On November 14th, former 3-divison World Boxing champion Holly Holm shocked the world by knocking out UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey to win the MMA title. The fight was one of the richest gates in MMA history, it drew worldwide appeal, and had a strong social media buzz.
It also shows how boxing has missed the boat on the female movement in sports and shows zero signs of adapting.
This is the same sport that despite producing Holm, Laila Ali, Mia St. John, Lucia Rijker and Christy Martin has completely ignored the majority of the women in the US. Despite having two women win medals in the past Olympics, neither woman was offered a contract after the 2012 London Games.
Top Rank dipped its toe in the past when they promoted Christy Martin and Mia St. John but didn’t go any further after both ran their course. Lou DiBella has used both Sonya Lamonakis and Heather Hardy on several cards, but neither has gotten on his televised cards.
In fact, the last female fight that was televised on any US cable network was a match on FOX Sports 1 between members of the US Army and the US Navy, which was only because the armed forces insisted upon the fight being put on TV since the card was at a military base.
Claressa Shields captured Americans hearts when she won the 2012 London Olympic Games, and yet she was told to stay in the amateurs as there was no money to be made in the pro ranks.
It has been frustrating for female boxers this past year. They have watched Ronda Rousey, Miesha Tate, and Paige Van Zant become household names and make more money in 1 fight than they make in a decade. They have watched the US Women’s Soccer team become darlings of the nation and reap in sponsorship money.
Meanwhile, the US women boxers have become nearly invisible to the casual fan and there doesn’t seem to be any help in sight. What’s worse is that despite the fact that there could be money made for all parties, boxing promoters have shown zero interest in pushing any of them.
Top Rank, Golden Boy Promotions, Roc Nation Sports, and Main Events do not promote any female fighters on their cards. Only DiBella has a female fighter on his roster, Heather Hardy, and even she only fights in New York as a way to help drum up local interest in the cards.
When asked why female boxers have not been pushed, the same tired answers are always brought out by promoters and media. From a lack of fan interst to not enough depth in the ranks to the television networks won’t buy it.
The lack of interest part does not hold water as more and more sports fans are having interest with not only WMMA fighters but women’s sports in general. Give top quality fights and action and fans will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame.
Thanks to the Olympics and other youth programs, there are more and more female boxers coming up the ranks. Claressa Shields and Marlen Esparza both took home medals in the 2012 Summer Olympics and more women could be joining them as medal winners in the 2016 games in Rio.
The trickiest part will be finding a promoter who has not only the vision to promote women’s boxing but has television dates to put them on as well. MMA was fortunate that a promoter by the name of Scott Coker (StrikeForce) had the vision and patience to allow the Miesha Tate’s, Sarah Kaufmann’s and Ronda Rousey’s to develop.
The wildcard in all of this is Al Haymon and PBC, who has been using their huge war chest to sign talent and put on multiple cards on multiple networks. With young female fighters developing today such as Tyrieshia Douglas, Ava Knight, Kenia Enroquez and the Sorrano’s sisters, there is plenty of talent to be promoted. In a perfect world, Haymon could put a female fight on one of his shows to allow them to be introduced to the American public.
The time is now for boxing promoters to catch up to the rest of the world and start giving female fighters in North America a chance. Europe has already done so and developed Susi Kentikian and Cecilia Braekhus to become stars. The UFC and Bellator have shown that women can be not only profitable but also generate ratings in combat sports.
It’s time that boxing joins the rest of the world and realizes women can be more than just ring card girls.
They can also be world class boxers who can hang with the guys, and they certainly deserve the chance to prove it.