Japan’s Fearless Naoko Fujioka: The Journey Continues
By Yuriko Miyata
Former three-division world champion Naoko Fujioka (15-2, 6 Kos) is going to make another attempt to capture a fourth major title on March 13th in Tokyo Japan.
It will be a 10-round bout against WBF 112 lbs titlist Isabel Millan of Sinaloa, Mexico for the WBA flyweight championship which was vacated by Susi Kentikian of Germany after the four years long reign that included a defense to Fujioka’s challenge in November 2014.
“I did not even know Susi gave up her belt. But I am so happy that my coming fight is for world title anyways, because it was long way to be sure”, Fujioka said.
It is always hard for any prominent fighter of far-east Asia to get a new target. This time, it was even harder. It was about her spirit, first of all. After coming back from Mexico last October with a huge disappointment of a loss to WBC flyweight champion Jessica Chavez, it took long time to make up her mind to keep fighting at the age of 41.
“The second failure led me to think of retirement. Susi, and again Chavez, I could not overwhelm their tactics. I believed I could show a real battle of braveness between the two best female fighters to Mexican people. I was confident of victory with my quickness and power. But the fight did not go the way I imagined. Chavez was smart and persistent to carry out her plan which was to avoid a slugfest by all means to win. Throughout the fight I was just irritated by her clinch work. I was just dogged. I did not feel like I was beaten. I was disappointed, because I believe boxing is fighting. That was not the boxing that I love, that fans love to watch, I think.”
But that is boxing. That is the world she has to struggle with to be the best.
Chavez’s plan that Ignacio “Nacho” Beristain gave was quite appropriate to win over hard-hitter Fujioka who already won a world title in the bantamweight division –a heavier weight division at six pounds heavier. At first Fujioka said she was tired of thinking how to deal with such technicians in the top level. Then her despair eventually turned to a desire to be better.
“I was not right. I realized I should have been ready for that kind of opponent who tries to surpass my power with strategy. I want to win against that kind of boxer. If it is so hard, the more must I try. I cannot give up now.”
She decided to start working to get in shape as the year turned to 2017. Her team has been striving to get her another chance to become the first Japanese in history to win world titles in four weight classes. Some champions rejected their offer. The negotiation with WBO light flyweight champion Louisa Hawton also fell apart in the final phase when publicity had already started.
Fujioka said, “I heard that Hawton complained to her manager, saying ‘why I should she face a fighter who is back from bantamweight.’ Then the Australian vacated the title in the end.”
But Fujioka’s manager was lucky enough to find an alternate strong woman and sanctioned by WBA for the vacant flyweight title in a week. Millan, (18-2-1, 8 Kos) rated number two by that organization, is one of the top females in Mexico, the busiest arena of rivals in the lighter classes. It will be the first time for Millan the WBF champion to fight for the major WBA world title. Now Fujioka is looking into Millan’s fighting style and her longer arms.
“I won’t make mistake in the ring anymore. I will watch the opponent’s strategy, keep myself cool, and find the way to hit hard.”
Japan’s Best Fighter Ever
Fujioka was commended as the Most Valuable Female of the year in the Japan Annual Boxing Awards of 2016 on Feb.8th, just two days after the announcement of her next fight updated. It was the fourth time for her to be honored as the best female. Also, she received a prize of Fight of the Year for the extreme battle to defend her WBO bantamweight belt from Go Shindo, the former WBC flyweight champion, in June in Tokyo.
After her amateur boxing career which saw her win seven Japanese national titles while working as a full-time truck driver, Fujioka turned professional in 2009 at the age of 33.
“I have been always desperate because I was already old when I debuted. I just wanted to see how much further I can go in my beloved sport. I left Miyagi for Tokyo only for that.”
She has been hurrying on her way as she said. In the sixth fight, she won the WBC minimum weight championship beating Anabel Ortiz by TKO in the eighth round in May 2011. It had been postponed for two months because of the massive earth quake and tsunami that attacked her hometown. Two and a half years later she snatched the WBA super flyweight title from Naoko Yamaguchi and defended it against the younger Tomoko Kawanishi the next year. Those three fights were also awarded as the Fight of the Year. Boxing press recognizes her as the Best Female Boxer Ever in Japan. Even conservative people consider her special. She convinced them that fighting women can impress and entertain fans.
Now she is in a good mood to get ready for the coming fight. Her athletic ability keeps surprising a low-oxygen training specialist.
“I thank my mother for giving me this strong physique. I won’t give up fighting aggressive to show people the beauty of boxing, and also I will overwhelm any tactical ones to be the best. I dream to become a five-division world champion that no other woman has accomplished yet. This time, I want to show that is not just a dream.”
We will see if her word is true next month.