by B.A. Cass
On the cover of this year’s April issue of Ring Magazine, there’s a picture of a triumphant Carl Frampton holding up his WBA and IBF belts. April was the “Best of 2016” issue; Frampton got “Fighter of the Year” while “Fight of the Year” went to Francisco Vargas vs. Orlando Salido. There were nine other categories, but despite the fact that women’s boxing is at a better place than it’s ever been, the winners were all men.
Well, the reasoning goes, women and men’s boxing are very different, and the fighters and fights should be ranked accordingly. This isn’t a totally flawed argument; until women are allowed to fight twelve full three-minute rounds, it would be hard to judge fights between women and fights between men as quite the same. But clearly the editorial team at Ring Magazine wasn’t using this logic because they nominated Claressa Shields, who was up for “Most Inspirational Fighter.” However, Shields lost to Bernard Hopkins. Yes, that’s right. The first American woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal in boxing lost to a man who ended his career by getting knocked out by an average fighter half his age. “The legendary two-weight world champion ended his glorious career on a sour note when Joe Smith Jr. punched him out of their fight and out of the ring but it matters not,” the write up stated. “The 51-year-old Hopkins achieved more than he, or we, could ever have imagined and his contribution to the sport will never be forgotten.”
Of course, we’ll never (or at least we shouldn’t) forget that Bernard Hopkins holds a minority stake in Golden Boy Promotions, the company that owns Ring Magazine. Could that possibly have anything to do with his nomination and win?
The underlying message of Ring Magazine’s nomination process is clear: A woman can be inspirational but she can’t possibly be considered as great a fighter as a man. Cecilia Braekhus, Layla McCarter, Jelena Mrdjenovich, and Amanda Serrano—these are all boxers who deserve recognition far beyond what they’re getting. As for what’s going to happen if the boxing world doesn’t start respecting and supporting its female athletes, we already know the answer to that. Holly Holm and Heather Hardy, two of the most talented and recognizable faces in the sport, have already gone over to MMA where they get more respect and better pay. Now it appears the dominant five-division champion Amanda Serrano will be following suit. I can’t say I blame her.
Of course, Ring Magazine isn’t the only news outlet that is guilty of sexism. Writing for ESPN, Dan Rafael gave “Fight of the Year” to Francisco Vargas vs. Orlando Salido. Rafael listed nine runner ups for 2016, along with “Fight of the Year” winners going back all the way to the year 2000. And guess what? There isn’t one women’s matchup on that list. Strangely, though, there isn’t a single mention of the words “male” or “men’s boxing” in the entire article. It may seem self-evident to some people that when we talk about a “fight” we’re talking about a male sport, but it’s not to me. Journalists have a professional and moral obligation to clarify when they are writing about all of boxing. It shouldn’t be assumed that when we talk about boxing, we’re talking about men. Notice that news outlets always qualify it when they are covering female boxers. Women don’t ever get “Fight of the Year.” They get “Women’s Fight of the Year.” Ring Magazine is the worse culprit. It relegates its two-page “Women’s Boxing” section to the very back of its print edition—that’s two pages out of roughly one hundred. Once again, the message is clear: there is boxing, a serious, dangerous endeavor that involves male athletes, and then there is women’s boxing, which is, at best, a niche sport that nobody really cares about.
Maybe next year, when he puts together his “Fight of the Year” article, Dan Rafael will think to qualify what he means by calling it “Best Male Fight of 2017.” Maybe next year, Rafael will choose to write an article that details the best female fights of the year. (This shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility; Rafael is, after all, the major voice for boxing on ESPN.com.) And who knows, maybe Ring Magazine will decide to dedicate more than two pages to women’s boxing. If they’re struggling to find content, perhaps Oscar De La Hoya, owner of both Golden Boy Promotions and Ring Magazine, could write a column that combines his knowledge of boxing with his well-documented interest in women’s intimate apparel. Not ideal, for sure, but at least it would be a start.
Am I hopeful that things will change for women in this sport? Yes, but I’m not going to wait for others to make those changes. And I’m going to start by going back and viewing fights from 2016—both women’s and men’s—and deciding which one truly deserves to be called “Fight of the Year.” I’ve listed the fights that I’ll be watching in hopes that others will be able to view a few as well.
And come next Sunday, I’ll have my pick for Best Fight of 2016!
Women’s “Fight of the Year” Contenders (taken from WBAN.com)
Cecilia Braekhus vs. Anne-Sophie Mathis
Jelena Mrdjenovich vs. Edith Soledad Matthysse
Esmeralda Moreno vs. Eva Voraberger
Naoko Fujioka vs. Go Shindo
Jelena Mrdjenovich vs. Gaelle Amand
Erica Farias vs. Victoria Noelia Bustos
Jessica Chavez vs. Esmeralda Moreno
Melissa St. Vil vs. Katy Wilson Castillo
Heather Hardy vs. Shelly Vincent
Klara Svensson vs. Mikaela Lauren
Tori Nelson vs. Alicia Napoleon
Amanda Serrano vs. Olivia Gerula
Jessica Chavez vs. Naoko Fujiokadf
Rosalinda Rodriguez vs. Naomi Bosques
Men’s “Fight of the Year” Contenders (taken from Dan Rafael’s list)
Carl Frampton vs. Leo Santa Cruz
Dillian Whyte vs. Dereck Chisora
Keith Thurman vs. Shawn Porter
Jorge Linares vs. Anthony Crolla
Francis Lafreniere vs. Renan St-Juste
Yunier Dorticos vs. Youri Kalenga
Jesus Soto Karass vs. Yoshihiro Kamegai I
Shinsuke Yamanaka vs. Anselmo Moreno II
Robert Easter Jr. vs. Richard Commey
Francisco Vargas vs. Orlando Salido