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What Is The Past History And Future of Women’s Boxing?

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I recently caught wind of a new push to propel women’s back into the limelight where it..how to put this delicately…it hasn’t been for a bunch of years.

Me, I’m not one of those guys who applauds that. I say to each his own, if your eyes are wide open, be it man or woman, you should feel free to enter that ring and test yourself. I know that warrior hearts, unlike my own “regular” one, are placed into the bodies of people of both genders…

I thought this time frame before the renewed push to make the female pugilists a more marketable group would be a good time to check in with author Malissa Smith. She just released a book called “A History of Women’s Boxing,” and I wanted to pick her brain about the past, present and future for the females who dare to enter this male dominated realm.

Q) You just did an event for the book at the famed Gleason’s Gym, in Brooklyn. Can you tell me how it went at Gleasons?

It was a wonderful event. It lasted for approximately two hours and included an exhibition of women’s boxing and a reading from A HISTORY OF WOMEN’S BOXING.

Q) How was the turnout? What were the highlights?
A) Forty to fifty people attended in all including the WBC’s Jill Diamond, Harold Lederman and his wife Eileen, and Julie Lederman. I was truly honored that they came to show their support for women’s boxing. The biggest highlights for me was having two champions, Alicia “Slick” Ashley and Keisher “Fire” McLeod-Wells give a two-round exhibition. They wowed the audience, many of whom had never actually seen a female bout. Boxer Sonya “The Scholar” Lamonakis acted as MC and gave the audience background on the sport — and of course having the opportunity to address the crowd of assembled guests was an amazing feeling for me. I not only read a passage, but talked about the pride women boxers should take in knowing that women have been boxing for hundreds of years.

Q) Can you tell me how you started liking boxing, and a bit more about you…where did you grow up?

A) I grew up in Manhattan on the Lower East Side — East 12th Street to be exact — in the early 1960s. I was first exposed to boxing there and I grew to love the sport watching Muhammad Ali fights. Another of my favorites was Ken Norton, who had that devastating overhand right. When I was 12 my uncle taught my brother and I the old “one-two” and I was hooked, though it never occurred to me that I could actually box myself until the late 1980s/early 1990s when I began to hear that women were boxing. I finally “crossed the divide” myself into Gleason’s Gym in late 1996 and have been training there off and on ever since.

Q) What were your top takeaways from researching for the book?

A) The main one was to learn how entrenched in the culture female participation in the sport truly was whether as fighters, practitioners for exercise, spectators, or behind the scene as managers, refs and even trainers. When I started the project I really didn’t know what I would find, just that I’d read that women had boxed in the early 1720’s alongside James Figg, who was a big proponent of female prize fighters, and the story about the female bout for a silver butter dish at Henry Hill’s in 1876. What I discovered was a rich, well-documented story of women of the ring pieced together through press clippings from the eras I researched. The other thing was understanding how entrenched female boxing was in popular culture — whether negative or positive, and even to the point of having a female boxer named Hatttie Stewart (The Female John L. Sullivan) on a playing card in the mid-1880s as one of the best athletes in the world. I was able to come to the conclusion based on the amount of ink on the subject in the press, and not only the big city dailies, but reprinted from the wire sources in newspapers across the world. It was truly startling revelation.

Q) Is the public ready for the females in boxing to once again step to the fore? We had Christy Martin, and Laila Ali…but there has been a lack of coverage and interest for a spell.

A) Certainly if one attends fight cards with female bouts, the crowds are wildly enthusiastic about the fighters — however, it is hard to know the interest level when fights are broadcast–as there have been so, very, very few over the last few years. From the perspective of media promotion–we LOVE a heroine of the stature of Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker or Laila Ali, and right now there are MANY talented female fighters, frankly with greater skills, or certainly the equivalent of Lucia Rijker, who from a pure skill-level was the best of her generation. The problem is, since there is no TV coverage, they are only known by the fans who follow them and the select few boxing writers who report on the sport. Two factors which may help propel the sport into the limelight again are: 1) the rise of female MMA bouts which have wowed audiences with their remarkable skill levels and athleticism and 2) the fact that the sport is now contested at the Olympics. I’ll tell you, Michael, I’ve just been at the Women’s National Golden Gloves and was blown away not only by the skills of current USA Boxing members such as Christina Cruz, Virginia Fuchs and Marlen Esparza (incidentally a bronze medal winner in 2012), but the young girls who boxed, some as young as eight, were truly gifted boxers. What we all saw there were the future of the sport: those who will contest and win medals in 2016 and 2020, and those who will make the transition to professional boxing every bit as skilled as true boxer’s boxers as their male counterparts.

Q) Has there been a correlation between the women’s rights movements, and how females are treated as a whole in the US, and how popular and accepted female boxing is?

A) That is a particularly perceptive question and very apt when it comes to the acceptance of women in the sport. If one looks at the long arc of participation, say going back to the 1880s on through contemporary boxing, women who box and frankly who participate in any way in the sport, including as spectators, skirt the edges of presumed female interests and behavior. Boxing has, after all, been associated with a kind of hyper-masculinity all the way back to Greco-Roman times–and it is, I believe, hard to break through the association of boxing and maleness for many people. And, even though we talk about acceptance of strong women, there is a reluctance to do so. There are two periods were the women’s movement had it’s greatest effect: with the rise of the suffragist (EDITOR NOTE: A suffragist is one who works to get voting rights for people who don’t have them.) movement, which paralleled the concept of the “New Woman” roughly from the period of the 1880s – World War I, and the late 1960s-early 70s, when women’s militancy led them to take to the courts to garner equal rights, including the right to box. Interestingly, and counter-intuitively, women of the ring are *very* accepted in places we would think of as having particularly “macho” cultures — such as Mexico and Argentina. I truly have not been successful in really accounting for why Americans are uncomfortable with seeing women in the ring boxing, but have no issue with MMA, judo, and other martial sports. What I fall keep falling back on is the deep-seated association of boxing with manliness, something, quite frankly, women never really consider, but still seems to be a pervasive meme in popular culture. Where that goes from here is anyone’s guess.

Q) What do you want the average reader to take away from the book?

A) My hope is that readers not only gain an appreciation for the history of the women in the ring, but also for the place of women in general in the eras I researched. We do not often gain insights into the work-a-day world of women from earlier eras, and it is my hope that readers will be wowed by all that women were able to accomplish.

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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