Boxing & The EDI Landscape…

THE boxing match, several months ago at Madison Square Garden (MSG) between two legends, as we all know now, was a thing of beauty and will be mentioned among the greatest events/fights in history. 

To a casual boxing fan, the opening line of this article, most likely would have conjured up images of male pugilists. Without taking another step into this composition, they may ponder, “Who is this writer talking about, Fury, Haney, Usyk, Inoue..?”

Most serious folks following the game, would correctly think Katie Taylor 21-0 (6) v. Amanda Serrano 42-2-1 (30), due to the MSG reference; however, there are no guarantees. 

Taylor v. Serrano was more than a highly anticipated women’s bout that did not disappoint. The first female fighters to headline a card at New York’s famous venue, unexpectedly brought boxing slugging its way back into the Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI), landscape. 

It’s not as if boxing hasn’t drifted into this landscape in the past, the game, historically, just can’t seem to get it right.

If you want a look back at how we got here, please take a quick read of two articles I wrote on the subject matter (links in highlight). The first, I penned back in 2017… Million Dollar Ladies- The Resurgence Of Women’s Boxing. The second, a sequel in 2019, Million Dollar Ladies-The Resurgence Of Women’s Boxing…Round 2…Breaking Glass Ceilings.

For those who choose not to hit the link….I’ll provide a brief bit of context here-

In the 2017 article, I quoted Marian “Lady Tiger” Trimiar, who back in 1987, while enduring a month-long hunger strike aimed at bringing better conditions, pay and recognition to women’s boxing, stated, “Unless women get more recognition, we will be fighting just as a novelty for the rest of our lives. There will be no future.”

Sadly, 35 years later, the first all female card only now arrives.

Additionally, it was only TEN years ago in 2012, that women first could earn Olympic gold.

In the 2019 piece, I spoke about a potential Taylor- Serrano match, advising readers to buckle up if the match ever happens, that a “Rock cracks the glass ceiling”

So, what happened? Why is there still a struggle with regards to EDI when it comes to women pugilists? I could take the easy road and blame the root of all evil… lack of interest generating money, and along with it, greed. Or maybe, the minuscule fan interest with regards to supply and demand, and lastly, not enough marketable female boxers, but that would do a disservice to all of these fighters. In fact, lesser known and talented male boxers and YouTube stars turned fighter get more pub than the top females in the game.

One would only have to look at boxing’s sister combat sport of the UFC, and see that they have supremely marketed their female fighters for many, many years. Something is amiss in the sweet science.

Although I have a deep and unwavering love for the sport of boxing, and have followed it a few years shy of 5 decades, I’m going to challenge it herein and make it uncomfortable. Elephant in the room…beware.

Look no further than unconscious bias when trying to identify why boxing cannot get this right. Ah yes, the activation of the amygdala, causing one’s brain to make quick judgments based on past experiences. The sport of women’s boxing has no doubt suffered from unconscious bias, more specifically, gender bias. Quite frankly, most of it has been “conscious bias”. There has not been a lack of negativity from many purists of the sweet science when it comes to women.

Earlier this year, legendary promoter Bob Arum stated that “fans don’t particularly pay attention to the women’s fights” and that it was “like comparing the Premier League to women’s football.”. Once again, a judgement based on past experiences. We need these types of legends supporting women’s boxing with positive statements, not negative ones. Naysayers need to continue to learn, grow and challenge their own perceptions and biases.

As a result of unconscious biases, certain people benefit and others are penalized. Historically, in the case of boxing, men benefit, women are penalized.

Say what you want about Jake Paul, but, as far as EDI goes, he’s been an unlikely champion of the cause. A vocal voice for women fighters, and equality in pay. Paul’s first client under his promotional company, Most Valuable Promotions, was Serrano. Paul believes correctly that women fighters are “being mistreated”.

Said Paul, “I think it’s a bigger question of boxing needing a ton of change and women’s boxing being one of those verticals,” Paul said. “Bringing in a new, younger audience was one vertical I identified.”

