Sunday, April 02, 2023  |


Naoko Fujioka wants to steal the show on Japan v USA challenge

Fighters Network

The card headlined by the Gilberto Ramirez-Sullivan Barrera light-heavyweight clash, with a tasty Joseph Diaz-Javier Fortuna appetizer as the co-main, will also feature an interesting double-header of sorts.

Embedded in a talent-laden lineup of about a dozen fights, we will see two matchups that carry enough weight to have headlined a card of their own. Think about it as a female answer to the “Super Fly” extravaganza.

Or as a four-way elimination tournament to decide who’s the baddest of them all in the under 118-pound region in women’s boxing.

The fight that will surely make the live broadcast on DAZN from the Banc of California Stadium tomorrow (Friday, July 9th), will be Seniesa Estrada’s challenge of Japan’s Tenkai Tsunami for the latter’s WBO junior flyweight belt.

But with some luck, we will also get to see the other leg of this dual Japan vs. USA all-female championship clash, in which Mexican-born Arizona resident Sulem Urbina will have the toughest challenge of the entire foursome when she meets a true legend with the WBA flyweight title at stake.

And if you are analyzing this bout using cold numbers and statistics, the beltholder on duty in that fight wants you to know that you are in for a serious surprise. “People talk about my age, and some people say I’m too old,” said the 45-years old Naoko Fujioka (pictured above), who will be defending one of the five title belts she has won in an equal number of divisions in a historic career.

“But for me, age doesn’t matter. I know what I can do, and I’m stronger than 10 years ago. Also, I have a long career as a boxer. I know Urbina (below) is tough and strong. She has a strong discipline and knows what she wants to accomplish. It’s the same with me.”

Fujioka (18-2-1, 7 KO, ranked No. 1 by The Ring at flyweight) became a titleholder in her fifth fight, and has been a perennial pound-for-pound entrant since then, raking in belts in every division between strawweight and bantamweight.

Her two only losses came when fighting in her opponent’s backyards, and always by close decisions. Still, when it comes to making her first trek to the US, she is convinced that her chances of success lay beyond the result of the fight.

“I’m so excited because I really felt that boxing is a big business and entertainment here in the US,” said Fujioka. “In Japan, female boxing is not popular. I would like to make female boxing more popular. Also, I really want Japanese female boxers to be recognized. So, I’ve been thinking about fighting in the US for a long time. It’s very important for me, my supporters, and Japanese boxers.”

The implied reward of showcasing her talents in the biggest boxing market on the planet, win or lose, can definitely be a source of motivation for a fighter who may be nearing the end of a long career. But there is also the implied understanding that these two fights have bundled together in the same card for a reason. And that reason is to act as an opportunity for the “house fighter” Seniesa Estrada to begin her own collection of title belts.

A native of East L.A. and a former strawweight titleholder already, Estrada (20-0, 8 KOs, No. 1 in The Ring’s 105-pound rankings) will be making the jump to 108-pounds to meet Tsunami (below).

She’s a legend in her own right and, at 36 years of age, the most experienced fighter in the entire bunch, with a record of 28-12 (18 KOs) to her credit since her debut in 2005.

But Estrada, who is already listed as No. 9 in The Ring’s pound-for-pound list, is on a search-and-destroy mission to grab as many titles as possible in a career that, in spite of her 28 years of age, is only beginning to take off.

Estrada clearly hasn’t gotten weary of the grind, you see her joyfulness overflow after having her hand raised.

Tsunami will be her first stop in that race, but logic indicates that Estrada will be looking to move forward with her career by moving up in weight again as early as her next fight (she already held a worthless belt of the infamous “interim” variety at 112-pounds), and that road will definitely lead her to the winner of Fujioka-Urbina.

Which suits Fujioka just fine, and adds an extra degree of motivation for her ahead of her US debut. “I think I need to perform effectively,” said Fujioka, knowing that an impressive performance against Urbina will go a long way in securing a fight against Seniesa in the near future. “I think I can do that based on my long career as a boxer. There is always a good side and a bad side to everything. But again, age doesn’t matter in my case. I’ll take advantage of my experience like younger fighters use their youth.”

An eventual Fujioka-Estrada fight with a flyweight title at stake would be the ultimate crossroads fight to be made in the lower weights in female boxing, with the winner either cementing her place as a pound-for-pound entrant in the case of Estrada or causing Fujioka to re-enter the mythical rankings in dramatic and glorious fashion.

Fujioka, a very vocal proponent of her own candidacy to the P4P rankings on social media, would probably agree with this. But for now, she has set other type of targets for herself. Geographical targets, yes, but lofty nonetheless. “My next destination is Las Vegas,” she said. “As long as I feel being stronger than yesterday, I won’t stop. If I feel I can’t be stronger than yesterday, maybe it’s time to stop. I’m not sure about it yet.”

For female boxing to gain a foothold in Sin City, where male boxing already reigns supreme, more than just a couple of great fights on Friday will be needed. And Fujioka is conscious of the collective responsibility of all female fighters to continue delivering exciting fights in competitive matchups time after time before claiming their place at the big table.

“Female boxing should be more dramatic and dynamic,” she said. “I know some people don’t like female boxing. They say, ‘female boxers are too slow,’ or ‘it’s boring.’ In my opinion, it’s not true. Female boxing is not the inferior version of men’s boxing. They are just different. For example, female boxers tend to come too close. Female boxers need a distance. If you keep enough distance, you can punch harder and faster. This makes boxing matches more exciting. We can show more tactics and strong punches rather than clinching.”

On Friday, the combined styles and track records of these four female fighters will be on display, and there will be plenty of tactics, strong punches and excitement for them to clinch a permanent spot in all future big boxing cards, in Vegas or elsewhere. And with some luck, a new legend will be born – or an old one will add one more achievement to her already stellar Hall of Fame credentials.