By David A. Avila
Earlier this week Showtime Executive Vice President Stephen Espinoza said to the female boxing web site www.thePrizefighters.com that the television cable network plans to include female boxing in 2017.
Revelations that female boxing will be televised beginning next year sent shockwaves and caused mixed reactions in the women’s fight community. Some expressed excitement, others wondered what it means and still others do not quite believe it.
Not since 2009 has a female bout been televised on Showtime. During the late 1980s and 1990s female prizefighters like Christy “The Coalminer’s Daughter” Martin inspired a whole generation to don boxing gloves. Women’s boxing looked like a surefire hit, but by 2004, television interest simply faded away.
Martin, who retired several years ago but recently re-emerged as a boxing promoter, was surprised. “I didn’t know Showtime was putting back women on, it’s been a while,” Martin said.
When she was fighting, Martin took part in some of the most notable female battles of her time. She also fought on a pay-per-view card against Laila Ali in 2003 and was signed by Top Rank to meet Lucia Rijker in a widely anticipated epic battle in 2004. But that fight was postponed due to an injury to Rijker and never attempted again.
Perhaps that failed mega fight had something to do with the downward spiral of women’s boxing. Who knows?
Women’s boxing slipped further and further on the scale of boxing promoters. Top Rank’s Bob Arum said he would not do female boxing again. Golden Boy Promotion’s put on female boxing cards sporadically but never on a consistent basis: One female fight every two years was the norm. Even Don King’s interest in women’s boxing waned.
Recently, DiBella Entertainment staged several female bouts with good success. New York City’s Heather “The Heat” Hardy and Amanda Serrano proved to be popular. Hardy, in particular, could sell more than $30,000 in ticket sales.
Because of the success of those two female fighters, interest began to weave into Showtime’s spectrum as DiBella Entertainment staged several fight cards in Brooklyn.
Lou DiBella, president of DiBella Entertainment, signed both Serrano and Hardy. Both had important fights recently with Serrano using her knockout prowess to win her fourth world title in four weight divisions. Hardy won an entertaining summer war against Rhode Island’s Shelly Vincent in a scrap that was nationally televised. Because of the success of those two female fighters, interest began to weave into Showtime’s spectrum
“I had talks with Stephen Espinosa about the possibility of televising their fights,” said DiBella about the women boxers signed under his banner.
Espinoza oversees Sports Programming for Showtime and when reached, verified that female boxing was in the network’s plans for 2017.
“It’s been on our to-do list for a couple of years. It’s really at its capacity. But we made a decision we are going to prioritize it. We’ve had a couple of fights here at the Barclays Center with a couple of Brooklyn based fighters. The Serrano sisters and Heather Hardy would be naturals for Showtime at Barclays Center and we’re excited about that possibility,” said Espinoza by telephone. “It won’t necessarily be one of those fighters. It could be others. But I think with a series of conversations with Lou (DiBella) and with other promoters, I’m optimistic that we will get this done.”
Espinoza said that he plans to air a female bout by the first quarter and no later than May 2017. Plus, the female fighters will be paid on equal footing as the men. The plans are to focus on the weight divisions that have plenty of exciting matchup possibilities.
“There are more than just one or two weight divisions with talent,” he said. “There are some real divisions with more than a handful than just one or two developing fighters.”
Female Fighters Feedback
Reaction from the female fight world was on both sides of the scale.
“I think it’s great,” said Layla McCarter (38-13-5) who many journalists, including this boxing scribe, consider the best female fighter pound for pound. “A fight with me and Cecilia Braekhus is a natural.”
Braekhus (29-0), who lives in Norway and holds all of the major welterweight world titles, was equally excited. “Great news. And about time!” she said on Twitter.
Many consider Braekhus the top female boxer in the world. A match between the Norwegian and American-based McCarter would be a battle for the ages. Braekhus has never lost since her pro debut in January 2007. McCarter has not lost a fight since April 2007 and has won world titles in the featherweight, lightweight, super lightweight and super welterweight divisions. Both are definitely at the top of the mountain.
Others foresee an east versus west kind of war between females in the super bantamweight class.
“They can have a kind of Tupac versus Biggie thing going,” said Claudia Ollis, a former promoter now involved in television. “There are plenty of talented girls in the lower weight divisions.”
Not all female fighters are convinced television will happen.
“I think it’s great but I learned not to get excited about what people say or promise,” said Heather Hardy by telephone.
Amanda Serrano was also hesitant about expressing joy over the announcement.
“We’ve heard this plenty of times before and it didn’t happen,” said Serrano. “Don’t want to get disappointed again.”
But others who have fought overseas and for extremely low pay have positive vibes about Showtime’s possible involvement.
“That’s very good news,” said Melinda Cooper (pictured in the black trunks), a former flyweight world champion now fighting as a bantamweight out of Las Vegas.
Elena “Baby Doll” Reid, who retired several years ago a two-time flyweight world champion and now co-hosts a radio/podcast on women’s boxing called the “2-minute Round”, was ecstatic upon hearing the news.
“I think it just might be the beginning of women having a chance at being known in the sport of boxing,” said Reid, whose 2003 fight against Mexico’s Mariana Juarez on ESPN was one of the highlights of female bouts that were televised.
Photo credit: Al Applerose