Female Boxers in America Still Fight For Respect
By: Ron Scarfone
The photo for this article was originally published by Bain News Service at least a century ago. It depicts the Bennett Sisters who performed a kind of entertainment known as vaudeville. Vaudeville shows during this time period featured a variety of performers in one show such as singers, dancers, comedians, and magicians. Each act would be performed separately from the others. It was like The Muppet Show, but with human beings instead of Muppets. There were some opportunities for women to compete in sports, but it was largely frowned upon by society. Women who wanted to box had limited outlets available to them. As a result, women would box in exhibitions on the vaudeville circuit. Of course, women’s boxing has made progress over the last 100 years. However, female boxers have restrictions even today and women’s boxing is still often relegated to a sideshow status. In spite of the major sanctioning bodies’ involvement in women’s boxing, there are stark differences between male and female boxers in terms of pay, popularity, and participation in boxing events.
The paltry purses in women’s boxing are partially due to the amount of minutes and rounds that the female title fights are which are usually no more than two minutes per round and no more than ten rounds in total. WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman has publicly stated that the WBC will never allow more minutes and rounds in women’s boxing than the current standard. That does not stop the other sanctioning bodies from making the minutes and rounds equal to the men. If that were to happen, would the WBC keep their word? If the pay for women were to rise as a result of being scheduled to fight as long as the men, would the WBC still maintain its stance in their policy? The pay in women’s boxing is so poor that $5,000 is considered good for a female boxer in a world title fight and $3,000 is considered bad. It is a difference of just a couple of thousand dollars and yet fights are not being made because boxers or their managers are rejecting these low offers which is understandable.
The difference in pay between the men and women is also due to a prevailing perception that women’s boxing is not popular. For the most part, promoters do not want to take the financial risk that comes with having a women’s title fight scheduled on their fight cards. The vast majority of promoters do not have their events televised, so the revenue for these shows is derived from ticket sales, food and drink concessions, and possibly a few corporate sponsors. Some promotional companies have their own stable of boxers and their goal is to get them to become world champions. These promoters usually only have male boxers in their stable. They believe that there is no benefit to them spending their money on a female title fight, especially when neither of the boxers are in their stable. There are also matchmakers who have a negative view of women’s boxing and believe that it is in decline in spite of the progress that has been made in recent years.
There are some promoters who want women’s title fights on their cards, but cannot afford to have them due to the limitations of their budget. The lack of support from television networks is definitely a hindrance to more women’s title fights taking place in the United States. However, there are some mid-level promoters who have enough money to schedule a women’s title fight. Nevertheless, they do not want to devote that money in the budget for this because they feel that they have nothing to gain from it. It comes down to economics. If a show is not televised, the cost of a women’s title fight in the United States should be at least $5,000 for each boxer, so the total purse is $10,000. If they are not women who live locally, then the promoter has to pay for plane fare and hotel accommodations for the boxers and their cornermen. There are also extra fees that have to be paid: the belt fee, the sanctioning fee, and the officials (three judges and referee) also have to be paid extra for working in a title fight. The sanctioning body also has a supervisor of the title fight who must be paid a fee. Therefore, the total amount of money that a promoter would have to spend for a women’s world title fight is about $20,000 if both boxers do not live locally. Promoters tend to want boxers on their cards who have a local following which will help to sell more tickets because of increased interest locally.
The shows in which the matchmaker and promoter want competitive fights regardless of the outcome are the shows that are often the most entertaining. The other kinds of shows are run by promoters who do have money to spend, but they choose to spend it on what would benefit them the most. They direct their matchmaker to find suitable opponents for the boxers that are in their stable. The matchmaker makes an “A side” and a “B side.” The “A side” is usually reserved for boxers who have a contract with the promoter. These “A side” boxers could be legitimate contenders who are rated by the sanctioning bodies or they could be up and coming prospects. The “B side” boxers are usually journeymen with mediocre or losing records. These are the boxers who are expected to lose in order to pad the records of the boxers in the promoter’s stable in the hope that they will get more lucrative fights in the future such as a title shot and/or a fight on television. The “B side” boxers could live locally and therefore would save the promoter money by not having to pay for plane tickets and a hotel stay. However, the promoter may have no qualms about spending more money in order for the matchmaker to find the right opponent for his boxer.
In an event in August that was in Miami, Florida which was not televised, light heavyweight contender Yunieski Gonzalez won by TKO in the first round over Jackson Junior. Junior was rated about No. 100 in the world by BoxRec at the time. This was the main event. Junior was from Brazil, so the promoter had to pay for plane tickets and hotel accommodations for Junior and his cornermen for a fight that lasted within one round. Junior had a winning record, but has mostly lost since 2014. His recent wins came against boxers with losing records. Gonzalez knocked Junior down three times and the fight was stopped in the first round. At the same venue in Miami, Gonzalez was in the main event again about a week ago. His opponent was Maxwell Amponsah who was originally from Ghana, but now lives in New York. Amponsah had a rating of about No. 300 in the world by BoxRec which is a lot worse than Jackson Junior’s rating. Amponsah has a winning record himself, but most of his opponents had losing records. A win by knockout was expected for Gonzalez. Gonzalez again won by TKO in the first round. The majority of the “A side” boxers on the card were undefeated. The majority of the “B side” boxers had losing records. All of the “A side” boxers won.
