A Jam For The Ladies



A Jam For The Ladies
Photo Credit: Top Rank

“This is a jam for the ladies, the superstars.”—Moby

On an evening when Deontay Wilder announced his return to the ring with authority, and Devin Haney consecrated his undisputed status by delivering a dominating (and surprisingly watchable) performance down under in his rematch with Aussie George Kambosos Jr., the history that was made Saturday night was on the side of women’s boxing.

The all-female fighter card at London’s 02 arena not only lived up to the hype but built upon the stirring success of the Taylor/Serrano fight (still THE Fight of the Year in my book) on April 30 of this year at a packed Madison Square Garden. The O2 event, headlined by Claressa Shields and Brit Savannah Marshall, turned out 20,000 fans last night and was more than a little buzzy on social media. The success of the event is even more notable when considering the card was postponed for a month due to the “surprise” death of a 94-year-old woman, er, I mean Queen.

Despite the delay, the event went off with nary a significant hitch and proved just how much the women’s side of the sport has to offer. While some of the early bouts on the card were typical prospects vs. suspects type of bouts, the co-headlining fights were hotly contested affairs pitting near-equal level fighters.

At the top of the card, Claressa Shields further burnished her already legendary credentials by out-working Savannah Marshall in her own backyard to earn a relatively tight unanimous decision. In doing so, Shields became the undisputed Middleweight champion of the world and solidified her GOAT status in the world of women’s boxing.

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 15: Claressa Shields celebrates after defeating Savannah Marshall, during their undisputed middleweight championship fight at The 02 Arena on October 15, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Robinson/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

In an even better fight, Alycia Baumgardner scored a modest upset of Mikaela Mayer in their Super Featherweight unification bout just before Shields and Marshall took to the ring. The bout was a nip-and-tuck scrap, and when the judges ruled for Baumgardner via split decision, the elation on the victor’s face was ecstatic in large part because the fight was so damn close.

Mayer may have been the favorite, but she started slow and gave away some rounds early. Mayer then came on in the middle of the fight but may have been too confident going into the tenth, where she failed to fight with the necessary desperation to make a final round statement.

LONDON, ENGLAND – OCTOBER 15: Alycia Baumgardner celebrates after defeating Mikaela Mayer, during their unified super featherweight championship fight at The 02 Arena on October 15, 2022 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Robinson/Top Rank Inc via Getty Images)

Shields and Marshall largely put away their pre-fight animus to speak about each other with appreciation and talk about what a great night it was for women’s boxing. Baumgardner and, particularly, Mayer, were far less kind to one another. Baumgardner didn’t seem eager for a rematch, and Mayer felt robbed.

Neither woman was all that interested in recognizing how great the moment was for their sport, but you know what? That’s a sign of progress. Once the women’s version of boxing is concerned less with breaking ground and more in the result of two hungry combatants in the ring, the better off the sport will be. At that point, the foundation will be laid, and the sport will be allowed to just be a sport.

That being said, make no mistake, Saturday night was a huge night for women’s boxing. The people came, they saw, and the ladies put on a hell of a show. And now, after Taylor/Serrano, no one can say it’s the first time. If you watched the co-headlining fights at the O2 arena, you saw four highly skilled fighters. Long gone is the time when women engaged in the sport with no amateur background and/or poor training. These women are professionals, and it showed.

Of course, the women’s version of the sport has some distance to go before it reaches the sort of male/female parity that largely exists in modern tennis, but you no longer have to squint to see the pathway to a day where that level of equality might be reached. Two ways to grow the sport are easy to point out if a struggle to implement:

  1. Move all championship fights to 12 rounds.
  2. And, stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: have all women’s fights extend to three-minute rounds.

Unlike women’s tennis, which has achieved equality in pay while playing best of three sets at major tournaments (versus best of five for men), boxing is far less likely to elevate the pay of female fighters unless they match men in terms of number and length of rounds. Of course, that would require the men who run boxing to stop treating women like glass dolls and let them fight longer.

Sadly, that decision is not up to the women in the ring but resides with the men outside of it. But I would ask anyone who saw those two fights last night, “Do you not think they are ready?”

Because from a skill and will perspective, they most certainly are. And yes, I know Mauricio Sulaiman swears he has a study on women’s brains and concussions that argues that female fighters are more susceptible to head trauma, but to the best of my knowledge, he has yet to show his work. If anything, his stance reminds me of the men who used to claim that if women were allowed to run marathons, their organs would fall out of their crotch. This kind of antiquated thinking is perhaps the only thing holding women’s boxing back. (Editor’s note, the WBC has brought in UCLA doctors to discuss this topic at their convention but no public documents of the study have been made available.) 

Hell, you can look beyond the O2 fights and check out Chemeka Johnson’s blood-and-guts victory over Susie Ramadan on the undercard of the Haney/Kambosos headliner. Injured by an accidental head butt and fouled consistently by her opponent, Johnson’s face looked like “The Masque of the Red Death” throughout the back half of the fight. But as her white sports bra turned crimson, Johnson dug deep, scored a knockdown, and won a clear unanimous decision over a tough opponent. Women can handle being hurt. Does anyone think that evolution chose them to have babies instead of men for no reason at all? Maybe they are tougher than some of us would like to think.

Regardless, what I’m getting at here is we are now reaching a level of depth in women’s boxing that we have never seen before, and on October 15 and April 30 of 2022, we saw the truth of that statement in abundance. Taking these last ten months into full account, it is safe to say that when boxing historians look back on 2022, they will have no choice but to make note of how this year was the year that women’s boxing made the turn from curiosity to legitimacy.

The proof can be found in the ring.