Pugilists With Pizazz Women’s Boxing: Sock ‘Em, Sex Appeal And Exploitation
Christy Martin is a pink-clad battler whose bloody nose got her on talk shows and the cover of a national magazine.
Jen Childers looks like a knockout in a full-page ad in Fight Fax’s 1997 Boxing Record Book. The 6-foot-3 blonde, billed as “The Raging Belle,” is pictured wearing a night-on-the-town outfit and boxing gloves.
Women’s boxing - sock ‘em and sex appeal.
Add exploitation, critics say.
“I could never see women boxing,” said Sugar Ray Leonard, a former champion in five weight classes. “Of course, they should have that right.”
While the sport has been around for more than 50 years, Martin and other top female boxers are leading a resurgence.
The Women’s International Boxing Federation, founded in 1993 by Barbara Buttrick - who boxed professionally from 1949 to 1959 - has a database of more than 1,000 boxers in 40 countries.
“Five years ago, there was no demand,” said Bobby Mitchell, a promoter and manager in Columbia, S.C. “Now a lot of people are calling and asking for women fighters. They say, ‘I don’t care who they are as long as they have some skills (and) can fight a little bit.”’
The 28-year-old Martin, billed as the world’s best female boxer, can fight a lot. She has battered opponents on the undercards of several top fights, including the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno WBC heavyweight championship last year.
Her face was a bloody mess in that win over Ireland’s Deirdre Gogarty - and it helped Martin’s career.
“Well, they say you have to bleed for your fame and fortune,” she said. “The blood sure got their attention.”
The fight also got her a cover story in Sports Illustrated and appearances on PrimeTime Live, The Today Show, Extra, Day & Date and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
Martin, who is listed as a lightweight but usually fights a few pounds over that 135-pound limit, has a record of 31-1-2 with 25 knockouts. The Bluefield, W.Va., native - known as The Coal Miner’s Daughter - has made as much as $75,000 for a match, but most women’s purses are in the hundreds of dollars.
Yvonne Trevino, a super flyweight (112 pounds) with a 3-1-1 record, hopes that changes soon.
“I want to get the ball rolling and make money like Christy,” said Trevino, whose biggest purse has been $2,000.
Martin’s 34 fights are many more than most women boxers. Her competition is often not up to her level.
“At the time the talent pool is not that deep,” said Lou DiBella, senior vice president of HBO Sports, which has yet to televise a women’s bout. “Other than Christy Martin and a few others it’s difficult to gauge the talent of fighters.”
Other problems are exploitation and sexism, critics say.
“My mom doesn’t like it at all,” said the 23-year-old Childers of Evansville, Ind., who has a 7-0 record as a light heavyweight (170).
Martin, however, says all athletes, regardless of gender, are exploited. “I don’t have a problem with being exploited,” she said.
During one women’s bout, the “round-card girl” was really a man in drag, said WIBF president Jimmy Finn. In Britain, the Board of Control won’t license women’s bouts.
“Who are they? They’re not a governmental agency. They are a self-appointed group of gentlemen - a gentlemen’s club,” Finn said. “But they allow women to be used as round-card girls, as sex objects.”
Sex appeal seems to count.
Trevino, 30, of Peoria, Ariz., said she used to fight without makeup and with her hair up. Then she made some popular changes, including adding makeup, wearing tighter shorts, and entering to music.
Martin said nine out of 10 letters she gets are from men, most asking for autographs.
“Every once in a while I get a strange letter - a little off the wall,” she said. “I get asked for a lot of autographed pictures.”
To increase that type of popularity, women’s boxing needs to be better organized, said Jay Larkin, of Showtime. He also said safety is a concern, but added, “Should we be more concerned about women than about men?”
On Dec. 11 in St. Joseph, Mo., Katherine Dallam, making her pro debut, collapsed in her dressing room after losing a four-round decision. She was hospitalized for six weeks, said her Kansas City-based lawyer, Sly James.
Dallam, 37, suffered a brain injury that left her with memory loss and other physical problems, he said, adding she’ll never fight again and might not be able to return to her job as a drug counselor.
James plans to sue, contending Dallam was not treated properly during and after the fight.
Promoter Danny Campbell, however, said Dallam had passed the prefight physical. “Every precaution was taken,” he said at the time.