A new generation of fight fans open to EDI, and self aware of unconscious bias, could absolutely sustain the effort.

The increase in EDI efforts across all employment sectors has picked up steam over the past year. It appears that this time, boxing is primed to be in alignment, and not behind, which has always been the case. 

Flash forward to this Saturday night in London from the O2 Arena. The first major all female fight card, ever, headlined by two must see TV match ups…

Claressa Shields vs. Savannah Marshall, 10 rounds, WBC/IBF/WBA/WBO women’s middleweight unification, & Mikaela Mayer vs. Alycia Baumgardner, 10 rounds, WBO/IBF/WBC women’s junior lightweight unification.

These two fights will no doubt pick up where Serrano v. Taylor left off, and keep the momentum moving.

The rest of the card rounds out nicely, Lauren Price vs. Timea Belik, 6 rounds, female middleweights, Karriss Artingstall vs. Marina Sakharov, 6 rounds, female featherweights, Caroline Dubois vs. Milena Koleva, 6 rounds, female lightweights, Ebonie Jones vs. Vanesa Caballero, 6 rounds, female featherweights, and Ginny Fuchs vs. Gemma Ruegg, 6 rounds, female flyweights.

These are the types of cards that will go a long way in strengthening the standing of women in the game. Quality matchups will need to be sustained. This will require quality fighters, and personalities to sell the fights, thus gaining fan interest. Further, a great marketing campaign to make some of the fighters household names, and we’re on our way. Once that happens, here come the promoters, advertisers, and networks, all of whom will never look back.

The future is bright with names like Mccaskill, Estrada, Crews-Dazurn, Kozin, Fundora, Jones, Mercado, Netisri, Daniels, and Lujan. (First names have intentionally been left off. Do some research, that’s how change begins.)

Shields is not shy on the subject saying, “My fans are going to show up for me, for sure, when you put me against a very tough opponent,” ….”The Taylor-Serrano fight proved what I’ve always said — when you give women equal pay, equal promotion, equal TV time, women’s boxing can sell.”

Shields continued, “They always try to say women can’t do this and can’t do that,” “You don’t know where women’s boxing has gotten to if you don’t give them an opportunity.” Shields criticizing all “these men who are in charge.”

Boxing must sustain this momentum. From April’s instant classic of Serrano v. Taylor, to the highly anticipated Shields v. Marshall & Mayer v. Baumgardner this Saturday, 2022 may prove to be the year that changed the path of the women, bringing EDI to the forefront.

It’s a crisp morning this Sunday the 16th. Be it on the tube in London, the Metro in D.C., or the subway in NYC, a conversation is overheard….

“What great fights last night from the O2 Arena!” states a seasoned boxing fan.

“No doubt” states a casual fan, “Claressa, Savannah, Mikaela, and Alycia, are some of the best in the game”.

All of these talented women in the game haven’t just arrived, they’ve been here all along. We just need you to notice🥊🥊🥊🥊

“It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you”

-Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Ladies- The Resurgence Of Women’s Boxing

“Unless women get more recognition, we will be fighting just as a novelty for the rest of our lives. There will be no future.”

The words of former lightweight fighter Marian “Lady Tiger” Trimiar, back in 1987, while enduring a month-long hunger strike aimed at bringing better conditions, pay and recognition to women’s boxing.

Over the years, the glass ceiling in boxing has been cracked a few times, but sadly, has always been repaired. That said, we are in a time that may see the damn thing shattered. To know where we are going, we need to take a brief look back at where we’ve been.

Although women’s boxing was introduced and on display in the Olympics all the way back in 1904, it didn’t make the cut. It wasn’t until 2012 that women first stepped into the ring for the right to earn a medal. Let me say that year again…2012! That was just five years ago. It was the last “male only” sport in the Games to find gender equality. Ceiling cracks…..

