By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Boxing Beat
Ex-WBC female 105-pound champ, unbeaten Japanese Naoko Fujioka (11-0, 6 KOs), 114.25, jumped up three classes and impressively captured the WBA 115-pound belt by pounding out an upset unanimous decision over defending titlist Naoko Yamaguchi (22-4-3, 18 KOs), 115, over ten hot rounds on Wednesday in Tokyo, Japan. Fujioka, 38, was an amateur champ and turned professional late at the age of thirty-four in 2009. Since then, she beat up everybody so convincingly that it became hard to find a suitable challenger with her WBC strawweight belt at stake. Fujioka made up her mind to renounce it and have an ambitious crack at the WBA 115-pound belt against the champ and compatriot Yamaguchi.
The official tallies were as follows: Sugiyama and Yoshida both 97-92 and Martin 98-91, all in favor of Fujioka, three years senior to the defending titlist Yamaguchi, who had been a prohibitive favorite. The referee was Kazunobu Asao of Japan. It was Fujioka that floored the champ with a flurry of punches in round three and kept her initiative nearly all the way.
Fujioka’s trainer Takayuki Shibata sometimes said, “Fujioka can punch harder than male boxers at the same weight.” This reporter only replied, “No kidding.” When I went and see Fujioka’s public workout prior to her defense of the WBC 105-pound belt, she showed sparring sessions with a male boxer where the shifty left hooking girl could move very trickily and punch with the full force. She looked like a small, righty Naseem Hamed as she was very unorthodox and tricky, hanging both hands low and incessantly moving to-and-fro or side-to-side.
Yamaguchi, 35, was an excellent female boxer with tremendous power punching with which she registered eighteen knockouts out of twenty-two victories. She had been unbeaten since 2009 except a single setback to Ana Maria Torres with the WBC 115-pound belt at stake in Mexico in 2011. Yamaguchi, a short and stout-built athlete, can punch and hit in combination, while moving fast and possessing her good chin.
The underdog Fujioka, in the opening session, furiously attacked the bewildered champ as it had been the last round, whipping Yamaguchi with solid left hooks and straight rights to the face. Yamaguchi, a slow starter, began to regain her usual rhythm in the second, when Fujioka connected with more accurate and stiff punches to the face, winning another point.
The third witnessed a sole knockdown in the contest, as Fujioka fiercely displayed an opening attack and battered the champ nearly at will, dropping her with very effective combinations to the face. Yamaguchi beat the count and resumed fighting back with her determination.
Fujioka’s long looping left hook was awesome and effective all night. She utilized it like a jab, slapping the champ’s face so frequently that Yamaguchi’s right cheek looked swollen as the contest progressed. Fujioka took the fourth round, though Yamaguchi began to retaliate with less accurate combinations.
It was Yamaguchi that controlled the fifth canto, as she landed short and compact combinations to the weaving and ducking Fujioka, who remained a moving target. The sixth saw Yamaguchi start punching earlier than the aggressive challenger, but Fujioka gamely fought back hard to maintain her ititiative.
In round seven, which could be Round of the Year in the field of female boxing, Fujioka kept freely throwing looping left hooks with good precision and right hooks to the face, while Yamaguchi attempted to fight back with left-right combinations. It was Fujioka’s round, but Yamaguchi showed her fighting spirit. The short haired Fujioka also took the eighth session by whipping the champ to the ropes.
The tide almost turned midway in round nine. Upon a severe head-butt, Fujioka cried in great pain and stopped fighting for tens of seconds, complaining of Yamaguchi’s head-collision. The shifty footworker probably suffered a nose-bone fracture and began to nose-bleeding thereafter. Yamaguchi was in command as Fujioka was less aggressive only to appeal her pain to the referee.
The tenth and final session was also a hard-fought round, which, however, Fujioka outsped, outpunched and outhustled Yamaguchi to confirm her victory.
The official verdict was unanimous for the upset winner. Fujioka became the first Japanese girl that dominated a couple of world crowns and remained unbeaten in eleven pro bouts. In accordance with the WBA’s female championship committee, headed by Canadian George Martinez, the Yamaguchi-Fujioka victor should face the WBA interim titleholder Daniela Bermudez of Argentina in the next defense without fail.
Fujioka, however, sacrificed a ruptured ear drum (midway in the first half), a hand injury and a broken nose for the sake of a valuable victory. She will need some months before she soundly starts training. Her mother Tomoko, 61, had been treated in an ICU as she had a lung disease this August, but recovered considerably well and came to see her 38-year-old daughter’s second coronation. The new champ said, “I wish to dedicate this victory to my sick mother, and hope this belt will encourage her battle with the sickness.”
The crestfallen ex-champ Yamaguchi said, “I couldn’t display my real power, and hope to win back the belt in a rematch.” Her manager/promoter Yoko Gushiken, who had retained the WBA 108-pound belt thirteen times, gloomily reflected, “Yamaguchi wasn’t sharp in earlier rounds, when Fujioka was faster and stronger. So, Yamaguchi yielded an initiative to Fujioka all the way.”
Fujioka, born in 1975, used to be a softball player in high school, and started to learn how to box at the age of 24 in the amateur field. She turned professional in 2009, and quickly acquired the OPBF female 105-pound belt in her fourth pro bout, when she defeated durable Thai girl Kanittha Kokietgym on points to win the OPBF minimumweight belt in 2009. In her sixth pro bout, Fujioka finely chalked up a TKO over defending champ Anabel Ortiz after the eighth session, winning the WBC world minimum belt to her credit in 2011.
It must be the Fight of the Decade in the field of female boxing in Japan, as both contestants showed their best and finally Fujioka became the very first Japanese girl that won the world belt twice. But her damaged nose, ruptured eardrum and still painful hand may need some months before she will face Bermudez for unification in Argentina.
Fujioka is handled by a couple of ex-WBA world champs—middleweight champ Shinji Takehara and super-feather/lightweight ruler Takanori Hatakeyama. They describe Fujioka as very exceptional. Fujioka looked more like Pascual Perez than like Hamed. Though already 38, she is younger than the 48-year-old Bernard Hopkins. Fujioka, made in Japan, may be a good export to fight Daniela Bermudez in Argentina, Ana Maria Torres in Mexico or Susi Kentikian in Germany.
Promoter: Shirai Gushiken Promotions.