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Let Them Fight Three

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What is it with men? Let’s face it—they (or we, yes, I’m a guy) control most of the levers in politics, business, and certainly sports. In this country, we have never had a woman President (hell, Liberia beat us to it), all the business magnates flying into space on penis-shaped rockets have penises, we need Title IX in place for women to get something approaching equal consideration to men in collegiate sports, and, on the professional sports level, the world of boxing has decided women lack…something, to fight three-minute rounds.

Lesser stamina capability is cited by some who aren’t wanting the ladies to fight the same length of rounds as the men. The idea of questioning women’s endurance is, well, questionable. Are we talking about the same people who can carry a bowling ball in their stomachs for nine months and go through twenty hours of labor to release that ball down the lane of life?

Women’s boxing is becoming more popular by the day. And yet, here we are with a bunch of men (and to his credit, Bob Arum is not one of them) continuing to hold back women’s boxing under the guise of protecting the athlete’s health. WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman stated in 2017:

“The WBC will not sanction any bout for women if rounds are scheduled for 3 minutes, and will not sanction any bout scheduled for 12 rounds.”

In the statement, Sulaiman references a study which claims that women’s bodies don’t hold up as well as men’s do when it comes to dehydration, concussions, and fatigue. However, in 2018, professional fighter and Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza requested to see the data on the study, and to date, that information has not to my knowledge been made available.

Regardless, the merits of Sulaiman’s position aren’t hard to poke holes in, even without a review of this mysterious study.

While the most fulsome studies around women and concussions center on soccer, there is one that began in 2016 which addressed women’s boxing more specifically (along with women’s soccer players and jockeys). That study found that while women are more susceptible to concussions than men, it in no way supports Sulaiman’s point that shorter rounds will result in fewer concussions.

Doctors and scientists who have been doing prominent (and published) research on the subject will point out that getting knocked out is often not nearly as bad as staying on your feet.

Whether it’s in football or boxing, the blow that takes you off the field, or sends you to the canvas for a count of ten, isn’t necessarily as significant as the accumulation of hits/punches that an athlete withstands over the course of a full event.

To put it another way: often, it’s better to get knocked the fuck out than to take a sustained battering.

This brings me to another point: Most bouts that end in knockouts (roughly ⅔) are by TKO. They are seldom of the devastating one-punch KO variety, meaning a judicious decision by a referee will actually – more times than not – result in a fighter taking less punishment on their feet when the outcome has become obvious.

Saturday night’s women’s bout on the Devin Haney undercard at the MGM in Las Vegas on DAZN between Jessica McCaskill and Candy Wyatt is a great case in point. McCaskill had Wyatt in deep trouble in the first—and then the round was over. Had McCaskill another minute in the round, she would have likely gotten Wyatt out of there.

Instead, Wyatt went on to suffer five more rounds of accumulated punishment until the referee rightly put a stop to the action.

While that stoppage did result in Wyatt taking on less punishment in rounds 7-10, this beating was extended thanks to the shorter length of the rounds. If anyone can explain how the two-minute round did Wyatt a favor tonight, I am all ears. I suspect my query will be met by the rustling sound of tumbleweeds blowing through the Mojave Desert.

If you ask the athletes in women’s boxing themselves, you will hear them repeatedly state a preference for three-minute rounds. Earlier this year, Claressa Shields, one of the leading lights in women’s boxing, had the following to say on the subject:

“I think the biggest thing in women’s boxing is people say… women should not get paid the same because we do not fight the same amount of time. But I wish more people will realize that we did not put those rules in place, the men did. So the men need to change those rules to where every world champion boxer for women can fight three-minute, 12 rounds.”

Shields puts her finger on the issue when she says, “[it] affects women’s boxing as a whole. We do not have as many knockouts as the men because we do not have enough time to get the knockouts.”

The argument Shields (11-0 with 2 KOs) makes is fascinating, and I think she’s right. The two-minute/ten round limitation will continue to hold back women’s boxing for as long as it is in place. And as long as women’s rounds are 2/3 the length of men’s, there will be a standing argument in place against pay equity.

The less explicit (but perhaps equally significant) point Shields makes when she talks about there being fewer knockouts in women’s boxing is that it makes their fights less entertaining. I happen to enjoy women’s boxing even in its current repressed state, but I’ve watched many women’s bouts where the round ends just as it seems to get going. The simple fact is that two-minutes rounds affect the entertainment value of the sport.

When you put together the questionable health argument posited by the WBC, and I’m always skeptical when any alphabet boxing organization talks about their concern for the health of their competitors, they and the impact two-minute rounds have on the spectator experience, the cumulative effect absolutely hurts the legitimacy of women’s boxing.

Sulaiman has said his position is not a sexist one, but a scientific one—even though he won’t show us the science. If Sulaiman has the evidence, he should put it on the table. Instead, he (and most of the other men running the sport) are defying the desire of both the fans and the fighters. If Sulaiman can’t support his thesis, then he’s just another in a long line of men who have used their power to hold women back.

This intransigence brings to mind the sport of distance running. For a shocking length of time, women were not allowed to compete in marathons in the United States due to the faulty belief that their bodies could not hold up over twenty-six miles of road. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Amateur Athletic Union, the governing body for marathons in the United States at the time, allowed women to officially compete in distance running events.

I have a friend named Tom. He’s 64 years old, and his wife is the same age. Later this year she will be competing in a marathon. Should she finish this race (and she’s never not finished a race) it will be her one hundredth crossing of the finish line. Tom? He couldn’t run around the block without needing oxygen and a paramedic.
When it comes to the field of play, the boardroom, or any other walk of life you can think of, women have continually proven our patriarchal society wrong.

I suspect that they will eventually do so again in the sport of boxing. The only question is when “eventually” will come to be.

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