Women’s boxing has, if we’re all being honest, struggled to really gain a foothold with American boxing fans in particular. While that side of the sport definitely has a much bigger profile now than it did 10 or even five years ago — Claressa Shields has headlined on Showtime, Mikaela Mayer is set to headline Friday on ESPN+ against Maiva Hamadouche — it’s still not where everyone involved would like it to be.
One consistent issue brought up over and over by some is the fact that women’s fights are two-minute rounds, whereas all men’s fights at three-minute rounds. Women also fight shorter championship distances, going 10 rounds for world title fights as opposed to 12 for men.
This means a women’s championship fight — as we’ll see Friday when Mayer (15-0, 5 KO) and Hamadouche (22-1, 18 KO) unify world titles at 140 lbs — has at most a grand total of 20 minutes in terms of in-ring action, while a men’s world title fight sits at a 36-minute possible distance. That’s nearly double the amount of time for many things to happen, perhaps chiefly the ability to work for a knockout.
Promoter Bob Arum and Mayer both advocated for three-minute rounds, with Arum offering one idea that would shorten the amount of rounds, but lengthen each round and offer a slightly longer distance.
“What should happen in a championship fight is it should be three-minute rounds, and if we’re worried about that, reduce to it to eight rounds rather than 10 rounds,” Arum said. “We have to look at other sports, individual sports, and the one that comes to mind immediately is a sport where women’s participation is as interesting and as financially rewarding as men’s, and that’s the sport of professional tennis.
“In professional tennis, women play a game, same point scoring, as men. A set is the same as women’s tennis as it is in men’s tennis. The only difference is, in a Grand Slam, the women play the best two out of three, the men the best three out of five. But in the normal tournaments, they all play the best two out of three sets.
“That enables people who follow a sport to see that the rules, everything is the same. Once you cut the rounds from three to two minutes, you’re telling the world that women’s boxing is different, maybe probably inferior to men’s boxing. Now if you’re worried about concussions and so forth — which, you know, I’m not a doctor — do three-minute rounds and regular the number of rounds that women can fight. The same way as in tennis, they regulate the number of sets that women play vis a vis men. But the rules in the sets, the games, are the same, they’re identical.
“If we want to bring women’s boxing to the forefront, we should advocate for that. A promoter asking for that is like baying in the wind. I think women’s boxers, if they agree with me and they want to elevate the sport, should advocate for three-minute rounds.”
Arum’s idea would amount to a 24-minute possible distance, or two-thirds what a men’s distance is, same as Grand Slam tennis.
Mikaela Mayer agreed in general, at least in advocating for three-minute rounds for women’s boxing.
“Definitely from experience, I know that that extra minute would change a fight,” she said. “If you look at a men’s 12-round, three-minute (per round) boxing match, halfway through the fight, round six, our fight’s over. But in round six (in a men’s bout), that fight is taking a turn.
“The more conditioned fighter, the sharper fighter, the higher-skilled fighter starts to shine through and make a statement. If we had that little extra time, you would see a big difference. You would have more knockouts, more finishes, and the cream would rise to the top.”
Other women’s fighters have taken this stance before, notably the aforementioned Claressa Shields. Shields, recognized as at the very least among the best women’s boxers pound-for-pound if not the best, has a very low knockout percentage, with just two stoppages in her 11 fights. She has argued that she simply doesn’t get the time within a round to hurt an opponent and then follow up for a finish. By the time you set up something that hurts an opponent, a round may be nearly over instead of having another full minute to work.
Obviously it’s no guarantee that three-minute rounds would lead to more finishes in women’s boxing, but it’s very reasonable to think that it would be the case, too. More time means more opportunity, and also means gas tanks and toughness are going to get questioned a lot more.
At times, TV commentators calling women’s fights have tried to push that the two-minute rounds make for a “faster pace,” and while in some respects this is true — the rounds and fight go by faster — it increasingly seems (at least to me) like a way of trying to keep people tuned in, a bit of spin that doesn’t amount to much in reality.
If you’re someone who has become a fan of or at least not a detractor of women’s boxing, do you want to see a move to three-minute rounds?