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Boxing’s restart has coincided with a breakthrough for women’s boxing

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The search for true equality in boxing remains, but female fighters are enjoying a growth in opportunity.

Ed Mulholland/Matchroom

Ok, I’ve got a confession: until relatively recently, women’s boxing hasn’t really formed part of my consciousness.

I mean, I have always been aware of the champions, aware of the bigger fights, aware of Jane Couch and Nicola Adams’ trailblazing of the sport in the UK, and Ireland’s Katie Taylor’s rampant rise to the top, but I guess I always saw a female contest as a side dish to the reason why I was tuning into that specific card.

I don’t necessarily feel guilty for this. A lack of exposure to female fights since I’ve covered the sport has facilitated this thought-process. Still, since boxing’s restart, I’ve found myself completely fixated on three women’s contests all for totally different reasons.

Terri Harper vs Natasha Jonas set the ball rolling in tremendous fashion last weekend, as Matchroom Boxing’s second Fight Camp card crescendoed to perfection. The 10-round war between two Brits for a world championship title was breathtaking stuff. The 13-year age disparity between the fighters was irrelevant as they traded leather for 20 absorbing minutes, resulting in a draw.

It’s why we love the sport. These are the contests that we tune in to see, yet the overwhelming narrative at the final bell was the gender of both fighters. “That wasn’t just a good fight for women’s boxing,” claimed Anthony Joshua afterwards, “it was a good fight for boxing.”

The unified heavyweight champion raised a valid point. A good fight is a good fight, and the sooner we stop referring to the genders of the fighters taking part, the closer we’ll get to equality in the sport.

Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

This is where the counter-argument usually follows. “But if women fighters want equality, why are they boxing two-minute rounds at a maximum of 10?” or something along those lines. Before her undisputed welterweight reign came to an end on Saturday night, Cecilia Braekhus explained to the Guardian why it’s not as simple as that.

“We women, we don’t have a problem with going three minutes for rounds,” the 38-year-old said. “That’s not a problem. Women have done three-minute rounds before. The problem is we’re being asked to give more, always just to give up more, to do more. It’s not about the three-minute rounds. It’s like we can never do enough. It can be exhausting.”

Basically, if women are expected to match men on output, then Braekhus — and the rest of women’s boxing — want an input in return. Better paydays; better opportunities.

“People always think that one thing or one fight will change women’s boxing, but that’s not the issue,” Braekhus continued. “There are a lot of different pieces to the puzzle all working together.”

Shannon Courtenay and Rachel Ball also found themselves in the spotlight on Friday night’s third Fight Camp show. Moving from a 5/2 underdog to a 4/5 favourite over the week leading up to the eight-round contest, Ball secured a debatable win against the home fighter which had viewers hooked.

Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

This shift in the betting line would have contributed to the eyes and interest placed on the fight, but in a toe-to-toe 50/50, Courtenay and Ball re-inforced the need to eradicate the narrative of gender.

“It bores me saying ‘women’s’ boxing,” Eddie Hearn agreed, telling iFL TV after the fight. “It’s about time people got on board with this; this is entertainment!”

There is still a long way to go. The lack of depth in the pool of women’s boxing means matching fighters can prove impossible – see Woodsy’s piece “Making a Mismatch: How Miranda Adkins came to fight Seniesa Estrada.” Until two female fighters slugging it out becomes the norm, the grassroots of the sport will continue to struggle to bring talent through the system.

The weekend of action finished with Jessica McCaskill ending Cecilia Braekhus’ 11-year title reign to claim all the gold at welterweight, and it was, for once, weirdly refreshing to read debates about a “robbery.” We are beginning to react to fights on face value; beginning to care as much if there is a contentious decision in a women’s fight as we would in a men’s contest.

I’ve now contributed close to 200 pieces for the Bad Left Hook community, and I can count on one hand the number of times a female fighter has been the focus of an article. Next week, Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon do it all again in a rematch of their 2019 barn burner, looking to steal the headlines away from Dillian Whyte and Alexander Povetkin.

There’s a chance they will. But they’ll want it to be on merit.

There have been countless negative effects of COVID-19 on the world of boxing since the return, but as women slowly begin to get the exposure they deserve, they should be championed in their own right.

Follow Lewis Watson @lewroyscribbles