Olympics Shine Light on Female Fighters
Enter Your Name & Email Address Below And Be Part of Our Boxing Community!! It's FREE!!
Most boxing fans who cheer for ladies in the ring are usually hollering for the bikini-clad ring card girls strutting their stuff in high heels between rounds. While female fighters are nowhere near the same pay scale, mainstream exposure or respect level that guys in this male-dominated sport receive, women boxers are here to stay. And now with the Olympics presenting women’s boxing for the first time ever, it should only get better. So you better get used to it.
A majority of fans (of both sexes) still do not like to watch women fight, uncomfortable with girls getting punched in the kisser. “Women belong in the kitchen–and certainly NOT in a boxing ring!” some male fans have told me, shaking their heads in disapproval. “They shouldn’t box–it’s just plain wrong.”
Attending amateur shows and club shows around town, it’s not such a rarity that I see female bouts on the cards these days. But in higher-profile fights or PPV events, women fighters are not as prevalent as some in boxing would hope for. At best, there has been special attraction bouts between females, with the girls often stealing the show. The sport has made some strides, but not enough to please everyone.
Will these so-called “chick fights” ever become as popular as their male counterparts? Women’s boxing. Love it or hate it?
Female bouts are popular draws in Mexico and other countries; here in the U.S. not so much. There is a marquee match between pro fighters Christy Martin and Mia St. John next week at the Table Mountain Casino in Friant, California. These two are some of the icons who have helped pave the way for little girls now lacing up. But it’s still uncommon to have females as the main event in the U.S.
How do you feel about women’s boxing? Has the women’s competition in the Olympics changed your mind about watching it?
While women’s boxing is not for everybody (it obviously has its fair share of haters), the 2012 London Games has thrust female gladiators into the world’s spotlight. Many fans have never seen women fight and the Olympics have made new fans of some. And after Errol Spence Jr.’s defeat today by his Russian opponent, sadly, no male U.S. boxer will medal this year. SO LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GIRLS!
Yes, during these Games of the XXX Olympiad, the nine male boxers from Team USA failed to earn a single medal while two of the three females fighting for the U.S. will at the least come home with bronze medals. The women’s semifinals and finals are Wednesday and Thursday (August 8 and 9).
Team USA has sent a trio of talented young women to compete in the ExCel arena. Lightweight Queen Underwood fought on Sunday but came up short in her historic bout for women’s boxing. Her teammates, both having byes in the draw, fared much better in their quarterfinals. Flint, Michigan’s teenage spark plug Claressa Shields was victorious over Sweden’s Anna Laurell with an 18-14 decision. The middleweight, just 17, will next take on Marina Volnova of Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
Flyweight Marlen Esparza, 23, made a statement in Monday’s 24-16 victory over Venezuela’s Karlha Magliocco. The Houston dynamo has become a media darling. With a winning smile, Marlen is starring in McDonalds, Coca-Cola and COVERGIRL commercials. On Wednesday, the Vogue model will look to clash with China’s Ren Cancan in a fierce rematch between the sluggers.
Both Marlen and Claressa will each take home a bronze medal for their groundbreaking efforts but both will strive for more in the Wednesday semifinals. If they win they will go on to fight in Thursday’s finals in the gold medal round.
Their gloved fists will fight for the Stars and Stripes. Four rounds, two minutes each round.
A maximum of eight minutes to turn their dreams into a reality. These young ladies have already inspired many and made waves in the sport for what they have already accomplished. But it is enough for the naysayers? The women warriors should be celebrated yet they’ve been sometimes relegated to lesser roles.
These 2012 Olympics “allowed” women to box for the very first time. There are only three weight classes offered: 112 pounds, 132 pounds, and 165 pounds with a total of 36 ladies making the cut. But the female voice has been growing a little louder during these Olympic Games. Boxing star Laila Ali has been providing commentary on the CNBC telecasts and Team USA has assistant coaches Christy Halbert and Gloria Peek and Boxing Team Manager Delilah Rico on board.
Progress for the sport, yes. But still not enough say some. During the Olympic broadcasts, it takes a dedicated sleuth to find the matches (both men’s and women’s) on TV or cable! I know because I have been following the fights, making graphs, schedules and notes trying to catch as many bouts as I can. While the network offers a live stream on computer feeds, it has not been easy for us who want to watch the action on TV, attempting to decode the time zones, sift through various NBC channels, and scan any boxing updates found.
A well-regarded quartet men and women all working in the sport gave me their thoughts about women fighting in the Olympics–and about female boxing in general. These five individuals are each contributing greatly in bringing women’s boxing to the forefront in trying to increase visibility. Hearing their passionate opinions, it sounds like we need more mainstream exposure, more TV time and more big-time promoters willing to put women on their cards.
World Boxing Council/NABF/WBC Cares’ Jill Diamond has been a supporter of women’s boxing for years. “I think they are getting nice PR however neither the men or the women’s fights are accessible on TV. First time in history and NBC is featuring volleyball and sailing!”
I ask the WBC Chairperson why she supports female boxing?
“There is no ‘female boxing,’” Diamond responds, refusing to separate the sexes. “I support ALL trained athletes!”
Former athlete and current ringside photographer Mary Ann Lurie Owen has also been keeping a keen eye on the matches.
“Yes, I been watching the boxing and I hope Teddy Atlas supports the women’s boxing,” she mentions. “This is the first time I think he has really watched them; he seems impressed! All the women are amazing.” Owen knows her stuff; she is the author of “Extraordinary Women of the Ring” and has been a longtime advocate for the girls.
