Best of Japan in 2018 and Comprehensive Look at Boxing Crazy Japan
By Yuriko Miyata
Japan has been one of the greatest powers in female boxing especially in the lighter weight divisions in the last decade.
Although the number of reigning world champions is less than that at its peak in 2016, Japan’s female boxing scene is quite vibrant with 84 fights of quality from four rounds to world title bouts in 2018.
One major obstacle has been the lack of television for the burgeoning Japanese female fight scene. But many notable battles took place this year.
In Japan, the Fight of the Year was the 10-round battle between Etsuko Tada and Kayoko Ebata for Ebata’s WBO minimumweight title on December 1st in Osaka.
Both fighters are much respected veterans of over twenty years and still they showed that they are still primetime fighters. It was a war for dignity.
The defending champion Ebata was well prepared and took a good start with sharp in-and-out positioning to confuse southpaw challenger Tada. But Tada soon found the way to rule the battle with her good jabs and solid left hooks. The left hands caught Ebata a lot from midway. Ebata got cut over her right eye in the seventh round but her fighting sprit had never faded. The furious fight continued until the bell rung to have a very fair decision by 98-92, 98-92 , 97-93 all in favor of Tada.
While Ebata gave it all she had to let go of the belt that she finally captured last year at the sacrifice of five disappointments in 10 years, Tada overwhelmed it to claim world championship again since she lost her IBF version belt to Zongju Cai in Macao in Jan.2017. This is her third world title. She took the first one, WBA minimumweight title, in April 2009 and defended it 9 times. That was supposed to be her best era but it is not the case. Actually now people can really enjoy Tada’s new sovereignty that includes years of skill combined with a recently added physical strength program developed to boost her fighting prowess.
Japan’s Fighter of the Year – Naoko Fujioka
Although Tada’s coming back to the top was truly great, the “Fighter of the Year” must be a five division world conqueror Naoko Fujioka. WBA flyweight titlist Fujioka dominated Irma Sanchez of Mexico to absorb the Mexican’s interim version world title in September in Tokyo.
Fujioka hurt both hands trying to knock out her toughest ever opponent who took countless punches and still stood there. It was clear that Fujioka won all 10 rounds as it appeared in the official scores by three judges. Throughout the fight Fujioka was sound and composed in the middle of the ring while trying to hit Sanchez with accuracy and without wasting energy, which was her new style working on with a prominent veteran trainer Ben Lira about a year.
After she accomplished her goal of winning world titles in five weight divisions, Fujioka found a new dream: to fight in the U.S. with her mentor Lira by her side. She is now eyeing an American debut in 2019.
Breakthrough Fighter of the Year – Wakako Fujiwara
It was good news that WBO atomweight Mika Iwakawa and IBF minimumweight Saemi Hanagata updated the “world champion club” in Japan, but still the most impressive break-through from out of nowhere was of Wakako Fujiwara, who won the JBC and OPBF featherweight championship this year.
In March, Fujiwara won by split decision over Asami Jinnari in the direct rematch after a draw to become the first JBC featherweight champion and then she challenged tough veteran Kimika Miyoshi for her OPBF title in July. It was also her debut at legendary Korakuen Hall, a national home of the fighting sport, and she surprised its ardent and selective fans with her gifted boldness and punching power.
Fujiwara showed solid three-punch combinations without any hesitation from her 5’6 height.to overcome Miyoshi whose endless offense and long experience included two world title challenges. She was favored by all three judges and bounced Miyoshi’s avenge back five months later. Fujiwara started her pro career with a KO loss and did not win until her third fight, but since then has tastes defeat for three years. The fighting mother can surprise people more next year.
We will be missing former IBF light flyweight champion Naoko Shibata, former WBO and WBC flyweight champion Nana Yoshikawa, and the living legend Momo Koseki, who defended the WBC atomweight title 17 times and won world titles in two divisions. They all officially announced retirement in 2018.
But replacing the legends will be a number of young talented fighters rising such as Eri Matsuda, Kikuno Shinomiya, and Kasumi Saeki, at the same time this year.
Japan’s current Top 10 fighters
Naoko Fujioka (current WBA flyweight champion, crowned at five divisions) 18-2, with 7Kos.
In 2018 she beat Irma Sanchez to unify WBA interim and regular title. This year she has been focusing on training for her new fighting style and that seems to be working well. She has world titles at 105 lbs, 108, 112, 115, and 118.
Etsuko Tada (current WBO minimumweight champion, three time champion) 18-3-2, with 5KOs. She took the WBO minimumweight title by unanimous decision over Kayoko Ebata on December 1st. It is her third world championship belt after WBA minimum title of nine defenses and the IBF minimumweight title that she could not defend. She is the real pioneer of Japanese female boxing who won the bronze medal in the 2001 Asian games that opened the doors of amateur female boxing in Japan officially. I saw her amateur fight for the first time twenty years ago. And still she is improving! These couple of years she showed dramatic progress in speed and power through physical strength training.
Tsunami Tenkai (current WBO light flyweight champion, won world titles at two divisions) 26-12, with 15KOs. She used to have the WBA super flyweight title and made four title defenses until 2012, but seems much better and stronger in the lighter weights. In March 2018, she won a vacant WBO light flyweight title as Chaoz Minowa gave up after the 8th round. Tsunami dominated the fight with her speed and superb skill. She has been one of the leaders in this sport since it was underground, and she shows she is still in her prime.
Ayaka Miyao (interim WBA atomweight champion, two time champion includes interim one) 23-7-1, with 6KOs. Overcoming a near fatal knee injury, she came back to the ring after 18 months recess in June 2018, and in November she beat former WBO champion Nao Ikeyama via unanimous decision to win the interim WBA atomweight title which she used to hold until losing it to WBC champion Momo Koseki in 2015. In the recovery period she seemed to change her style and is a little more incline offensively.
Kayoko Ebata (former WBO minimumweight champion) 12-8, with 6KOs.
Even though she gave her title to Tada failing her second defense, it was one of her best performances, I think. It showed how she desperately wanted to keep the precious world championship belt that she won in the 6th attempt. She looked sharper and well prepared for the hardest opponent. At the age of 42, she does not seem ready to go retire.
Saemi Hanagata (current IBF atomweight champion) 15-7-4, with 7KOs. The year 2018 was a big year for her as she became a world champion finally in her fifth attempt in six years. It was a split decision against Yuko Kuroki, former WBC minimumweight champion, but it was a clear victory for Hanagata.
Mika Iwakawa (current WBO atomweight champion) 8-5-1 with 3KOs.
A newcomer to the Japanese female world champions circle at the age of 35. In July 2018 she won the WBO atomweight title by split decision over living legend Nao Ikeyama who defended the title six times. Iwakawa revenged her loss to Ikeyama in 2013. She is a good athlete making the most of her height and long reach to fight outside and control her opponent, and she still has plenty of room for improvement in power and speed by taking a little more risks.
Yuko Kuroki (former WBC minimumweight champion) 18-6-1, with 8KOs.
In September this year, she failed to get the world title back again when she lost a split decision against Saemi Hanagata for the vacant IBF atomweight title. Since she lost to Momo Koseki in the sixth defense for her WBC minimumweight title in the end of 2017, her speed and sharpness were fading little by little.
Nao Ikeyama (former WBO atomweight champion) 18-5-3, with 5KOs.
Already 49 years old, but she says she still expects herself to get better. Just after she gave up her WBO atomweight title to Mika Iwakawa in July, she announced her retirement once. But she retracted it soon later and got back to the ring to fight against Ayaka Miyao for the interim WBA title. She failed it, but her aggressiveness and bottomless stamina were still there.
Chaoz Minowa (current OPBF flyweight champion) 6-2, with 5KOs
Minowa turned professional in 2016 with huge confidence backed by her great amateur pedigree. She won the vacant OPBF flyweight title by beating Carleans Rivas of Philippines by unanimous decision in her third professional fight. But it revealed her lack of strategy as a pro when she fought against Tsunami Tenkai for the vacant WBO light flyweight title in March 2018. She started well but exhausted in three rounds. Then she challenged WBC flyweight champion Ibeth Zamora to get three points favored by all judges, but not enough to overcome one of the greatest small sized champions in November.
