By: Hans Themistode
There’s nothing more you can say about women’s boxing. Well, there probably is but it doesn’t matter at this point. They have effectively ended the misconception of their sport.
Women’s boxing has constantly taken a backseat. The narrative surrounding them is that they can’t sell tickets, no one tunes into their fights on television and the fights itself just isn’t exciting. None of those statements are true .
On Friday January 10th, at the Ocean Resort Casino, in Atlantic City, history was made. Or rather, HERstory. Claressa Shields defeated Ivana Habazin to secure the vacant WBC and WBO Jr Middleweight world titles. With the win, Shields became the fastest boxer regardless of gender to win titles in three different weight classes.
Also featured on the card was Alicia Napoleon-Espinoza and Elin Cederroos. The two women turned in the absolute fight of the night as Cederroos defeated Napoleon-Espinosa via razor thin unanimous decision. Each judge watching the bout scored the contest 95-94 in favor of Cederroos.
When two fighters produce such a classic battle, it has become cliche to say that neither person loses. In this case, it fits the circumstances perfectly.
Since the very beginning, Napoleon-Espinosa has been an advocate for women’s boxing. The outrageously low pay coupled with the minimum amount of exposure was something that she just wouldn’t stand for.
Napoleon-Espinosa wasn’t asking for a handout. She was simply asking for an opportunity to prove her worth. Well, at the Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City, she showed why women’s boxing is undervalued.
For much of the night, the combatants who entered the ring gave a good account of themselves. The crowd cheered and applauded for the efforts of everyone that was given. Yet, something seemed to be missing. The crowd was engaged but the energy wasn’t quite at the level that it needed to be. Both Alicia Napoleon-Espinosa and Elin Cederroos quickly changed that.
From the moment the bell rang, both women met each other in the middle of the ring and threw heavy leather. Cederroos gained the upper hand early. It wasn’t surprising. She did after all possess a five inch height and two inch reach advantage. Cederroos used her physical edge to bully the smaller Napoleon. That narrative however, was short lived.
After getting buzzed by a series of hard shots in the first and second rounds, Napoleon-Espinosa came roaring back. Somehow she forced her much bigger opponent back and landed her huge shots all night long. The crowd in attendance stood on its feet for much of the contest. This is exactly the sort of excitement they were looking for.
Once the bout was over, the air in the arena was slightly flat. That’s not to say that the men who followed their contest didn’t put on a show, because they did, but something was missing. Cederroos and Napoleon-Espinosa gave us a war for ten rounds. A performance like that just isn’t easy to follow up.
If a fighters paycheck was determined by their actual performance, then Napoleon-Espinosa should easily have been the highest paid fighter on the night, but she wasn’t. It wasn’t even close.
The always loquacious Napoleon-Espinosa seemed reluctant to state her case yet again for women’s boxing, but for she felt compelled to anyways.
“I’m just going to let my fighting do the talking but God has a plan,” said Napoleon-Espinoza shortly after the fight. “I’m in God’s hands. All of us women in this sport are in God’s hands. I see the hearts changing. I’m getting paid more but not where I want to be. I’m not where the men are getting paid at but I know it’s going to come. By me not quitting and continuing to do this and fight the way I fight, take the opportunities and push and break open those doors and keep being a voice saying we need to get paid, then it’s going to change. All my blood, sweat and tears are for the women now and the women that are going to come up after us. I’m doing this for all of us. I’m just going to keep performing and keep putting my heart on the line and I will reign and be champion again.”
After a war like that, the stock of Napoleon-Espinosa should be on its way up but her weight on the other hand, could be on its way down after fighting such a huge opponent.
“We’re just going to have to regroup, comeback stronger and better, probably drop down in weight because I walk around at 168 tops. We were successful there for two years but now it’s time to drop back to where I really should be at 154 maybe 160 tops. I can even get down as low as 147.”
Whether it’s 168, 160, 154, 147 or hell if she can make it down to 140 than so be it. The fans just want to see her back in the ring as soon as possible.
Women’s boxing is still a long way from getting the recognition and respect that the men do, but with women like Alicia Napoleon-Espinosa stealing headlines and putting butts in the seats, their time might be coming sooner than you think.