Kayoko Ebata: Newest Member to Japan’s World Championship Club
By Yuriko Miyata
More than 20 hard years of persistence paid off, finally.
Kayoko Ebata (11-7, 6 Kos), a former OPBF flyweight champion, won the WBO strawweight title by unanimous decision over Erika Hanawa (7-1, 2 Kos) who was the top rated OPBF atomweight on Friday night at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo.
The title was vacated when the former holder Kumiko Ikehara hung up the gloves last year. The new champion Ebata, who challenged for the world championship sixth times, including twice with Ikehara, could not stop the tears when the belt was wrapped around her waist. It was a moment she had dreamed of since becoming fascinated with this sport in 1995.
The 41-year-old Ebata dominated throughout the fight with her quick steps and tactics. Although undefeated and much younger, Hanawa came forward bravely and threw right hooks from the first round. Ebata found good chances between those hooks to counter with straight rights to the head.
Hanawa was very tough and determined to change the stream of the heated back and forth contest. But the more experienced Ebata took advantage of her opponent’s pressure and landed clean and emphatic one-two combinations several times especially in the later rounds.
The 10-round slugfest ended up with the scores of 97-93 twice and 98-92 all in favor of Ebata.
Fans gave high praise to Hanawa for the good job in her first attempt for the world title. She had only seven pro fights.
“I did what I could do but Ebata was more than that. Still, it was good to know that I could go ten rounds. I will restart soon,” said Hanawa.
Now Ebata is the eighteenth Japanese world champion of the four major organizations that include WBO, WBA, WBC and IBF.
“I am happy that I could keep myself cool in the fight and finally I have this belt in my hand. I don’t know how to express my gratitude for the continual support of my people,” said Ebata. “Thank you so, so much. Mostly to my mother, thank you for your understanding my dream. It was really a long way to come. I could not give it up no matter how many times I failed.”
She was already one of the prominent boxers when the Japan Amateur Boxing Federation officially started organized female boxing in 2002. With three national amateur titles Ebata turned professional just before the JBC authorized the sport in 2008. And in her second fight she challenged Samson Tor Siriporn for WBC light flyweight title in Cambodia in April that year. Since then, she tried and tried again to become a world champion.
While she was struggling, her long-time friends passed her by with many accomplishments; Naomi Togashi became WBC light flyweight champion, Momo Koseki won WBC atomweight crown, and Naoko Fujioka has collected belts in four different weight divisions. As for Ebata, she was always close, but no cigar. Sometimes she simply suffered bad luck with dubious scores and terrible cuts that left her uncrowned. Once she even announced retirement in the dressing room when she lost to Ikehara in May 2015, but the hunger for glory never ceased. She came back to keep chasing her sole dream of a world championship.
On the way toward this final chance, she became unconsciously nervous.
“I might be strained and pushed myself so much that I could not feel very well during the training. But I recovered somehow for the event. I could let my mind focus on doing my best performance. When I was going into the ring, I just wanted to enjoy the chance.”
And she did. The newest world champion, who also has been working for an advertising agency for a long time and liked by everybody for her superb personality, looked like the happiest woman in the world.
“I am like in the Seventh Heaven,” Ebata said. “Cannot wait to put ‘boxing world champion’ on the rear of my business card ! That’s what I’ve always wanted to do when I finally made it.”
(Photo by Masanori Murayama)