There are traces of women’s boxing dating back to the 17 and 1800’s; however, it wasn’t until the 1950’s until there was significant movement. Barbara Buttrick, considered by most as the pioneer of women’s boxing, fought the first nationally televised female fight in 1954. As the legend goes, “The Mighty Atom of The Ring” also won the first women’s world championship.  It wasn’t all roses for the woman from Yorkshire, England. Through her career, she had to ignore critics who said her involvement in the sport was “degrading” and an “insult to womanhood”. Many would have crumbled under the pressure she endured but not the 4’11 Buttrick, a true pioneer with a warrior’s heart. A champion cut from every bit the same cloth of any male counterpart.

By the 1970’s and through the struggle of it all in this decade, there were positive signs of progress. Bans on women’s boxing were being removed with licences being issued and bouts being sanctioned. Names like Cathy “Cat” Davis, the first female boxer to be featured on the cover of The Ring magazine, the aforementioned Trimiar, and “The Female Ali” Jackie Tonawanda were all instrumental in fighting for a women’s right to be licensed to fight. Ceiling is cracking…..

One could argue that women’s boxing had its biggest rise in popularity or its golden age thus far in the mid 90’s. It was a “Coalminer’s Daughter” from West Virgina donning the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title “The Lady Is A Champ- Boxing’s New Sensation” that disrupted the status quo of the male dominated profession for what seems like now for only a brief moment.

Martin fought on the undercard of the baddest man on the planet, which by default put women’s boxing in millions of homes world-wide. Martin fought arguably the most memorable women’s fight ever against Deirdre Gogarty on the undercard of Mike Tyson v. Frank Bruno in 1996. The bloody affair against Gogarty is widely considered the beginning of modern-day women’s boxing.

In the years during that period of awakening, many quality fighters emerged. Pugilists such as Lucia Rijker, the first women inducted in the World Boxing Hall of Fame who retired undefeated without ever having a career defining fight. If you had a discussion on all-time greats in women’s boxing thus far they would have come from this time period, “The Dutch Destroyer” would no doubt start the conversation along with Ann Wolfe, Holly Holm, Laila Ali, Mia St. John, Mary Jo Sanders and Regina Halmich who was instrumental in the rise of women’s boxing in Europe.

Laila with the appropriate (sur)nickname of “She Bee Stingin” garnered huge attention as the daughter of “The Greatest” when she began to began to pursue the sweet science. The spotlight brightened even more when she entered the ring against Jackie Frazier-Lyde, yes the daughter of “Smokin Joe”, June 2001, Ali v. Frazier, IV as you will.  The first ever pay-per-view card headlined by women.

These fighters were boxers and brawlers and had skill-sets that rivaled their male counterparts. It is a shame that these highly skilled fighters were not showcased more than they were and matched up for some epic bouts. No takers for serious promotions or regular airtime. Additionally, it was suggested that they were more about themselves and less about the game. Crack repaired….

The spark was lit, women’s boxing should have taken off with the strongest group of fighters ever but there were still those skeptics that saw it as a side-show, the chauvinist views that women should be wearing makeup for beauty, not to cover the battle scars of last night’s fight.

Maybe back then, as Ms. Trimiar stated, it was a novelty; however, 2017 looks to be the year when recognition paves the road to the future. There is a current surge of female fighters with extraordinary skills and the timing appears to be right this go round. With the power of social media, something not available in past times, champions and contenders can be publicized to stimulate public interest and build a following. In addition, we have already seen progress through marketing and the showcasing of fighters through mainstream media.

We’ll take a look here at a few fighters that can sustain the sport going forward. Some were outstanding amateurs, some already champions, but both will impact the future. The list is most definitely not complete. No disrespect to the fighters not listed, while most of the below have Olympic pedigrees, this is not to suggest that these women are saving the day. There are many, many fighters never fortunate enough to have competed in the games or had an amateur background; however, their blood, sweat, and tears fighting in bars, halls, and the smallest venues around has not gone unnoticed. They are the ones that kept the dream alive for women fighters of today and tomorrow. 

