By Joe Koizumi
Photos by Naoki Fukuda
Fast-punching five-division champ, 43-year-young Naoko Fujioka (18-2, 7 KOs), 111, unified the WBA female flyweight belts as he swept all rounds by whipping interim titlist Irma Sanchez (30-8-1, 8 KOs), 111, from Mexico, over ten sizzling and speedy rounds on Friday in Tokyo, Japan. All the tallies were so identical in every round as 10-9, totaling 100-90 in Naoko’s favor by Lei Tavita (New Zealand), Prommase Chakshuraksha (Thailand) and Wan-Soo Yu (Korea). The also good-moving referee was Felin Marsh (New Zealand).
For Naoko it’s one of her career-best performances, fully utilizing her speed, skills and stamina all the way. Irma, 30, demonstrated her strong heart in withstanding some critical moments caused by the champ’s faster assaults.
Naoko, from the outset, took the initiative, landing good left hooks and right counters to the still nervous and stiff Mexican. Irma threw back a left hook at a time in the first round, but looked outpunched by the shorter Japanese champ. The third saw Irma almost toppled by Naoko’s quick combo, but she endured the champ’s attack and gamely fought back well.
At the rules meeting, Irma’s manager/husband Hector Garcia asked the third man to watch Naoko’s head since she usually kept boring in from the head (as he said) and that’s dangerous for his wife. It had been due to the short Fujioka often having jumping in with jolting blows against her opponents. Naoko, however, displayed a technical improvement on balance and footwork, and seldom committed any headbutts in this fight.
Fujioka, making her initial defense since acquiring the vacant WBA 112-pound belt by impressively halting Isabel Millan in the tenth and final session in March of the previous year, displayed compact right uppercuts to the onrushing Mexican, which were effective enough to shake her up. Also Naoko’s constant body shots were obviously damaging to have Irma slowing down in later rounds.
The gallant Sanchez, who seized the interim belt by eking out a split nod over Brenda Ramos in Guadalajara last October, attempted to catch up with Fujioka in rounds six and seventh, when Naoko became a shifty and elusive target side-stepping to and fro. The slower legged Irma was unable to catch and punch the champ.
The eighth witnessed Naoko’s best as she turned loose and accelerated her attack to bring home the bacon then and there. Groggy as she was, Irma, still on her feet, gallantly responded to the champ’s rapid-fire combinations and won the praise of even the pro-Naoko audience.
Fast, accurate, aggressive and elusive, Fujioka, in the last two rounds, displayed a highlighted best scene of her arsenals with quick combinations, countering left hooks and right uppercuts (very effective). Naoko failed to finish Irma, who couldn’t catch the fleet-footed champ in a Tom-and-Gerry game.
The good loser Irma said, “Naoko tonight demonstrated a different fight than she had usually showed. She was too fast-moving and quick-punching for me to come up with.” Her manager Garcia said, “Naoko’s lateral movement was the key. Irma couldn’t catch her at all.”
Naoko’s manager, ex-WBA middleweight champ Shinji Takehara mentioned her next target, jokingly saying, “She may look for the sixth belt in the super-bantamweight class.” Fujioka, a least bruised winner, denied such a possibility, saying, “The 122-pound category is too heavy for me. Today I wished to finish her, but she stayed strong. I’d like to face any opposition who will come against me.” It’s amazing and admirable that Naoko, 43, in the twilight of her long career (even though she might never think so), displayed such a brilliant showing in the WBA unification bout. Her performance had the crowd’s heart very warm.
WBO supervisor: Tsuyoshi Yasukochi.
Promoters: Ichiriki and Takehara/Hatakeyama Promotions.