Up and Comers
Terumi Nuki (current OPBF super flyweight champion) 10-4, with 7KOs.
As it appears in the record, she is a fighter with big punches. But she does not have speed in movement and is not good at setting up to connect with her heavy hands. Her first attempt to the world title was in Mexico, against the big name Mariana Juarez of WBC bantamweight title in July 2017. She went to Argentina to challenge IBF super flyweight champion Debora Anahi Dionicius in Feb 2018. Then, a half year later, in Mexico against Juarez again. She is always brave and never stops going forward, but too reliant on sticking to the big blow.
Wakako Fujiwara (OPBF and JBC Featherweight champion) 7-2-2, with 2KOs
37 years old (turns 38 in January) mother of three kids shows her unbelievable fighting ability. Both hands from 5’6 height are solid and she’s determined to trouble opponents. She sparked in 2018. She became the first JBC featherweight champion via split decision in a 6 round rematch against Asami Jinnari in March. Four months later she challenged veteran OPBF featherweight champion Kimika Miyoshi and won another belt by unanimous decision in a great fashion. In December, she beat Miyoshi again in a direct rematch.
Erika Hanawa (current OPBF minimumweight champion) 10-3, with 4KOs.
She has been a decent boxer along with basic skills since pro debut in 2015, but she lacks decisive technique to draw judges’ favor so that she lost three times for titles against Shione Ogata, Saemi Hanagata, and Kayoko Ebata. She faced the much more experienced Jujeath Nagaowa of Philippines for vacant OPBF minimumweight title in November this year, and finally won a belt. She did not wait to throw combinations and hurt the opponent badly to force her give up the fight in the fourth round. She said she when took the fight it was her final attempt.
Shione Ogata (current WBO Asia Pacific light flyweight champion, WBA Asia light flyweight champion, and OPBF #2 ) 10-6, with 2KOs. She won the vacant WBO Asia Pacific title by unanimous decision in her hometown over Erika Hanawa in September this year. She boxed aggressive Hanawa out with constant jabs and step work and got points with timely right crosses. She is not good at inside work so is always clinching when opponents get close. It was a unanimous decision but a very close fight. Seven months before that, she won another vacant Asian title of the WBA version in Philippines.
Nanae Suzuki ( JBC atomweight champion, #1 by OPBF ) 8-2-1, with1KO
Her best weapon is her stamina to do endless rushes. She has never hesitated throwing punches anyway. Starts with jabs and one-two combinations to overwhelm the other girls. Also, these days, she shows improvement in accuracy that secures the judges’ favor. Her last loss was in September 2016 against Sayaka Aoki, who she revenged on recently in her second defense fight of JBC atomweight title.
Miyo Yoshida (OPBF and JBC bantamweight champion , WBC #15 ) 11-1, no KOs.
There was a two years recess after her debut fight in 2014. It’s been just two years since she was back, but her long experience in fighting sports helped her to get in shape. She won the first JBC bantamweight championship via unanimous decision over Tomomi Takano in Oct 2017, but it was not a brilliant fight. She could only use clinching tactics to avoid Takano’s long rights and following punches. The style is rough maybe because of her martial arts background. But we can tell she is trying to fix it. She won the vacant OPBF title against a Philippine’s Gretel de Paz in August and defended it in a month. Her boxing skill is improving little by little.
Yumemi Ikemoto (current JBC flyweight champion, OPBF #1) 6-1, no KO.
She is ready for OPBF title same as Nanae Suzuki. She is good in basics, jabs and right straights are sharp and accurate. It was a rare clean knock down scene in a female fight when she floored Yuki Koseki with one straight right in the first round in the six round bout for the vacant JBC flyweight title in March 2018. She needs to learn how to finish opponents but is still taking good steps as a 22 year-old new comer dreaming a world champion.