The total possible time of a women’s world title fight is 20 minutes of boxing plus breaks between rounds, so it is about 30 minutes if it goes the distance. A promoter could instead have two men’s fights that are four rounds each which would also be about 30 minutes if they both go the distance. Comparing costs, the male boxers would get about $1,000, so pay for four male boxers in four-round fights equals $4,000. If they are local boxers, no plane fare or hotel accommodations have to be paid. Compare the cost of this to a women’s world title fight which would be $10,000 for two boxers. Also, extra fees would have to be paid for the officials, supervisor, and sanctioning body. This is why most promoters do not want to do it when they can have two four-round fights with male boxers which would involve less financial risk. Also, people in the audience for a club show usually just want to see boxing up close and maybe some knockouts, but are not expecting to see world-class boxers.
Whether it is fair or not, women’s boxing is always judged on every fight. If a men’s boxing match is boring, people do not say all of men’s boxing is boring. Women though are held to a higher standard and people can form their opinions on an entire sport based on one fight that they saw. Promoters schedule men’s fights usually based on the abilities of the boxers. Promoters are sometimes willing to promote a women’s world title fight, but there often has to be a hook involved and I do not mean that type of punch. Promoters could try to sell the fight as a rivalry between two nations such as one boxer from Puerto Rico and the other boxer from Mexico. It could be promoted as a continuation of a rivalry such as when Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde was billed as being Ali vs. Frazier IV which was in reference to the fact that they were daughters of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier respectively. Other fights could be publicized because of a genuine dislike for one another such as the recent fight between Heather Hardy and Shelly Vincent. Of course, the fact that both Hardy and Vincent were both undefeated contributed to the fight being televised. However, the coverage that they both received by the media because of their vocal vitriol was probably the main reason why. Until female boxers are televised based solely on their abilities as boxers, they will never truly have the same respect as the men.
Because of the lack of support from promoters and television networks, there are a lot of possible matchups that never happen. Female world-class boxers in America usually have to go to another country to get a title shot. Then, they have to deal with biased officials such as judges and even the referee who may be eager to deduct a point from the American for a perceived foul whether it was intentional or not. It doesn’t have to be this way, but strong advocates for women’s boxing are required in the current climate. If women’s boxing takes place in America and is televised in America, it is because of advocates. The female boxers themselves are advocates and some have voiced their displeasure about the inequities in compensation and opportunities compared to the men. However, the people and entities in power such as the promoters and television networks have to also be advocates in order for women’s boxing to flourish in America. It is well-known that Lou DiBella is an advocate and he helped get the Hardy vs. Vincent fight televised.
Shane Mosley is also an advocate for women’s boxing. Mosley formed his own promotional company called GoBox Promotions. Mosley was promoting a pay-per-view event in which he was fighting in the main event against Ricardo Mayorga. Mosley commented that the boxing world should show more respect to female boxers and he decided to have a women’s world title fight on his event. It was a unification bout of super bantamweight world champions: International Female Boxers Association (IFBA) champion Maureen Shea from New York versus International Boxing Federation (IBF) champion Yulihan Alejandra Luna Avila from Mexico. I believe that it was one of the best female boxing fights I have ever seen. After ten rounds, the judges ruled it a draw. It was very close, but Shea and Avila both felt that they clearly won after it was over. It was the first time that a female title fight was shown on pay-per-view in about a decade. Even though it was a draw and not a win for Shea, that fight probably earned her the most respect in her entire pro career. The fact that she performed well against a champion from one of the major sanctioning bodies was significant and it also gave more credibility to the IFBA. All of the sanctioning bodies solely for women’s boxing have faced increased competition because of the involvement of the major sanctioning bodies in women’s boxing which began about a decade ago. Bear in mind that the reason why this fight happened was because of Mosley’s support.
Women’s boxing in America does not have as much value compared to men’s boxing and also compared to women’s boxing in other countries such as Mexico and Germany. However, it has more potential than some people realize or are willing to admit. When the UFC was founded in 1993, did anyone think that the UFC would eventually be sold for four billion dollars this year? In 2001, the UFC was almost bankrupt when Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta bought it for two million dollars. They turned the business around by having rules and regulations which enabled it to get approval from the athletic commissions in each state.
Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise also sold to Disney in 2012 for four billion dollars. In the early 1970s, George Lucas was rejected by movie studios about his idea for a Star Wars movie. Even Disney rejected it at the time. The Walt Disney Company also bought Marvel Entertainment in 2009 for four billion dollars. Marvel filed for bankruptcy in 1996 and obviously turned it around before Disney purchased it at a very high price. Action Comics No. 1 which was the first appearance of Superman was worth about $20,000 in mint condition in 1986. A copy in mint condition sold for about three million dollars in 2014.
Opinions and values change with the times. There has been progress with women’s boxing lately. Female boxers have mentioned it, but still recognizing the fact that there is still a lot of room for improvement. The amount of minutes in each round and the total number of rounds could be made equal to the men which would help to increase their pay. Women could have more opportunities to be scheduled on fight cards. Women’s boxing could be televised more often. When I look at that old photo of the Bennett Sisters from about 100 years ago, I think of how far women’s boxing has come. I also think of, even after 100 years, how far women’s boxing still has to go.
Photo of Bennett Sisters created by Bain News Service between circa 1910-1915. Call number LC-B2- 2469-6 from Library of Congress, Bain Collection.