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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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Today’s Deep Boxing Menu Kicks Off with a Heavyweight Super-Fight

Arne K. Lang

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Three world champions are in action today and also a former world champion and we’re not even talking about Saudi Arabia. Welcome to the new world order of boxing where two or more significant shows overlap seemingly every weekend and a man needs more than two eyes to keep track of all of them in real time.

December is historically a slow month for boxing but history doesn’t stand still. The big heavyweight shebang in Diriyah will cast a long shadow, burying the opposition in a tsunami of words, but that is of no consequence to some boxing promoters who are contractually obligated to their live-streaming partners to provide a steady stream of fresh content no matter the competition.

Two of the title-holders – WBO super bantamweight champion Emanuel Navarrete and IBF super flyweight champion Jerwin Ancajas (pictured) – are in action on the same card in Puebla, Mexico. Their bouts will air on ESPN+.

Navarette (29-1, 25 KOs) has won 24 straight and is defending his title for the fourth time in the last seven months. He is the ironman of active title holders and on the short list of fighters in the running for Fighter of the Year. His opponent, fellow Mexican Francisco Horta, is unbeaten in his last 13 starts, elevating his record to 20-3-1 (10), but he’s fought only one fight scheduled for more than eight rounds and that was back in May of 2015.

On paper this is a shameless mismatch.

Anjacas (31-1-2, 21 KOs) will be making the eighth defense of the title he won from McJoe Arroyo. The talented Filipino opposes Miguel Gonzalez (31-2, 8 KOs), a mystery fighter who, except for one fight, has fought exclusively in his native Chile.

Brooklyn

In the main go of the SHOWTIME card at Barclays Center, Jermall Charlo (29-0, 21 KOs) risks his undefeated record and his WBC world middleweight title against Dennis Hogan (28-2-1, 7 KOs). It’s the third defense for Charlo who previously held a world title at 154 pounds and has fought three of his last four fights in this building.

Jarmall Charlo, like his twin brother Jermell, packs a big punch but in his last two fights he was extended the distance by Matt Korobov and Brandon Adams and consequently his aura lost some of its sheen.

The opposite applies to Hogan. An Australian by way of Kilcullen, Ireland, Hogan saw his stock shoot up a hundredfold while losing to 12-round majority decision to Mexico’s undefeated knockout artist Jaime Munguia this past May in Monterrey, Mexico. The crowd booed the decision and several pundits called for an investigation of female judge Woleska Roldan who awarded Munguia eight rounds and had previously come under fire for scoring the Horn-Pacquiao fight 117-111 for Horn.

Topping the undercard is a 12-round middleweight match between Chris Eubank Jr and the aforementioned Korobov with the winner becoming the mandatory challenger for the Charlo-Hogan winner.

Montreal

David Lemieux (40-4, 34 KOs) returns to the ring after a 15-month absence to fight Max Bursak (35-5-2,16 KOs). It’s Lemieux’s maiden voyage as a super middleweight.

Lemieux’s co-promoter Camille Estephan says this fight is a litmus test for the former IBF middleweight champion to see if he can carry his power to the next level. Bursak, a 35-year-old Ukrainian, has never been stopped.

Lemieux’s hiatus was elongated by a hand-injury so it won’t be surprising if this fight goes the full 10. Bursak previously challenged WBO 168-pound title-holder Gilberto Ramirez and lost every round.

The chief undercard fight has even less intrigue. It pits the giant Russian heavyweight Arslanbek Makhmudov (6’5 ½”, 261 pounds) against former WBC heavyweight title holder Samuel Peter.

There was a time when Peter, the erstwhile Nigerian Nightmare, was considered the hardest punching heavyweight since a prime Mike Tyson, but that was long ago. He’s now 39 years old and playing out the string. The guess is that he hangs on for a few rounds before bowing out with an alleged injury, whereupon Makhmudov will improve his pro ledger to 10-0 (10 KOs).

—–

Here at The Sweet Science, our first priority will be to keep you informed of the goings-on in Saudi Arabia. We’ll get the result up fast and then, somewhat later in the day, publish a more in-depth story about the event by Hall of Fame boxing writer Thomas Hauser.

