Alicia Napoleon-Espinosa Ends The Debate On Women’s Boxing
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.
Alicia Napoleon is On The Cusp Of What She’s Been Asking For
By: Hans Themistode
It’s been a long time coming for women’s boxing in terms of recognition. Too many times have they been swept to the side while the men steal all of the shine and spotlight.
This Friday night on January 10th, at the Ocean Resort Casino, in Atlantic City, Claressa Shields will headline the first boxing card of the year on the Showtime network. It isn’t exactly out of the ordinary to see a woman on the televised portion of a boxing card, but to see two fights that will be aired live is certainly abnormal.
Some of the most recognizable names in the sport of women’s boxing have advocated for women to get their fair shake in terms of recognition and pay. Although they haven’t exactly turned the corner just yet, they are getting close.
“For us women to have this opportunity, I mean it’s hard to find words to describe it,” said Alicia Napoleon. “We finally got here. I just want to thank God, I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for these opportunities and for these doors to open. For the hearts to change and turn, to view women’s boxing as equal. We’re getting there.”
For Napoleon (12-1, 7 KOs) she currently holds the WBA Super Middleweight world title and hasn’t tasted defeat since 2016. Her opponent on the night, Elin Cederroos (7-0, 4 KOs) is a champion in her own right as she holds the IBF strap. To call this the most difficult contest in the career of Napoleon wouldn’t be hyperbole. With that being said however, Napoleon doesn’t seem to be fazed by that statement in the slightest. Not only does she see herself as the victor come Friday night, but she also has eyes set on who many believe is the best female fighter in the world, who just so happens to be fighting on the same card.
“This is a fabulous opportunity and I am overjoyed to be here. I am so grateful to just show out and put on a great performance. Grab those titles and continue to move forward and face Shields.”
Shields and Napoleon have a bit of history between them. During the infancy stages of the career of Shields, Napoleon was offered a fight with the two time Olympic gold medalist. The WBA Super Middleweight champion turned down the opportunity. Although it may seem as though Napoleon wanted no parts of Shields in the ring, that is far from the truth.
“I did not avoid her but I want to get paid. I want to make decent money. I want to eventually get paid as well as the men are getting paid in this sport. When Claressa first started they weren’t offering the sort of money that there offering now but that money still needs to be more, sorry, but it does. It needs to change. Women offer just as much as the men. But no, I did not avoid Claressa.”
For those on the outside looking in, it may seem as though Napoleon is completely looking past her opponent. Discussing a future contest with Shields would lead to the belief that Napoleon is convinced that she will walk through Cederroos without many issues. Yet, that just isn’t the case. The realization of a dream coming true has brung her excitement to unparalleled heights.
“When I started boxing I always said that I would love to be a world champion one day. My goal was to get at least one belt but now that I am here and unifying, I want more.”
Napoleon’s desire for more money, recognition and fame could be just within her reach. Provided of course, she gets through Elin Cederroos on January 10th.
Alicia Napoleon Enters The Spotlight
By: Hans Themistode
With Claressa Shields taking her talents all the way down to the Jr Middleweight division, it has left a gaping hole. One that Alicia Napoleon is looking to fill.
Napoleon, (11-1, 6 KOs) currently holds the WBA Super Middleweight crown and is looking to defend her title against Schemelle Baldwin (3-0-1, 2 KOs) on August 29th, at the Foxwoods Resort in Mashantucket.
With just four professional fights under her belt, Baldwin would seem to be an easy win for the current WBA belt holder. However, having sparred against her and acknowledging the accolades she has managed to win in the amateur ranks, Napoleon knows that this contest will be anything but easy.
“She has a great amateur background,” said Napoleon. “She has also won three golden gloves. I’ve sparred in the past with her so she might be new as a pro but she a really good fighter.”
There is currently a stigma surrounding women’s boxing. One that indicates that most of their contest end with the judges decision being announced.
As of now, women’s fights are contested in two minute rounds as opposed to the three minute rounds that are afforded to the men. Many believe that the shorter duration of time that the women have to work with leads to less knockouts. Napoleon on the other hand, begs to differ.
“I think women are built with more tenacity than men. I think we’re tougher and more durable. I mean we are built to bare babies so we can definitely endure a lot of pain. Maybe our strength won’t match a man’s strength but I feel that our tenacity is through the roof.”
It is hard to argue with the sentiments spewed by Napoleon. With her contest just two weeks away, Napoleon is fully focused on defending her title. Be that as it may, she can’t help but give her opinion on another big fight that is on the horizon.
Heather Hardy and Amanda Serrano are set to face off on September 13th, at Madison Square Garden. Napoleon is friends with both fighters and gave her take on what she is expecting in that contest.
