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A Brief History of Women's Boxing

Women’s athletics continue to make headway in the modern era. For example, the Women’s National Basketball Association was founded in 1996 — a remarkable fact considering that women were involved in basketball since the final decade of the 19th century. Similarly, women in boxing continue to make progress, despite the fact that they were involved in London’s bare-knuckle fights back in the early 18th century. Female boxers, such as Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker, and Leila Ali, have made international headlines and broadened the sport’s overall appeal. This guide reviews recent developments that have led to the current state of women’s competitive boxing.

Amateur Boxing for Women

Women’s amateur boxing took a long time to develop. In fact, female professional bouts were held prior to the official sanctioning of amateur bouts. USA Boxing first allowed females to compete in October 1993 after 16-year-old Dallas Malloy sued the organization in federal court on account of gender discrimination. Malloy — a native of Washington state — defeated Heather Poyner in the first sanctioned women’s amateur bout. This fight was a stepping stone that led to numerous advancements in women’s amateur boxing.

The New York Daily News Golden Gloves tournament is one of the top amateur boxing tournaments in America. The tournament opened its doors to women in 1995. Since then, hundreds of females have participated in the Gloves tournament — a testament to its growing popularity.

England also has seen increased acceptance and popularity in the realm of women’s boxing. The Amateur Boxing Association of England (ABAE) acknowledged the growing acceptance of women’s boxing in the United States by lifting its own ban on females in 1996. In June 2011, 82 young women participated in the prestigious ABAE National Championship Finals — an admirable accomplishment.

The International Olympic Committee included women’s boxing in the schedule for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, England. Women will compete in three respective weight divisions: Flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight.

The 21st century has seen tremendous advancements in women’s boxing. The inaugural International Amateur Boxing Association (AIBA) World Championships included women for the first time in 2001 — and significant growth has ensued ever since. In 2010, 300 female boxers participated in the tournament, representing a total of 75 nations. These numbers attest to the budding interest in women’s amateur boxing on an international stage. The Pan-American Games also introduced women’s boxing in 2011 for the first time in its storied history.

Pro Boxing for Women

Women’s professional boxing can be traced back to the prize-fighting days of England’s bare-knuckle brawls in the 18th century. These fights were outlawed in many countries, though, and the sport remained relatively stagnant until Barbara Buttrick’s emergence in the 1940s and 1950s. Buttrick broke barriers in 1954 by being the first female boxer to have a fight broadcasted on national television. She was only 4’11, but earned a record of 30-1-1 in her career. Even though Buttrick brought some brief attention to women’s boxing, the sport went unnoticed for over twenty years.

In 1975, though, Eva Shain received publicity after she appealed to the New York State Athletic Commission to allow her to judge pro bouts. She was granted permission after a hearing, and went on to become the first female to judge a World Heavyweight Title Bout — Muhammad Ali won this bout against Earnie Shavers.

Faces of Boxing ...
Christy Martin
Date of Birth: June 12, 1968
Nickname: The Coal Miner's Daughter
Stance: Orthodox
Getting to know Martin: In 1993, Martin won her first world title by beating Beverly Szymansky, making her the Jr. Welterweight champ. Her fight against Deirdre Gogarty put woman’s boxing on the map in early 1996. Martin won by decision in a hard-fought, six-round battle. Martin acquired nearly 50 wins throughout her memorable career, and appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1996.

The late 1970s saw numerous states — notably Nevada, California, and New York — open up their boxing licensing policies to allow women to register. Since then, women’s boxing has grown and become more accepted. The amateur organizations were slow to follow, but have made commendable improvements in recent years.

The New Millennium

Boxing aficionados have finally realized that the female boxing community has much to offer. Laila Ali and Lucia Rijker both emerged as entertaining champions throughout the 2000s in the pro ranks, and the USA Women’s Amateur Boxing Team looks to establish a firm foundation in future Olympics. It’s safe to say that women’s athletics continue to grow in popularity, and women’s boxing is no different.

Most people assume that boxing is exclusively a men's sport — but this is a misguided generalization. This guide discusses the increasing amount of women in the sport.
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