Nearly 25 years ago too many strippers, waitresses and recovering drunks helped build a fragile female boxing movement in mismatch after mismatch under the bright lights.
Laila Ali, Christy Martin, Jane Couch, Lucia Rijker and Mia St.John biffed and bashed their way in true pioneer spirit against anybody the promoters could find to put on a pair of gloves. There was no sense of sisterhood, no plan for the future and it left behind an odd legacy. In Brazil and Mexico, for example, the business thrived at a time when just one or two women held a licence in Britain.
The amateur game saved the professional game, the Olympic inclusion in 2012 and 20 years of major world, domestic and continental championships helped bring the sport to the very place it is now. The gimmicky fighters are gone, but awful opponents still slip through the net and expose the weaknesses of a sport that simply does not have enough quality competitors. Or enough quality control.
Those are the cold historical facts, the keystone stages of a sport that has promised so much, for so long, but has in truth delivered so little. It is changing, trust me and it needs to change.
On Sunday night in the latest televised show behind closed doors, Northampton’s Chantelle Cameron won the vacant WBC super-lightweight title with a classy display over ten rounds against Brazil’s Adriana dos Santos Araujo, who was a double Olympian and bronze medal winner from London in 2012. Cameron won every second of every round against a woman who was probably ten pounds heavier on the night. It was Cameron’s 13th win, Araujo’s first loss in seven fights.
The fight was the first of five world title fights, involving five British women in a six-week period and they will all be shown live on television. The sanctioning bodies are understandably desperate to have their belts attached to fights at a time of limited action and therefore limited fees.
The present situation inevitably means there will be a lot of inexperienced women fighting for world titles. There will, don’t panic, also be a similar amount of chaos in the men’s game. However, there are unlikely to be any nasty massacres (go and look at Joe Frazier’s two outrageous defences after beating Muhammad Ali in 1971) just a lot of shut-out points win for women; Cameron led the way on Sunday, many others will continue the process.
In Britain and Ireland the women’s boxing business now has the rarest of things with several rivalries developing. Cameron lost on points nearly ten years ago to Katie Taylor at the European championships and is ready now to drop to lightweight – a loss of just 2 pounds to her – for a grudge fight against Taylor. Taylor, meanwhile, defends her four lightweight belts on 14 November.
Terri Harper defends her WBC super-featherweight belt on the same night and has a rematch waiting with Natasha Jonas at some point. Cameron, Taylor, Jonas and even Harper have all been part of the elite amateur sport for a decade or more. The champions of tomorrow are being built in amateur gyms now and it has been that way in earnest for about 12 years.
On 17 October there is a truly rare all-British world title fight when Savannah Marshall, twice an Olympian and the world amateur champion from 2012, fights Hannah Rankin for the WBO’s vacant middleweight belt. It feels a bit like history repeating itself and it was 30 years ago that the WBO, the latest of the four recognised sanctioning bodies to form, attached their belt to fights that should have been for the British title. Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank and Michael Watson fought each other in four fights for the WBO world title, but never had a single British title fight.
It was a disruptive WBO trend at the time and one that is certain to continue with the women unless the British Boxing Board of Control can find a convenient compromise. At the moment there are no British women’s titles available and that makes sense because there are just two or three women, often less, at each weight. It might sound harsh, but it is true. However, there might be a middle ground of need, a gap in the thinking and Rankin, who is seasoned beyond her record, and Marshall, and the Harper and Jonas rematch, could be for a British title of some description. What about an invitational title? Available only under special circumstances, makes sense to me.
Cameron was flawless on Sunday night and the business she is in now needs to be as professional during the next year or two. The credibility of the women’s game is dependent on good fights, good rivalries, but more importantly, it is dependent on good decisions. And making good decisions can often be ruthless.
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