. I promise.”
Actually, “Hanagata” is too good a name to be a mere family name. That means, “a superstar.”
Susumu Hanagata always tells his fighters. “Hang in there, and your chance will never be zero.”
That is the Hanagata way.
The same weekend, OPBF bantamweight champion Miyo Yoshida (10-1) defended her title for the first time against Phannaluk Kongsang (4-6-1, 2Kos) of Thailand with a unanimous decision after eight rounds in Kagoshima, her old home town.
Yoshida is one of the most current active fighters in Japan the last three years as she won the first Japanese bantamweight championship a year ago and then added the OPBF belt to her collection two months ago.
Though the challenger, Kongsang, rated #6 by the sanctioning body, was much taller than Yoshida, the champion showed confidence and dominated the fight starting with solid jabs and right crosses form the first round.
With extensive experience in other martial arts, Yoshida is on the way to transitioning into a complete “boxer” in style, but she has improved a lot these days. She is still struggling with fighting inside so clinching is the main strategy in close distance. She used arm clinching to avoid her opponent’s offense from the middle rounds in this fight too, but she did enough pressing with jabs and right crosses to earn unanimous decision of 77－75, 78－74, and 79－73.
(Photo by Masanori Murayama)