Boxing shamefully underrepresents women, having only been legally sanctioned late in the 20th century and rarely — if ever — aired by the two major boxing networks, HBO and Showtime.
This past summer, I went to a fight night at Madison Square Garden where the main event was a championship bout between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz competing for the Featherweight World Championship title.
In an approximately ten-fight lineup, there was only one female matchup — between Amanda Serrano and Calixta Silgado. It too was a Featherweight World Championship bout, but unlike the men’s fight, it was barely advertised and not even aired on television.
It took place significantly early in the night—around 6 p.m.—and televising did not begin until 9 p.m. Assuming that I would be able to see it if I arrived by 8 p.m., I was bitterly disappointed to find out that I was two hours too late and there was no recording.
As a female boxer, I am infuriated by the lack of representation and respect for these amazing athletes. Women have to work significantly harder to be recognized in a sport that has long prioritized men and has diminished both the visibility and ability of their female counterparts.
The Wall Street Journal had a piece in July prior to the fight entitled “Women’s Boxing Fights for Exposure,” spotlighting female fighters. It focused on Amanda Serrano, a Brooklyn native who was a heavy favorite to win the Featherweight title, which she captured with a knockout, while also discussing the discrimination that women face in boxing.
This particular fighter, a defending champion, still had to work full-time as a trainer to earn a living. She received no sponsorships or endorsements and had to sacrifice her pay in order to train in the month leading up to a fight. Another fighter, Heather Hardy, is an undefeated champion in her weight class as well, and she too must work to pay rent. She even sells tickets at her gym because there is no other form of advertising available for her fights.
The amateur level is no different. These past Olympics showcased some great female fighters. Claressa Shields in particular made history by winning back-to-back gold medals, a first for any American boxer, male or female.
However, it is shocking how few people had even heard of her prior to these Games. The Washington Post covered her story in an article that noted the lack of endorsements or attention she received after winning the Olympic gold medal in 2012. She even had to use her Olympic earnings to pay for her mother’s overdue water bill.
Now she hopes that this victory will propel her into the spotlight in a major way, leading to sponsorships that could make all the difference in her future career. There has even been a PBS documentary made chronicling her journey, “T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold,” that was released in the beginning of August this year.
She has overcome tremendous personal strife to achieve Olympic glory, and she will hopefully gain the recognition she deserves—financially as well as commercially—with this amazing feat.
Granted, things are changing. On August 21, NBCSN aired a female fight pitting Heather Hardy against Shelly Vincent in a championship bout for the WBC International female Featherweight belt.
Hardy won, continuing her undefeated streak, in an electrifying fight between two of the toughest women in the division and one that was closely contested. However, the fight for equality is far from over.
As the sport of boxing increases in popularity, more and more young women will become involved in a big way. But the motivation to compete at the amateur and professional levels is still highly personal rather than financial, seeing as very few, if any, women receive money for their athletic achievements.
Advertising has to promote the female fights and television has to air them. Hardy and Vincent’s fight was a monumental step forward.
Hopefully female fighters will build on this momentum and finally receive the long-awaited and long-deserved equality in one of the toughest sports in the world.
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