No better place to start than with the lady considered the top P4P fighter in the game, undefeated and unified welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus (30-0 8 KO). “The First Lady” has made eighteen consecutive title defenses since capturing her first title in 2009. Braekhus longs for a defining fight in the US, as most of her fights have been in Germany. Kind of Mayweather like in her approach, she uses her jab extremely well to set up straight rights and her movement is some of the best I’ve seen.

The fighting pride of Ireland, Katie Taylor, utilizes fast hands, works the body, has a great left hook, and a solid right. A skill set so good that even Claressa Shields sings her praise saying Taylor is the only fighter that comes close to her in skill set. Quite an endorsement. Taylor is set to fight on the undercard of the Wladimir Klitschko v. Anthony Joshua bout and according to promoter Eddie Hearn, a world title fight in Dublin in November is a possibility.

Featherweight Heather Hardy (19-0 4 KO), holder of two titles in different weight classes has an outstanding skill set. While reviewing her fights, I see the strong jab, the movement, the timely uppercuts, the left hook, the overhand rights. Great stuff, a skillset as strong as anyone mentioned. Hardy, with a background in kickboxing and Muay Thai, has dabbled in a brief cross over into MMA motivated by the financial opportunities that come within the cage. No faulting her there, a fighter has to eat. That said, please don’t leave Heather, the sport needs you!

Claressa Shields put a crack in the ceiling this month headlining the first women’s card on a premium network. The two-time Olympic Gold medalist, Shields is a throw-back fighter. Great jab, straight right, left hook and very strong. She grew up in an old boxing gym, nothing fancy just serious training. Arguably, she is the current face of women’s boxing out of the group. While the others may be more popular in their specific country or area, Shields is most likely more well-known across the board.

Nicola Adams– Another two-time gold medalist and the first women to win an Olympic Gold Medal. This flyweight fighter, who just turned pro, signed with Frank Warren and will have her professional debut in April. What movement. Adams is adept at moving in and out with effortless motion while scoring. Her style looks well suited for the pro game.

Shelly Vincent, a highly talented featherweight out of Rhode Island, her only loss out of twenty bouts a MD to Hardy televised on the PBC network. A fight she campaigned for by showing up unannounced and calling Hardy out. A brawling type compact fighter who will be a handful for any opponent.

With a nickname like one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, you’d better be able to bring it.  Amanda “The Real Deal”  Serrano (31-1 23 KO) a southpaw junior featherweight titlist who does just that. An excellent boxer who is disciplined and can get you out of there with power. There is beauty in her brutality. Serrano is very accurate and hits with thudding power. Serrano last fought on the undercard of the Badou Jack-James DeGale bout in January. While the main and co-main aired on Showtime, Serrano’s bout aired on Showtime Extreme. Progress nonetheless. Serrano earned $17,500 for her trouble. A paltry sum for a world champion fighting on a premium network.

This new generation of fighters appears to be working towards a common goal of bringing the women’s game to the forefront and that is the stuff of champions that will make it a success this time around.

Matchups will be the key, as well as promotional companies willing to step up and take a chance. Credit to Showtime for bringing women’s boxing out of the dark ages and begin to regularly showcase these amazing athletes. The UFC has shown that there is a market and big purses for women in combat sports, they just need a chance in the sweet science. But boxing beware, if you lose these pugilists this time around, they may navigate to MMA for good. There needs to be an extreme marketing campaign to get this going in the right direction. The talent is there, it just needs the backing.

As I wrote this article, it became more and more difficult to keep referring to “women’s boxing”. These women are boxers first and foremost, gender be damned. I just love great boxing and boxing skills and these athletes provide just that.

It’s ok ladies, no more hunger strikes are needed, we see your dream…smash the damn ceiling, it is your time.

“It’s the magic of risking everything for a dream that nobody sees but you”

-Million Dollar Baby

The Women Boxing Archive Network WBAN provided great insight and perspective into the subject matter.