PART ONE OF A TWO-PART STORY. In this our latest survey, we asked noted boxing buffs to share their thoughts on the subject of women’s boxing. We posed this question: “Women’s boxing seems to be surging. How do you feel about this dimension of boxing and who is your favorite active or retired female boxer (if anyone)?”
The respondents, 40 in all, were candid. Here are their diverse and interesting inputs. They are listed alphabetically.
JIM AMATO-author, writer, historian and collector: Over the last few years the skill set among women boxers has improved tremendously. They are SERIOUS professional athletes who I enjoy watching. My favorite is Lucia Rijker.
MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI-TSS boxing writer: I enjoy any good boxing including women’s boxing. There are some very talented fighters whose fights I don’t want to miss. My favorite was Christy Martin. She was incredibly skilled and always provided for plenty of action inside the ring.
DAVID AVILA-TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: Woman’s boxing will one day reach the same level of interest as men’s boxing in the same manner women’s tennis is equal to the men’s version in terms of popularity. My favorite female boxer – she’s now retired — is Wendy Rodriguez. It was while watching her fight that I became interested in covering women’s boxing
BOB BENOIT-former boxer and current professional referee: I do not like women’s boxing. To me, it upsets the natural order of things. I could not tell you one woman pro boxer active today. Conversely, I have trained a few woman boxers and a couple of them, one pro and one amateur, are friends of mine. I admire their courage and their willingness to train hard.
JOE BRUNO-former New York City sportswriter; prolific author: I don’t even count women’s boxing as boxing. Women’s boxing is like women’s basketball. You’re getting a bad imitation of the real product. Besides, I don’t like to see a woman hit in the face. I have never watched a woman’s basketball game or a woman’s boxing match. And I never will.
STEVE CANTON-author, historian and president of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame: My favorite female boxers were Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker, and Laila Ali. I also liked Mia St. John and what she stands for.
ANTHONY M. CARDINALE-former advisor to elite boxers and renowned criminal defense attorney: Christy Martin- from my personal experiences with her I can attest to her being a credit to the sport, and a great fighter. Lucia Rijker literally scared male fighters. In the ring she was as vicious as the character she played in the movie “Million Dollar Baby.” Seeing both up close and personal, hard not to pick Lucia as the best, maybe ever. All that said, I’m not a fan of women fighting without headgear- I don’t want to see a woman bleed from a punch. Call me old-fashioned.
STEVE CORBO-writer and ring announcer: Best female fighter?… Somebody has to stand up for Laetitia Robinson. She is almost completely unknown and ignored… even in her hometown of Chicago. Yet she was one of the great female fighters and I am happy to give her recognition which is long overdue! She had an amateur record of 37-1 and a pro record of 15-1. As a pro she was the WIBA and IWBF world middleweight champion. Lucia Rijker, Regina Halmich, Ann Wolfe and Cecilia Braekhus also deserve a nod of approval.
JILL DIAMOND-International Secretary, WBC: There’s still much to do. Women suffer the same risks as men, but the top women boxers earn far less than their male counterparts. Talent, not gender, should always be the criterion for a champion. It’s hard to pick one favorite female boxer because the pioneers suffered the disadvantages of a less active sport. Instead, I will site the fight that never happened, but I would’ve liked to have seen: Christy Martin vs Lucia Rijker. Two fine athletes, one goal; to be acknowledged for their skills.
CHARLIE DWYER-former fighter, world class referee, and member of Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame: I have always been a fan of women’s boxing. I have refereed seven IWBF world title fights. One in particular comes to mind. In May, 2006, Missy Fiorantino the IWBF featherweight champ called out Jamie Clampitt the IWBF lightweight champ. The bout was for Jamie’s title. Both were from Rhode Island although Jamie was originally from Canada. The bout was held in the smaller Convention Center in Providence before a standing room only, noisy crowd of 3,000. The bout itself was a classic. Jamie the boxer-puncher did her thing while Missy, a little Rocky Marciano, did hers with bobbing, weaving, overhand rights, hooks and uppercuts. It was nonstop action for ten rounds with neither woman backing up. At the end there was a two-minute standing ovation. (I had goose bumps.) A split decision went to Missy. The bout was one of the best I ever refereed or had even seen. I refereed both women several times and admired both. As for favorite female boxer, I could not pick one over the other.
BERNARD FERNANDEZ-lifetime member of BWAA and TSS mainstay: All fight fans love knockouts, especially those that come with exclamation points and not merely periods, whether they are delivered by men or women. With that as the overriding consideration, I cast my vote for Ann Wolfe, the Earnie Shavers/Mike Tyson of women’s boxing and scary enough to instill more than a little fear in a lot of guys. Wolfe scored what is widely considered to be the most emphatic knockout in women’s boxing history when she starched much taller former basketball star Vonda Ward in the first round of their nationally televised March 8, 20004, bout in Biloxi, Miss. Don’t know if she was slick enough to out-box, prime on prime and in something approximating the same weight class, past and current stars like Laila Ali, Lucia Rijker, Christy Martin, Cecilia Braekhuis or Claressa Shields, but if she nailed any of them with the same shot that destroyed Ward, they’re going down and not getting up any time soon. Oh, and this big, bad Wolfe also has trained men, most notably middleweight knockout artist James Kirkland. She probably scares him too.
