Can Female Olympic Boxing Success Help Pro Women?
By David A. Avila
As 18,000 fans in London cheered their every movement, it was clear that women’s boxing is indeed a welcome addition to the Olympics.
Now what about women’s role in professional boxing?
Ireland’s Katie Taylor, U.S.A.’s Claressa Shields and Great Britain’s Nicola Adams proved before a packed arena in the first year of women’s Olympic boxing that fans do love to watch women fight.
U.S.A. Boxing’s male contingent failed to medal for the first time in modern Olympic history. With swiftness female members Marlen Esparza picked up a bronze and Shields grabbed the gold.
“I got it accomplished,” said Shields to NBC.
Women’s amateur and professional boxing has existed for decades but most boxing promoters and television networks refuse to pay attention. Most are unwilling take a chance and cite the lack of an interested audience. The Olympic crowds of screaming fans dispelled that falsehood.
Times have changed dramatically in women’s boxing.
A decade ago it was tough for any woman to box in Great Britain. It was frowned upon by the boxing public in that nation, but change came suddenly. The Olympic Games proved acceptance of female boxing in the land of Queen Elizabeth was absolute.
Many in the boxing industry were shocked. Men have always dominated the professional and amateur sport. Some like Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Ray Leonard made the transition from Olympic gold medal success to mega millions as prizefighters.
Can that happen to women?
Esparza, the perky flyweight from Houston, Texas, was perhaps the most endorsed Olympic athlete on the U.S. team in London. Not just for the boxing team, but for all sports male and female. Among her endorsements were Vogue, Cover Girl, Coca Cola, McDonalds, and Nike.
Not even Michael Phelps could reach that count.
Female boxing brings a different following and hits a different market than men and the endorsements given to Esparza prove that.
HBO and Showtime televise boxing regularly but neither network is willing to stage a female main event. HBO hasn’t shown a female prizefight in more than a decade.
When the new HBO president of sports programming Ken Hershman was chosen he was lukewarm about the subject of women’s boxing early in the year.
“We have no interest women’s boxing,” said Hershman at first. Then added: “I haven’t focused on women’s boxing. I don’t think its going to be a top priority, not at this time.”
Exposure is critical but television networks refuse to give women an equal or even partial spotlight. Is there some kind of misogynistic sentiment from the networks toward women boxing?
“Television networks will only show what the big promoters bring to the table,” said Claudia Ollis, who has been working on a reality television project along with Contender show producer Jeff Wald that centers on women’s boxing. “President Barack Obama and Michele Obama congratulated Claressa Shields. Even Michael Moore, Oprah Winfrey and Oscar De La Hoya. How much more verification do you need that women’s boxing is popular?
Female boxing promotions
A decade ago there were not enough female prizefighters to launch a serious promotion company. Today, there are several promotion groups scattered throughout the world.
In Southern California a female boxing promotion company called Arqangel Promotions LLC is led by a petite former amateur boxer Katherine Rodriguez. At 22 years old the Riverside resident is the youngest boxing promoter on record. The former junior flyweight knows full well the obstacles women boxers face.
“Because of a lack of exposure fans don’t know about women’s boxing. Once they see women fight, the crowd loves it,” says Rodriguez, whose last amateur fight was against Olympic Bronze medalist Marlen Esparza in the U.S. National tournament in 2008. “It’s not easy being a female boxer.”
Rodriguez’s group Arqangel Promotions has signed outstanding female fighters like Las Vegas’s Melinda Cooper and East L.A.’s Seniesa Estrada who not only have talent, but looks.
“Marlen Esparza is not the only pretty boxer with talent,” says Rodriguez. “But it’s not just about looks. There are some very good, exciting girl boxers.”
Two women well aware of the journey of women’s boxing are Mia St. John and Christy Martin who fight each other today in Friant, California. Both have more than 50 professional fights in their careers. Only a hand full of women can boast those numbers.
“The women are much more technical now days. I have to say, the younger ones are pretty much equal to the men, as far as skill goes,” says St. John with 59 pro fights.
Martin, with 58 pro fights, says watching women box in the Olympics was emotional.
“I'm very proud of the women and feel like a small part of me stood with them as the bell rang to start the matches,” said Martin.
Women’s boxing has truly arrived. Can the rest of the boxing world catch up?