Stay in touch.

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Remembering Leotis Martin who KOed Sonny Liston 50 Years Ago Today

Arne K. Lang

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On Dec. 6, 1969, 50 years ago today, former heavyweight champion Sonny Liston fought former sparring partner Leotis Martin on the stage of the showroom of the newly built International Hotel in Las Vegas, a property that subsequently took the name Las Vegas Hilton and is called the Westgate today. The Sunday afternoon fight was televised by ABC’s “Wide World of Sports” with Howard Cosell behind the mic. The match was slated for 12 rounds. The victor would be recognized as the heavyweight champion of the newly formed North American Boxing Federation.

Leotis Martin, who resided in Philadelphia, was a former national Golden Gloves and national AAU middleweight champion. As a pro, he was 30-5 with 18 knockouts. But he was given scant chance of defeating Sonny Liston (49-3, 38 KOs) who had won 14 in a row, 13 inside the distance, since his second defeat to Muhammad Ali. Although Liston had defeated no one of note during this run, he had yet re-established himself in the public mind as one of the hardest hitting punchers ever.

Martin had several other things working against him. He was a small heavyweight. Liston, who came in at 220, would out-weigh him by 21 pounds. And he wasn’t a full-time boxer. In Philadelphia, he was a machinist for the Budd Company, one of America’s leading manufacturers of metal components for automobiles and railroad cars.

Martin had helped Liston train for his matches with Floyd Patterson and Muhammad Ali. When a big name fighter is matched against a former sparring partner, there is always the suspicion that a gentleman’s agreement is in effect.

Liston vs Martin played out somewhat like the recent fight between Deontay Wilder and Luis Ortiz although it lasted two rounds longer.

After eight frames, Liston was ahead by two points on one of the scorecards and by three points on the others on Nevada’s “five-point-must” system. A flash knockdown of Martin in round four contributed to the imbalance.

Martin could sense that Liston was tiring, but it wasn’t apparent to those in the audience – reportedly 1,800 paid – and that made the drama that was about to unfold all the more dramatic.

In round nine, Leotis landed three unanswered combinations, one right after the other. The third was the classic one-two: left to the body, right to the jaw. Sonny Liston pitched forward, landing face first to the canvas, dead to the world. The ref counted “10” over his prone body. “He could have counted to 300,” said Review-Journal ringside reporter Jimmy Cox.

Nevada’s ringside physician, Dr. Donald Romeo, came equipped with capsules of ammonia. The first one that he broke and waved under Sonny’s nose had no effect. The second capsule brought Liston out of his slumber.

Sonny Liston was reportedly 39 years old, but was widely considered to be somewhat older than his listed age. The brutal manner in which he succumbed to Leotis Martin seemingly indicated that he had reached the end of the line, but he wasn’t done quite yet. Six months later, at the Armory in Jersey City, he butchered Chuck Wepner, the “Bayonne Bleeder,” in a fight stopped by the ring doctor after nine rounds.

That would prove to be his final fight. On Jan. 5, 1971, Sonny’s wife Geraldine returned to their home in Las Vegas from a 12-day holiday trip to St. Louis, her hometown, and found her husband dead in their bedroom. Rigor mortis had already set in.  The coroner’s report said Liston died from congestive heart failure, but that didn’t explain what brought on the coronary and there’s strong circumstantial evidence that he was a victim of foul play.

Leotis Martin’s triumph elevated him to #1 in the heavyweight rankings of the WBA, the sport’s paramount sanctioning body. A fight with fellow Philadelphian Smokin’ Joe Frazier was his likely reward. But it wasn’t to be.

Martin emerged from his fight with Liston with a detached retina. Back in those days, retinal detachment surgery was a hit-and-miss proposition. The most famous boxer to have his retina repaired mid-career was Sugar Ray Leonard, but that didn’t happen until 1982 and it was a far more complicated procedure than what it is nowadays. Three ophthalmic surgeons attended Sugar Ray during his two-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Leotis Martin basically had no choice but to retire. His signature win would be the final fight of his career.

