Boxing is finally making its move to capitalise on the rise of women’s sports, having watched mixed martial arts in particular make a fortune through their female athletes.
The catalyst for women’s MMA getting so hot was of course the rise of Ronda Rousey, and even now after Rousey lost two demoralising high-profile bouts in succession and may never return to the Octagon, her successors are reaping the benefits of the doors she helped open.
And that’s arguably what women’s boxing needs. It’s own Ronda Rousey. There are actually a few candidates for that role, and here is how they are getting on so far:
We start with Adams, who won the first ever Olympic women’s boxing medal at London 2012 then repeated her flyweight success last year in Rio. After winning her pro debut against Virginia Noemi Carcamo at Manchester Arena this past weekend, she is the current topic in the women’s fight game on these shores.
Her Olympic exploits and standing in the history books make her the perfect figurehead for a promoter to attempt a revitalisation of an entire genre. Her status as a highly-respected member of the LGBT community, cynical as it may sound, will also do her bid to further her superstardom no harm. And her superb record between the ropes makes it more likely she’ll string together the professional wins required to cultivate a huge diehard following.
Her new promoter, Frank Warren, actually serves as a good example of Adams’ tendency to change the image of her line of work for the better. As renowned British boxing expert Steve Bunce put it, “Frank has never been a fan of women’s boxing but has never been a major critic.” And Warren himself admitted at the official press conference announcing Adams’ arrival to his stable that he is eating “humble pie” about the status of women’s boxing, citing Adams as the main reason his opinion has evolved from indifference to that of a cartoon character with pound signs for eyes.
Adams is tailor-made for the lead in the rise of women’s professional pugilism, having helped improve the state of their amateur game. But she isn’t the only one.
In fact, those of you who watched the London 2012 boxing tournaments religiously, whether live at the ExCeL or on television via the BBC or one of those other channels carrying the Games, will feel a sense of deja vu when continuing down this page…
Irish superstar Taylor mirrored Adams’ 2012 feat by cleaning up in the lightweight category. Her shocking defeat in the Rio 2016 quarter-finals to Mira Potkonen of Finland was an uncharacteristic way for the usually-dominant 30-year-old to finish her decorated amateur days, but she does have an edge over Adams in the pro ranks.
Taylor made her pro debut at Wembley Arena in November of last year, and has already moved to 4-0. Her promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, enjoys a considerably larger market share than Mr. Warren and of course has Sky’s entire boxing coverage at his disposal. Then there’s the fact that Katie’s fifth fight will feature on the undercard of the biggest heavyweight contest in nearly two decades, as Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko collide at Wembley STADIUM.
While Adams fits the profile better than Taylor when it comes to those typical aspects of being the face of an entire sport, Taylor undoubtedly has the edge in momentum, timing and backing. And the two female fighters from the UK and Ireland respectively could well continue their parallel rivalry of mainstream attention on a larger platform as pros.
They could also, potentially, find themselves overshadowed by the other member of London 2012’s ‘golden trio’, the first three women to stand atop Olympic boxing podiums.
Aged only 22, Shields was one of the shining lights in an otherwise-disappointing age for American amateur boxers. The nation which gave us so many great Olympic fighters, from Ali to Mayweather to Foreman to Leonard, was under-achieving when Shields burst onto the scene as a teenager before doing the 2012/2016 double, just like Adams, at middleweight.
And with America also feeling they could do with a little extra box office greatness in the professional realm now that Floyd has retired, Shields could dovetail her nation’s need for new stars with the rise of the women’s fight game perfectly, if she and whomever wins the race to tie her down to a long-term promotional contract play their cards right.
Wembley Arena and Manchester Arena are two very impressive sites for one’s maiden professional contest. The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, set to be the new central hub of fight sport in the fight sport-centric city, is an incredible place to debut. And that’s where Shields began, seven days before Taylor, with a unanimous decision over Franchon Crews.
Her second bout last month saw her become the first woman to headline a boxing card on famed American network Showtime. Technically, she did so alongside opponent Szilvia Szabados of Hungary – but with a TKO win in the fourth round of six, Shields was clearly the feature attraction above all else.
The ‘class of 2012’ are in a good position to become the ‘breakthrough of 2017’ when it comes to pro boxing. It’s fair to argue that women’s boxing’s chances of matching the resounding success of females in MMA depends on this trio. Considering the very low profile and earning potential of women’s boxing before these three, maybe the sport depends on them, period.
Which one will end up being the face on every article heralding the resurrection of female boxing? Which one will have crossover superstardom on their doorstep first? Honestly, there’s a case for all three.
Five years ago I sensed that stars like Adams, Taylor and Shields end up in competition with each other, even when they box at completely different weights. The honour of being the face of an entire sport was on the line, and there’s a strong chance it pushed all three to dominate their weight class better than the other two.
Expect to see that again, on the bigger stage and in the more suitably-cutthroat realm of professional boxing (and professional money-making). If you’re rooting for women’s boxing to hit supernova like I am, don’t just expect it. Hope that the three push each other into bigger and better feats on a regular basis.
Whatever happens, it’s going to be interesting to watch unfold.