It’s an exciting time for women’s boxing. The 2012 Summer Olympics in London will showcase the sport for the first time in its 116-year modern history. It’s an event that has been eagerly anticipated by boxing’s foremothers, and the excitement can hardly be contained by those who have fought so long and so hard just to see it happen.
“This is so huge for us,” said Terri Moss, a Colorado-born Georgia resident who fought professionally from 2002-2007. “It is a great time of opportunity for women to be seen as real athletes. It’s like what Billy Jean King did for tennis.”
King, the trailblazing women’s tennis player who helped legitimize women in another sport men had long dominated, won twelve Grand Slam titles in tennis, but is probably best known in pop culture for defeating male tennis player Bobby Riggs in a match dubbed “The Battle of the Sexes” in 1973.
That was almost 40 years ago.
“It’s almost amazing to think that its 2012, and we’re just now getting [women’s boxing] into the Olympics,” Moss, age 46, said. “There is even wrestling in the Olympics for women. It’s been there for years.Of all women athletes, I think we have suffered the most as far as not being accepted. There are so many people out there – some of them even women – who just don’t believe women should fight.”
Boxing history is chock-full of people who didn’t give up when the going got tough. In fact, it’s what we love most in our sport. When the going gets tough, we like to see our fighters get going. Our favorite boxers are the ones that keep coming, keep fighting and persevere.
Perseverance is Evander Holyfield in round ten against Riddick Bowe.It’s Diego Corrales versus Jose Luis Castillo and Arturo Gatti versus Micky Ward. It’s Joe Frazier decking Muhammad Ali in the Superfight and Jack Dempsey riding the rails as a hobo and fighting people in bars for food money on his way to becoming heavyweight champion of the world.
Perseverance is boxing.
The women of boxing know all about it. After skyrocketing into American consciousness in the early 2000s, led by superstar fighters like Christy Martin, Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe, the sport didn’t seem to go anywhere further. It seemed to be stuck in the mud.
Moss, who fought and won titles during that important era of the sport, believes women’s boxing suffered then from a distinct lack of depth in the amateur ranks.
“Lots of people say we had a little upshift with the Christy Martin and Laila Ali stuff and that then it kind of sunk, but I didn’t really see it that way,” she said. “There really wasn’t a lot of amateur boxing going on at the time. When I got into boxing, a lot of women were just skipping the amateurs and going to the pros because so many of us had gone to tournaments to fight and nobody would be there to fight. You get tired of training so hard for nothing, you know? It was discouraging. That alone, made us learn that if we wanted anything at all from this sport, we’d have to stick to it. We would have to continue to wait. We would have to continue to drive forward whether we had to take fights out of our weight class or beyond our experience – whatever. We learned that we had to persevere.”
“Whatever it takes,” she said almost as if remembering a personal motto during that time. “There’s not a lot that’s going to happen for us unless we make it happen.”
Whenever I interview a fighter, I wonder what made them want to fight in the first place. Male or female, what would drive a person to want to step inside a ring for an old fashioned fist fight? Why would anyone want to make that happen exactly?
“For women, it’s an empowerment thing,” Moss said. “Not because we want to prove something to someone else but because we want to prove something to ourselves. We want to go out there and conquer our own fears as well as the things we’re told we cannot do.”
Boxing hit Moss like a ton bricks. She fell in love with the sport fast, furious and seemingly out of nowhere.
“I never really watched boxing until the first Holyfield-Tyson fight,” she recalled. “Honestly, I never really paid that much attention to boxing.”
“I stumbled into the gym [at age 34] because a friend of mine saw that Jennifer Lopez movie (“Enough, from 2002”),” Moss remembered with a laugh. “It was the women empowerment thing! I just followed her in. I thought she was crazy!”
Boxing has a funny way of drawing people to it, but once you’re hooked – well, you’re hooked. For Moss, it was no different.
“It only took one training session for me to decide it’s where I wanted to be.”
Moss has been there ever since. The retired champion is a boxing trainer, fitness guru and promoter of her increasingly popular white-collar charity boxing shows in Georgia. She oversees fights internationally for sanctioning organizations and is a chairperson for the Champions of Dignity Association, a charity dedicated to providing care for retired boxers as well as educating the sport’s current ones.
She’s a boxing evangelist who spreads what she calls “the boxing bug” everywhere she can. It’s what drives her, and it’s why you perhaps should listen when she says this is an unprecedented time in women’s boxing.
“I really do believe women’s boxing is on the verge of a major change,” she said. “I’ve only been in boxing for about 12 years, and I’ve already seen so much. It’s a total turnaround. I mean, women’s boxing for amateurs is now incredible! We’re real fighters. We don’t have to get in there now and hope to look like real fighters.”
One of the reasons Moss thinks women’s boxing had such a tough time maintaining its momentum during the 2000s was because a lot of the fighters were not employing the sweetest of science.
“There was so little experience out there,” said Moss. “Nobody really knew how to fight, and if you did know how to fight, there was nobody out there to fight you who knew how to fight.”
Moss believes its different now. The 2012 U.S. Olympic team knows how to fight, and she expects big things from the three-person team of Marlen Esparza, Queen Underwood and Claressa Shields. Moss believes at least two of the three women will win silver or gold, and she’s anxious to see what happens after the Olympics with the group, whether they continue their amateur careers or try their hands in the professional ranks.
Whatever the case, Moss believes the opportunity is there for something really special for this group of female athletes, and she’s glad she finally gets to see it.
“We have fought so hard to get this. We want people to know that we are real fighters. We think like fighters. We talk like fighters.This means a lot to us. This is our chance to show the world who we are. This is huge.”