Layla McCarter has been one of the best, if not the best female boxer in the world, pound for pound. Yet, few boxing fans know who she is, outside of the hardcore fans of the sport.
Few experts would refute McCarter is at the top of the mountain when it comes to skills. She hasn’t lost a fight since 2007 when Melissa Hernandez pulled the trick. Since then, lightweight McCarter has remained undefeated and knocked out a junior middleweight champion in the process. In her last fight she defeated the very skillful Hernandez to avenge her last defeat.
But the world only knows about Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus and Belgium’s Delfine Persoon, who fight in Europe where female boxing enjoys a large following. Their promoters are able to give them large purses, much larger than any American female fighters see. They enjoy home-town fights against others in almost all of their fights.
Are they better than McCarter?
That’s the current state of affairs with female boxing as the best boxers are not necessarily the undefeated big money-makers in Europe or Latin America.
With the exodus of several top notch female fighters to mixed martial arts, women’s pro boxing saw a sudden shift at the top of the realm.
Gone to MMA are Holly Holm, Ana Julaton and Jessica Rakoczy, who were good athletes and well suited for MMA. A number of other boxers fled to MMA, where a large door has opened for female fighters. What remains is a strong, more- skilled flank of female prizefighters in the women’s boxing scene.
Amateur girls are finally finding an opening worldwide and many are expected to shine in the next Olympic games slated for Brazil in 2016. American girls are jockeying for position on the U.S. team that saw only three positions in 2012. The next Olympics will have more openings. Amateurs in the U.S. and other countries have been able to gather sponsors.
Yes, sponsors have found their way to amateur boxing, yet not professional boxing.
It’s a strange paradox.
Amateur girls like Mikaela Mayer, Claressa Shields, Queen Underwood, Marlen Esparza and others worldwide have sponsor backing. That’s tremendous. But professional boxers rarely have any sponsors.
Pro Female Boxing
For the last five years, not one American girl was featured on a televised fight card. Yet, Mexican girls were featured almost weekly on Spanish language television broadcast in the U.S. How was that not an indicator that female boxing has a large audience?
American Latinos have always supported live boxing and televised fight cards. It’s a major reason that networks like HBO, Showtime, Fox Sports 1, ESPN, NBC Sports Network and others are televising boxing. Latinos are almost maniacal in their appetite for boxing and have shown a healthy appetite for female boxing.
Just watch Spanish language television like Azteca television, which almost has a weekly dose of female boxing. They have brought Jackie Nava, Arely Mucino, Mariana Juarez and Ibeth Silva to U.S. living rooms, yet American girls who are their equals or better, such as Melinda Cooper, Celina Salazar and Crystal Morales have not been televised to an American audience.
“I find it hard to believe that Mexico, a country known for its machismo, respects the sport of female boxing more than the United States, which is considered the land of opportunity,” said Felipe Leon, boxing writer for Fightnews.com.
No opportunities on televised fight cards have been offered by television networks nor have promoters of men’s boxing like Top Rank, Main Events or Golden Boy Promotions offered any openings to female bouts on their cards.
Women’s Boxing convention
Recently, in Las Vegas, the WBC held a convention and women’s boxing was a major topic on the weeklong agenda. The WBC, which is based in Mexico City, has supported female boxing for an entire decade. But promoters in the U.S. have not opened any doors for the women.
“I sincerely hope that Oscar De La Hoya comes through on his promise that he made at the WBC female convention of doing something with women's boxing in the U.S., perhaps in 2015,” said Leon, who lives in Tijuana and covers boxing on both sides of the border. “The exposure and credibility it would gain with Golden Boy Promotions featuring at least one female fight on their cards will be unmeasurable.”
Sue Fox, a former pro boxer and the owner of WBAN.com, which covers female boxing, said television has been a major obstacle for women’s boxing in this country only.
“Without media exposure it is difficult to build fan bases,” said Fox, who added that women are also finding it hard to get on fight cards. “Without women being featured on televised cards fans don’t know they exist.”
Las Vegas prizefighter McCarter finds it ironic that she lives and trains in the “fight capital of the world” yet cannot find a spot on a big fight card in her hometown.
“They can’t say that men’s boxing is more popular. Some of these male fighters can’t even sell out a small show, but they are included in these big pay-per-view fight cards,” said McCarter. “A lot of these men boxers are boring. I can’t see why they are on the fight cards. Nobody wants to see them.”
McCarter has been a proven ticket seller in Las Vegas but it’s the minimal purses that have kept her from being able to have a solid career.
“I wish we could be able to simply train and fight like the men,” said McCarter, 35, who has been fighting professionally since 1998 and has fought in 58 pro bouts. “Women's boxing is still suffering. Our sport needs the promoters who have money and networks to support women's boxing as they do for the men. Put us on where we can be seen and pay us closer to what we deserve. That will make all the difference.”
McCarter’s not alone when it comes to wishing women’s boxing could get a helping hand.
Al Applerose, a director of a female boxing promotion company based in Southern California called Arqangel Promotions, said that for decades women’s boxing has worked in the shadows.
“Even though it’s very legit, it needs to be legitimized and accepted by the boxing fan (sports audience) population,” said Applerose whose company handles Melinda Cooper, Crystal Morales and Celina Salazar among others. “In this day and age TV is the measure of legitimization and acceptance. Women’s boxing needs that platform so the sports audience can appreciate it.”
In 2014 the WBC held a women’s convention where Mauricio Sulaiman, the president of the Mexico-based sanctioning organization, gave his promise to aid the female side of the sport.
“I think women’s boxing has been better in a worldwide sense,” said Leon, who consistently follows and reports on female boxing. “Unfortunately it has not gotten the same traction in the United States. I think the talent pool right now in the United States is at an all-time high with exciting potential match ups throughout many divisions.”
James Pena, trainer for Melinda Cooper, said he’s surprised that American television has not seen the potential that other countries have seen.
“I don’t know what promoters or television networks are thinking,” said Pena, who lives in Las Vegas. “Women’s boxing can’t miss but these people don’t see it. They’re basically afraid of a sure thing. It’s their loss.”
The female boxing world has more than 1,200 professionals who work out daily in gyms in Tokyo, Japan to Las Vegas, Nevada. Almost every continent has female prizefighters toiling in gyms alongside their male counterparts. Female boxers have been around for more than 40 years, yet they still fly under the radar.
McCarter, who is arguably the best of all female boxers, turns 36 in April and has been breaking her head against the wall of criticism toward female boxing her entire career.
One day, a man about 6’1” and 220 pounds entered her gym and saw her training. He claimed he was a former military commando with martial arts training and no women could last a round with him. McCarter entered the boxing ring against him and promptly knocked him down within 20 seconds. He took off the gloves and left the gym.
Other female boxers have similar stories. But promoters and TV networks continue to ignore the women and those fans that follow them. Female boxing stands ready for a breakout year.
“It grew even more so in Mexico and in other parts of the world like Europe and Japan with women again being put front and center on many televised main events. We even had the first ever all-women convention in September,” said Leon, whose hometown of Tijuana has groomed two world champion females in Nava and Kenia Enriquez.
Will 2015 be the year?