“I’ve heard that Amanda hits like a mule and she is super strong. She is a really sweet girl to,” said Napoleon. “I love Heather, I’m a big fan, I work with her and I consider her a friend. She has a ridiculous chin. I think people are going to be underestimating Heather in that fight but a lot of people are going to be surprised. It’s going to be a helluva fight.”
Hardy vs Serrano is a must watch contest, but Napoleon vs Baldwin is a can’t miss fight as well. According to the current WBA world title holder, her upcoming contest will only go one way come fight night.
“I think that she is going to come in confident and strong. I am going to use all of my attributes in that ring. I can box and I can brawl and when I get the opportunities I will take them and win this fight.”
Why Do Boxers Like Muhammad Ali Continue Boxing Too Long?
By: Ken Hissner
There have been some great boxers that have continued boxing too long such as Muhammad Ali. Was it money or more stardom or just what that causes boxers to continue when they are no longer the boxer they once were?
In Ali’s case he was 29-0 when he had his license suspended for refusal going into the service. His last fight was March of 1967 defending his WBA world heavyweight title and defeating contender Zora Folley 74-7-4 at Madison Square Garden. It would be 43 months before he returned to the ring in October of 1970 stopping Jerry Quarry 37-4-4 in Atlanta, GA. In his next fight he stopped Oscar Bonavena, 46-6-1, for the vacant NABF title at Madison Square Garden. It was the only time Bonavena was stopped in a sixty-eight fight career.
Wins over Quarry and Bonavena set the stage to re-gain his title from WBA & WBC champion “Smokin” Joe Frazier, 26-0 at Madison Square Garden in March of 1971. This writer had scored the bout 7-6-1 going into the fifteenth and final round in favor of Frazier. The two judges and referee Arthur Mercante had Frazier ahead at the end of the fight. In rounds Mercante had it 8-6-1 the same as this writer with Ali getting knocked down in the final round.
While Ali was under suspension his former Louisville, KY, friend Jimmy Ellis entered a WBA tournament in August of 1967 defeating Leotis Martin, Oscar Bonavena and Jerry Quarry to win the WBA title. After a defense defeating Floyd Patterson he went on to fight Frazier for the vacant WBC title and was stopped losing his WBA title. After coming back scoring three wins Ellis would meet Ali would for the vacant NABF title in July of 1971 with Ali stopping Ellis. Both had been trained by Angelo Dundee and Dundee chose to work in the corner of Ellis which would be the only time Dundee was not in Ali’s corner.
Ali would go onto win ten straight including the win over Ellis before losing to Ken Norton while suffering a broken jaw in March of 1973. Ali would win the re-match with Norton six months later to re-gain the NABF title. Two months later at Madison Square Garden in January of 1974 Ali would defeat Frazier who had lost his world titles to George Foreman.
In Ali’s next fight some nine months later he would re-gain the WBA & WBC titles stopping Foreman in October of 1974 in what was called “The Rumble in the Jungle”. Ali would go onto defend his title three times before having a third match with Frazier entitled “The Thrilla in Manila”. Ali would retain his titles when Frazier couldn’t come out for the last round in one of the greatest heavyweight title fights in the history of title fights in that division.
Ali would go onto defend his title six times before taking on 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist Leon Spinks who only had seven fights sporting a 6-0-1 record. It was February of 1978 when Ali would lose his titles by split decision to Spinks. In their re-match in September Ali would defeat Spinks in their rematch regaining his WBA title. This is when this writer felt it was time for Ali at age 36 to retire. Ali’s cut-man Ferdie Pacheco chose not to again work Ali’s corner claiming it was time for Ali to retire.
This writer was at Ali’s training camp in Deer Lake, PA, when Ali decided to continue his career and face his former sparring partner Larry “The Easton Assasin” Holmes, 35-0, some twenty-five months later. After being off for that time period I questioned Ali why he was fighting Holmes by saying “look at you (fat). You and Max Baer had two of the greatest physics among the heavyweight champions so why would you continue by fighting Holmes? He replied while rubbing his large stomach saying “I like my ice cream”. Ali would go onto lose for the first and only time in his career by stoppage against Holmes losing the WBC title he had retained over that two year period. The writing had been on the wall that Ali was not the Ali of old and should have never taken this fight.
It would be fourteen months later when Ali took but another fight in the island in Nassau losing to former WBC world champion Jamaican Trevor Berbick, 19-2-1, in December of 1981 in what would be his final appearance in the ring. It was a career for Ali from October of 1960 after winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Rome in the light heavyweight division until December of 1981 over some twenty-one years. His final record was 56-5, 37 wins by stoppage, some nineteen successful title defenses and regaining the world title a record three times.
Even the greatest boxer pound for pound “Sugar” Ray Robinson hung in there much to long let alone his good friend whom I consider the greatest heavyweight of all time “The Brown Bomber” Joe Louis who turned to wrestling after doing all those free shows for the military only to have the IRS bring him down.