SUE FOX-former world class female boxer, founder/president of WBAN and IWBHF: Seeing this new surge in women’s boxing is something I believe has been wanted for many years by those who support females in boxing. We have had many talented fighters that did not get these opportunities on televised cards on major networks, in the Olympics, and more, and it is wonderful to see the gates opening up for many of the women who have worked hard to get to this place in the sport. I have to say I do not have a favorite past or present female boxer. I look at each and every female boxer that has entered the ring as playing a role in building the sport to where it is today.
JEFFREY FREEMAN (aka KO DIGEST)-TSS New England correspondent: While I’m not a fan of women’s boxing or having it shoved down my throat by politically correct TV executives, I do honestly respect their right to compete and make money. As a fight writer, I’ve covered my fair share of girl boxing but I have to report that these slap fights almost never amount to anything more than a sideshow attraction for the friends and family of the competitors. Look ma, no skills! If I must name a favorite female boxer, give me Mikaela Lauren. Did you see her kiss Christina Hammer and more recently Cecilia Braekhus? Unforgettable viewing!
CLARENCE GEORGE-boxing writer and historian: “Boxing is for men, and is about men, and is men,” writes Joyce Carol Oates in her classic, On Boxing. Nothing more needs to be said, but that won’t stop me from saying it: Women’s boxing is an abomination before God and man.
LEE GROVES-author, writer and CompuBox wizard: When I first saw female boxing at the NY Golden Gloves, I was a bit uncomfortable with the notion of seeing two women being hit. That’s just the way I was raised. But, as time proceeded — and as the skill level elevated — acceptance, then enjoyment, occurred. When matched correctly, female fights provide even more action than the guys, and the best women boxers have demonstrated excellent skills. Good boxing is good boxing…period. So, I am definitely a supporter of the women’s game.
As for my favorite female fighter, it is Christy Martin, not just because she is a fellow West Virginian, but also because she fought with passion, power and good technique. My dad — who was as old school as it got — absolutely loved to watch Christy fight, and so did I. I am proud to say that, of all the states in the union, West Virginia can claim a woman as its greatest fighter, and that’s “The Coal Miner’s Daughter.”
HENRY HASCUP-historian and president, New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: The only thing I can say is that it has gotten a lot better over the years starting with Christy Martin and Ann Wolfe. I was never a BIG fan of women boxing, but with some of the new fighters like Claressa Shields and a few others it’s starting to win me over! I like Claressa as a fighter, but I don’t like the way she acts. She could be great for woman boxing if she just stopped that!
JEFF JOWETT-longtime boxing scribe and heir to the late Jack Obermayer as an authority on East Coast diners: My favorite is Jolene Blackshear. The NAME is perfect. If I had planned to write a novel about a woman boxer (I don’t; I don’t have the talent), I would have had to abandon the project. The name was taken.
The late Jack Obermayer (K.O.J.O.) had no time for women’s boxing. Feeling that a good slogan is all that is required, he declaimed, “I didn’t get into boxing 25 years ago to see women box.” However, I find that while male boxers are often leery of each other, women, lacking commensurate upper body strength, wail away with total abandon, often making the best bout on the card.
BRUCE KIELTY-boxing matchmaker, manager, and historian: I think the term “surge” regarding women’s boxing may be overrated. It seems to have popularity in specific areas like Europe and Mexico. In the US, the talent pool is so thin that it is difficult to make competitive or interesting matches. For example, I respect anyone who enters the ring but when a recent title contestant was a middle-aged waitress, that speaks volumes…I have never seen another female boxer who compares to Lucia Rijker from a skill standpoint.
STUART KIRSCHENBAUM–Boxing Commissioner Emeritus, State of Michigan: Having been at the forefront of women’s boxing in the 1980’s…the problems then still exist today. Not enough participants for the sport to sustain any legitimacy. Too much disparity in purses and lack of commercial endorsements to financially support a career. It has had its share of superstars but lack of competition for meaningful careers. Case in point….Claressa Shields, winner of two Olympic Gold medals. In her second professional fight the NABF Female Middleweight Title is at stake…however vacant at the time. In her third fight she is fighting for the vacant WBC Super Middleweight Title. In her fourth fight at stake is the vacant IBF Super Middleweight Title and defense of her WBC title. In her fifth fight she defends her two titles. However, in her sixth fight she collects two more belts…both vacant…IBF and WBC Middleweight Titles. Collecting belts like Beanie Babies. Five Championship Title belts…all were vacant. Not enough women boxers to fill a top ten in each division…so what is the accomplishment of winning a vacant title with a lack of challengers? This is not to take away the domination of Claressa Shields…my favorite…she is an amazing athlete and talented boxer. Let’s remember two other Olympic Gold Medalists…Leon Spinks beats Muhammad Ali in his 8th pro fight and Pete Rademacher fights Floyd Patterson for the heavyweight championship in his first pro fight. Are we on course to test the true abilities of women superstars in their sports?
Part Two: L-W next.
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