“I hope the major boxing promoters are watching. This is what we need for the major promoters to start using the women on their undercards,” she sounds off on the lack of mainstream support. “All we can do at this point is wait. It took forever to get the Olympic Committee to approve women’s boxing but I did hear in the next Oympics the women will have a lot more weight classes.”
Another woman involved in the sport is Claudia Ollis, boxing promoter, “Bad Chick” entrepreneur and a member of Team Mia St. John. I asked the SoCal businesswoman if she’s been following Olympic boxing.
“I have not missed a thing–it’s fantastic!” Claudia tells me. She has long campaigned to change the face of boxing and involve more females in live fights. “This year in the Olympics, the women are making history. They are breaking records and it is truly the ‘Year of the Women in Sports.’”
Ollis first got involved in the sweet science through her son, “Bobby Light,” who boxed. She explains: “When he was in amateur boxing, he said to me one day, ‘Mom, these females need so much help. Sponsor them…Help them!’ I immediately saw the discrimination these women felt in the boxing world. I felt it was the lack of knowledge people had as they were rarely seen on TV in the U.S. to know how fantastic these women were and the skills they really had. Every fight I attended with female bouts were the loudest and most entertaining. And now the whole world can see just how amazing they are on the Olympic stage! I continue to fight for their exposure here in the USA and working on a women’s boxing TV show along with Jeff Wald (the creator of ‘The Contender’), a project I’ve been working on for about three years now.”
Jerry Hoffman is a veteran boxing promoter, matchmaker, sportscaster and ring announcer who has spent two decades making a push for women’s boxing–long before it became more visible in these Summer Olympics.
“Female boxing wasn’t cool when I started to put one bout per show for 15 years (in 1992),” recalls Hoffman when I ask him about his early involvement.
“Some of the girls I promoted became world champions; Barbara Buttrick and Sue Fox were around in those days of ‘One fight deal. Do your best with no strings attached.’ I promoted a lot of female fighters and they were easier to work with overall,” Jerry remembers. “Hard to pinpoint why I feel strongly that women’s bouts show much greater sportsmanship, sustained action and spirited all-in efforts. Female boxing will have a following if marketed properly with commitment. Since the biggest promoters who could make a difference would rather not deal with the challenge, champions must travel to Mexico and Europe to find fights.”
The Santa Cruz promoter also sums up the future success of Olympians Esparza and Shields.
“With a pair of medals coming home from the Olympics, it may just dawn on somebody in power to actively do something and create a legacy,” he comments. “Marlen and Claressa will have opportunities, but a growing number of female fighters are not cultivated so the talent pool remains low–but interest is high. Too bad it takes the Olympics for any attention at all!”
Yep, this year the girls finally got to fight in the Olympics. But U.S. boxing as a whole took a lot of heat and criticism during a competition that unfortunately featured no men advancing, atrocious and highly-controversial judging in the bouts, and the overall confusion for mainstream fans (used to pro fights and MMA) trying to quickly catch on to the at-times confusing and convoluted international rules of amateur boxing.
Thompson Boxing Promotions’ Alex Camponovo is one who gave me his opinion–shared by countless of frustrated fans trying to follow the boxing brackets. “I wish the system helped the kids but with the poor refereeing and judging, it is detrimental to those competing and to those watching,” Alex tells me. “The other drawback is the scoring system. I think is a ‘mystery’ to most people, even to the fighters and worse yet it does not help them. Everybody slaps up their punches because those count with the new system.”
But the Thompson Boxing General Manager and Matchmaker remains a fan of women’s boxing. Promoter and President Ken Thompson often feature ladies’ bouts on their shows and their August 24 bash will have a female match (Sindy Amador vs. Elizabeth Cervantes) showcased.
And will they continue to support women’s boxing?
“Women’s boxing? I am all for it; it sells well on our shows but nobody has jumped into the mainstream,” he says, echoing the thoughts of many. “And its sad to see that NBC announces the competition on one of their networks and then they show Ping-Pong or field hockey instead. If the networks don’t support amateur boxing when they can highlight it and they miss an opportunity to make a compelling case for these kids, that is sad. However, during their prime time coverage, they have showed us how to wear a kilt or play a bagpipe!”
He is right. Respect for the women gladiators has been a long time coming–and is still slow in coming. Marlen, Claressa, Queen and ALL the female competitors are pioneers in this inaugural outing but once again, it appears that women’s boxing has been put on the back burner. Will future Olympic Games bring wider recognition and popularity to pugilism?
“It also does not help that the American team did poorly, bad judging or not, the world has caught up with us, so USA Boxing needs to change, make a strong commitment and take the bureaucracy away from its own system which is near impossible,” Alex Camponovo assesses. “International success will be hard to obtain if they don’t steer the boat away from the rocks. The U.S. has had a medal winner in every Olympics going back to the inaugural boxing competition in 1904 and now the ladies will have a shot at a medal which is nice but it shows that amateur boxing has hit its very own ‘Depression Era’!”
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2016 is next and reports are that AIBA (Amateur International Boxing Association) will make changes in future Olympic boxing matches.
And maybe in four years, great strides will have been made with equality for all. Then again, perhaps women’s boxing will always have those denigrating the sport. But the next generation of little girls who find their way into a boxing gym should, arguably, have it easier than the female pioneers who bravely battled for their right to fight.
And maybe the next time you hear someone say they “Fight Like a Girl,” it just may mean they “FIGHT LIKE A CHAMPION.”
Just like Marlen Esparza and Claressa Shields–2012 U.S. OLYMPIC CHAMPIONS.
Photos courtesy of Team USA and Delilah Rico
Calling All Boxing Fans
Boxing Fans, It's Edgar, Founder & Publisher of MyBoxingFans.com, and I personally want to ask you to subscribe to our email newsletter its completely Free! Just enter your name and email below: