For most of the day, Kazumi Izaki's routine is the same as any Tokyo housewife's: she rises at 5:45, makes her daughter's packed lunch, shops, cooks and cleans. Then her husband comes home in the evening and the willowy housewife heads for the local boxing ring to spar for a world title shot.
That in itself makes her a curiosity in the conservative suburb where she lives. But if she pulls it off and beats her Mexican opponent Ana Maria Torres, she'll make history by becoming the oldest boxing title holder on the planet.
The odds are long. At 46, Izaki is 17 years older than her famously tough opponent and fighting not just age but officialdom. The World Boxing Council (WBC) called off a scheduled bout for the world super flyweight title between the two in February after expressing concerns about Izaki's ability to withstand a pounding in the ring.
But the 50kg frizzy-haired flyweight calls those fears misplaced, if well-meaning. "It's natural that they worry about the age difference because it could be dangerous," she says after a punishing two-hour evening workout. "But I've been doing this for years and I'm strong. I'm going to bring home that belt. I'm confident, I'm not afraid."
Susumu Hanagata, her trainer, says Izaki, Japan's oldest professional boxer, was "devastated" by the cancellation, but is training harder than ever. "She has the tough spirit of a real fighter."
Izaki cooks dinner every night for her family before heading for the gym in Yokohama for two hours and spars with men half her age. Since starting to box competitively, she trains as hard as anyone and expects no quarter, says Hanagata. She has broken her eye-socket and her nose – three times – during sparring. Izaki says the injuries have made her tough. "I don't mind getting hit. It's natural in this sport."
Izaki's camp is battling with the WBC to reverse its ban and allow the fight to go ahead in Mexico this summer. But the swine-flu outbreak has postponed the decision. In the meantime, she trains to beat a 15-year-old record held by the legendary George Foreman, who retook the world heavyweight title in 1994, aged 45.
A mother of two girls aged 15 and 22, Izaki began boxercising to get fit over a decade ago. she had her debut fight in 2001. "I wanted to try it once, and when I saw everyone supporting me I became addicted." Japanese commentators say despite her skinny frame, she has a powerful left hook. But there are concerns she may lack the instinct to put an opponent down. The ex-aerobics instructor claims that despite 15 pro fights, she is not aggressive, hates hitting people and has none of the troubled background of many boxers. An early session in the ring ended when she burst into tears after hitting a sparring partner in the face. "I had one fight in school but I didn't like to fight. For me, boxing is as much about defending yourself as attacking."
She says her initially-shocked family is now right behind her and her daughters are at the ringside. "My husband was wary, not because he was afraid of me being hurt but because he thought I was too gentle for this sport. Now he's the person who understands me best."
Izaki claims her body is in its best shape ever after years of running and workouts six times a week. "But I've noticed myself getting a little short of memory and my hearing has got weaker," she laughs. "I don't know if that's because of the boxing or not though; maybe it's just age."
Hanagata, a world champion in the 1970s who fought 65 pro fights, admits he was repulsed at first by the sight of women in the ring. "When I was fighting it wasn't a sport for women. I hate to watch them getting hit in the face, and blood pouring from their nose or mouths. It's just not pleasant. But times have changed," he says, adding with a laugh: "And if she wasn't a woman you wouldn't be here writing about her."
He remembers Izaki as "very ordinary" when she first began visiting the gym. "She looked like any other housewife, but she worked very hard. Now I think she is probably stronger than me. I wouldn't like to go up against her."
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