Robinson was 129-1-2 when he lost to Randy Turpin in the UK. He ended up 174-19-6 which means he was 45-18-4 after winning the rematch with Turpin. Too many overseas fights and losing his fourth time to Ralph “Tiger” Jones you knew it was time to call it quits.
Louis had 25 successful title defenses which is still a record among heavyweights. Between 1942 and 1946 when he entered the Army he had one “exhibition” which was considered an official fight. He came back and was never the same. He won four straight and lost to Ezzard Charles. Then he won eight straight ending his career being stopped by Rocky Marciano. He was broke from losing money on the golf course among other things. Frank Sinatra bailed him out making him a “greeter” in Las Vegas.
What a way for “The Brown Bomber” to end!
More Boxing History
Boxing Insider Interview with Alicia Ashley
Boxing Insider Interview with Alicia Ashley
By: John Freund
“Age is whatever you think it is. You are as old as you think you are.”
The above quote, attributed to the late, great, Muhammad Ali, encapsulates the mindset of reigning WBC world super bantamweight champion, Alicia Ashley. For the 48-year-old prize fighter, age is just a number.
“I feel like I’m just now a teenager in the sport,” grins Ashley.
Although she can easily pass for 20-something, Ashley is nearer to retirement age than she is to the legal voting age. The five-time world champion and current Guinness Book of World Records holder for oldest professional boxing champion didn’t even start her boxing career until she reached her early 30s.
“I started out as a dancer, and when I got injured, my brother was doing karate at the time so I got into martial arts. I always tell people I love performing — the dancing aspect of it — so I’d go to a lot of tournaments, and it was like, ‘What’s next? Can I do something more?’”
Ironically, it was Ashley’s first kickboxing match that propelled her into the world of boxing. During the fight, her opponent moved in close and began throwing punches, leaving the inexperienced Ashley bewildered.
“I really didn’t know what to do. I pulled out a win, but I was like, ‘OK I need to get my hands better,’ and that’s when I started getting into boxing.”
Sturdy and toned, the 5-foot-5 Ashley is unassuming in nature. That is, until you realize what she does for a living.
“Early on, when people used to find out, they’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re too pretty to box.’ But now it’s a little more mainstream.”
The Jamaican-born fighter is quick to point out that she never felt intimidated occupying space in what is essentially a hyper-masculine, testosterone-driven world.
“I come from a matriarchal family,” her smile widens as she reminisces. “Women are really strong, they’re always telling you what to do. So being in a male-dominated sport never fazed me. I do feel like I am a strong, individual woman in a strong, individualized sport.”
We are sitting in a back office of the iconic Gleason’s Gym, in Dumbo, Brooklyn, where Ashley is currently training for her upcoming title defense against Yesenia Tovar, set to take place in Santiago, Chile, in the summer of 2016.
I ask her if she’s ever been to Chile. “My first time,” she replies.
There’s something heartening in the fact that female fighters are flying across the globe to ply their trade on international television, just as their male counterparts do. Maybe women’s boxing is on the rise.
No one can doubt that women’s combat sports are experiencing a “cultural moment,” with the rise of UFC fighters like Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate. Female MMA athletes can earn seven-figure payouts per fight, and their celebrity statuses garner even bigger bucks outside the ring, through sponsorships and merchandise deals. One would assume there would be a natural spillover effect to the women of boxing, but Ashley isn’t so optimistic.
“Because UFC and MMA are showcasing women so much, it’s going to pull the women out of boxing.”
Her reasoning is not unsound. More air time means higher pay for athletes, which in turn means more fighting females are likely to shirk boxing altogether and flex their muscles inside the UFC octagon.
“It really shouldn’t be a competition,” says Ashley. “But more female boxers that I know are drawn into MMA because they’re getting shown and getting paid.”
So far, boxing has yet to match the UFC in terms of showcasing its female fighters. So while big time male boxers like Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin rake in the big bucks, the lack of brand awareness for female boxing is reflected in the fighters’ salaries.
“As a female, even as a five-time world champion, I’m not getting paid what the guys are getting paid. Not even a tenth of the amount,” laments Ashley. “It’s the love of the sport that’s kept me in it.”
Ashley, for her part, credits her discipline, lack of alcohol consumption and avoidance of red meat as factors in her longevity. She’s also quick to credit her genes.
“Thank you mom and dad!” she beams.
I ask about her plans for the future, assuming, you know, she won’t still be boxing in 20 years. She says she wants to own her own gym to train others to fight and mentor them to become world champions.
I wonder if she bears any enmity towards a sport that has failed to reward her with the requisite fame and money her male counterparts have received. But Ashley strikes that notion down as quickly as she jabs an opponent in the ring.
“You really have to love the sport to continue in it,” she deadpans. “I mean, you’re getting hit in the face.”