Martin returned to Philadelphia and to his job in the foundry and lived out his days quietly in the city’s racially diverse Mount Airy neighborhood. In November of 1995 he passed away after suffering a stroke brought on by diabetes and hypertension. He was 56 years old.

By the way, Tim Dahlberg was one of the ringside reporters. This was his first prizefight. In time he would travel the globe as the National Sports Columnist for the Associated Press and he’s still going strong today.

Reminiscing about his first prizefight with Las Vegas sports columnist Ron Kantowski, Dahlberg recalled that there was a young heavyweight on the Liston-Martin undercard that looked pretty good.

The kid’s name was George Foreman.

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

David A. Avila

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Downtown LA Fight Results From the Exchange

LOS ANGELES-Built in 1931 the Exchange was the former home of the stock market exchange for the West Coast. On Thursday night it was the home for professional boxing.

Jessy Martinez led a slew of prospects ready to showcase their fighting skills among the many business types at the Exchange located on the 600 block of Spring Street. He didn’t need more than one round to reveal his talent at the Bash Boxing show.

Martinez (14-0, 9 KOs) used the first minute or so to determine the incoming fire from Mexico’s Carlos Huerta (6-5-2), a fighter of similar height and speed. Once he learned the magnitude and strength of the punches coming his way, Martinez (pictured on the left) unfurled his own combination and saw his right cross visibly do damage.

A slow developing 12-punch combination by Martinez rocked Huerta who tried to evade the blows to no avail. Finally an overhand right dumped a bleeding Huerta into the ropes as referee Wayne Hedgpeth immediately waved the fight over at 2:26 of the first round.

It was a short but destructive win for Martinez who fights out of toney Woodland Hills, California.

“Hard work pays off,” said Martinez.

Another featured fight saw Compton featherweight Adan Ochoa (11-1, 4 KOs) slug it out with Chile’s Juan “La Maquina” Jimenez (8-9) for five destructive rounds. Though Ochoa had the height, speed and skill advantage, the Chilean fighter walked through every exchange and was cut in the first round because of his reckless charges.

But he fought hard.

Ochoa seemed to have Jimenez in trouble early with single power shots, but was unable to put the final touch. In the fifth round a clash of heads resulted in a gash above Jimenez’s forehead and blood came streaming down. The fight was stopped and due to the cut caused by an accidental clash of heads, the fight was stopped and Ochoa was deemed the winner by technical decision 50-45 twice and 49-46.

“He’s an Hispanic fighter and all Hispanic fighters are tough,” said Ochoa.

A welterweight fight saw Vlad Panin (7-0) use his physical superiority to defeat Mexico’s Daniel Perales (11-19-2) in a four round contest. Panin is a fighter of Belarus lineage and had solid support from his fans who saw him handily defeat Perales by unanimous decision.

Other Bouts

Five of the bouts featured four-round fights and the best of them all saw Orange County-based Victor Rodriguez make his pro debut. He looked very sharp for someone getting his baptism under fire.

Rodriguez (1-0) trains at Grampa’s Gym in Westminster and showed off a very sharp left jab that kept Osman Rivera (2-12-1) from penetrating into the fire zone. Both boxers had large followings and the crowds exchanged competitive cheers for their fighters throughout the four round match. Rodriguez was just a little too sharp for Rivera who was slightly frustrated. All three judges scored the fight 40-36 for Rodriguez.

Other results: Keehwan Kim (4-1) defeat Percy Peterson (3-16-3) by majority decision in a super featherweight contest that opened the show.

Isaac Lucero (1-0) won his debut by knockout in the first round over Anthony Zender (1-6) in a welterweight clash. Lucero floored Zender twice before the fight was stopped at 1:29 of the first round.

Austin Gudino (5-0) remained undefeated by decision after four rounds versus Nobelin Hernandez (0-4) in a super lightweight fight.

Moises Fuentes (4-1) slugged out a win over Sacramento’s tough Moris Rodriguez (8-16-1) after six rounds in a welterweight clash. Each round was hotly contested. The scores were 60-54 twice and 58-56.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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