There is a scene in the back half of the classic baseball movie Bull Durham where Kevin Costner’s grizzled minor league catcher introduces Tim Robbins’ hard-headed pitching phenom “Nuke” LaLoosh to the owner of a pool hall.
Davis tells LaLoosh:
“This is Sandy Grimes, he hit .371 in Louisville…”
“.376,” Grimes corrects.
“.376. That’s a career. In any league,” Crash says.
“You got that right,” Grimes mutters as he walks away.
What Davis is imparting to LaLoosh here is that great performances can be overlooked for all kinds of reasons. In this case, Grimes’ great season was likely missed because he didn’t do it in the major leagues, and being a black man, he likely never got the chance to be seen.
Which brings me to Amanda Serrano. Still only 29, Serrano has been a professional boxer for more than nine years now. Over that time, the Puerto Rican native has compiled a record of 35-1 with 26 KOs. Her only loss coming to the then undefeated WBC Super Featherweight champion Frida Wallberg (a fighter whose story is worth a good write-up itself) by unanimous decision over seven years ago.
Women’s boxing appears to be on the cusp of a resurgence. Thanks to being added as an Olympic event in 2012 and the amateur ranks becoming more professionalized, the women’s version of the sweet science is getting more and better write-ups from combat sport scribes. Certain names have emerged (Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields, Heather Hardy, Christina Hammer, and Mikaela Mayer to name a few) and even been shown on television as the undercard on big time male fights.
Serrano predates all of them. She started when the sport was in the wilderness. That gap that existed since the heyday of Christy Martin, Mia St. John, and Laila Ali through the Olympic debut and until now. It’s been a slow going for women’s boxing. Full of fits and starts and unfairly looked on as a bit of a side show to those outside of regular fight fans, but also by many within the sport.
While that tide seems to be slowly making a turn, there are still signs of how far the sport must go to be legitimately recognized. Take what happened last weekend. Serrano faced off with Yamila Esther Reynoso for the WBO Super Lightweight title. In scoring a unanimous decision victory, Serrano became the first fighter in the history of women’s boxing to win world titles in six different weight classes. Only two men have ever accomplished the same. You may have heard of them. Manny Pacquiao and Oscar De La Hoya.
Unfortunately, if you tuned into Showtime for that evening’s fights headlined by Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter’s bash and were hoping to see Serrano go for history on the undercard, well, you would be fresh out of luck. To view the Serrano/Reynoso scrap, you’d have to tune into Showtime’s YouTube or Facebook pages where the fight was streamed live. The sad thing is, being able to view the fight at one of those two digital locations is actually a small form of progress. A few years ago, you’d have to read about it afterwards online, and well below the fold, if you couldn’t physically be there.
It’s a real shame too. Because women’s boxing has never been deeper, never had better athletes, and never been a better watch than it is now. This current group of cream of the crop female fighters are strong, skilled, and for real. Far gone are the days of the unrefined flailing types far too often seen in the ring before this new roup of fighters who have come up through the amateur ranks. The sport is finally winning the battle of providing two quality fighters in match-ups. The women near the top of the profession are smart, appealing, photogenic (don’t pretend it doesn’t count), but most importantly, they are boxers and fighters. Showcasing skill with their guts and moxie. They deserve to be taken seriously.
Of course, the big challenge for the women’s fight game is two-fold. Right now, the problem is accessibility. I believe just like women’s MMA, if female boxers are given a chance, there will be a market for it. The second issue in that fold is obvious if often unspoken. Sexism. Most male sports have more than their share of machismo, but boxing may be at the top of that heap. There are still many who don’t take women’s fights seriously. This goes from the sanctioning bodies to the networks that televise the fights. It’s a damn shame, because they are missing some very talented fighters. Women that I believe will one day be talked about like mythological titans, should the sport be given its chance to break through.
In the meantime, it’s up to people who write about women’s boxing and those warriors in the ring to keep pushing. To keep ringing the bell and banging the gong until the powers that be in promotion and on air give the women a chance.
Because something happened last Saturday night for the first time ever. A woman won a world championship in her sixth weight class. Most of us missed it. Which is too bad.
Because that’s a career.
In any league.