Eri Matsuda (current OPBF atomweight champion) 2-0, no KO
With amateur experience of 33 (21-12, with 9KOs) fights, she debut in a six rounds bout against Sanae Hazuki of 10 (6-3-1, 2KOs) professional fights. And in her second professional fight this December, she won the vacant OPBF atomweight title by unanimous decision over Minayo Kei, #4 rated by OPBF. She is a stylish southpaw using constant jabs and superb step works to control opponents. That would be a good match up if she fights with Nanae Suzuki or Kasumi Saeki.
Kasumi Saeki (current WBO Asia Pacific minimumweight champion, OPBF atomweight #3) 3-0, with 2KOs. She just debut to professional world this year, but she is already well known with great amateur pedigree (amateur record was 35-9) . Her opponents are all easy ones so far, but she can entertain people with her technique in quickness and sharpness. She has a variety of combinations and accuracy on each shots. She is a hope of the next generation.
OPBF super bantamweight champion Ayumi Goto (8-0, 5KOs) is not active now and Jun Yabuki vacated JBC minimumweight title and not active now.
Highlights of the Japanese female fight scene 2018
Kikuno Shinomiya made her professional debut at the age of seventeen, the youngest ever in Japanese female boxing, at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. She won a TKO in round three over Ai Oki.
There was an all-women event in Korakuen hall. WBO minimumweight champion Kayoko Ebata defended her title for the first time.
Tsunami Tenkai won a TKO victory in 8th round over Chaoz Minowa for the vacant WBO light flyweight title.
Saemi Hanagata defended her OPBF minimumweight title by unanumous decision over Erica Hanawa.
Flyweight Yumemi Ikemoto and atomweight Nanae Suzuki both become JBC champions and Miyo Yoshida defended her JBC bantamweight title to Kai Johnson.
Wakako Fujiwara earned JBC featherweight title.
Yuko Henzan won the OPBF bantamweight title, vacated by Tsunami Tenkai, by unanimous decision over Phannaluk Kongsang.
Yuko Kuroki came back to the ring since the loss to Momo Koseki in December 2017, winning an eight rounds unanimous decision to Momoko Kanda.
Kasumi Saeki of huge amateur pedigree made pro debut in six rounds bout against Floryvic Montero of Philippines to win by unanimous decision.
Former WBA atomweight champion Ayaka Miyao returned to the ring after 18 months of recovery period of ACL on right knee, injured in the fight against WBO atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama in 2016
JBC titlist Wakako Fujiwara took over OPBF featherweight title from Kimika Miyoshi by unanimous decision.
Mika Iwakawa challenged to WBO atomweight champion Nao Ikeyama and won by split decision.
WBO light flyweight champion Tsunami Tenkai defended her title by TKO in fourth round over Gretchen Abaniel of Philippines.
Yuko Henzan, vacated OPBF title, fought Yin Fan for vacant WBO Asia Pacific bantamweight title but failed.
All female event was held. Miyo Yoshida won vacant OPBF bantamweight championship by technical decision in 5th round over Gretel de Paz of Philippines.
Ogata Shione won vacant WBO Asia Pacific light flyweight title by unanimous decision over Erika Hanawa.
WBA flyweight champion Naoko Fujioka unified the interim champion of Irma Sanchez of Mexico by full mark decision.
Saemi Hanagata finally become IBF minimumweight champion by split decision over Yuko Kuroki, former WBC minimumweight thampion.
Miyo Yoshida defended her OPBF bantamweight title for the first time.
A six rounds contest between Chie Higano and Yumi Narita for JBC minimumweight title vacated Jun Yabuki, ended in draw.
Ayaka Miyao won a clear unanimous decision over Nao Ikeyama to earn WBA interim atomweight title.
Erika Hanawa stopped veteran Jujeath Nagaowa of Philippines in fourth round to capture vacant OPBF minimumweight belt.
Etsuko Tada beat WBO minimumweight champion Kayoko Ebata by unanimous decision to come back to the top of the world.
Wakako Fujiwara defended her OPBF featherweight title against the former champion Kimika Miyosi by narrower unanimous decision.
A prospect Eri Matsuda become a new OPBF atomweight champion by unanimous decision over Minayo Kei in her second professional fight.
Kasumi Saeki won vacant WBO Asian Pacific minimumweight title by TKO in 3rd round over Wassana Kamdee of Thailand in her third professional fight.