Bri­tish su­per­bout makes women the main event

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Gareth A Davies Play­boy.

It says so much about the in­fancy of women’s box­ing that tonight at Ed­die Hearn’s “Match­room Square Gar­den” in Es­sex, we will wit­ness an all-Bri­tish women’s world ti­tle fight for the first time.

Terri Harper, from Don­caster, and Liver­pudlian Natasha Jonas head­line the event and, although the women’s side of the sport has come on in leaps and bounds since it first ap­peared at an Olympic Games at Lon­don 2012, there re­mains huge scope for de­vel­op­ment.

The promis­ing thing for those women who feel the call­ing to fight is that the ap­petite from the fans – largely a male au­di­ence at present – is grow­ing. There are still the

Lud­dites who be­lieve that women should not box pro­fes­sion­ally, but they are di­min­ish­ing.

Hav­ing been ring­side since the early Nineties, I al­ways find that the sto­ries of the few ex­tra­or­di­nary fe­male box­ers sig­nif­i­cant in its rise are ut­terly fas­ci­nat­ing, ar­guably more so than those of their male coun­ter­parts. For in­stance, there was Jane Couch, the first fe­male fighter to gain a Bri­tish Box­ing Board of Con­trol li­cence, though she had to go to court on grounds of sex­ual dis­crim­i­na­tion, af­ter it had been re­fused on such things as men­strual cy­cles and pre­men­strual stress. “The Fleet­wood As­sas­sin” fi­nally re­ceived her li­cence in 1998 and her life story is about to be drama­tised for tele­vi­sion by the film com­pany of ac­claimed ac­tress Su­ranne Jones and her writer hus­band, Lau­rence Ak­ers.

In the early 2000s, there was the emer­gence of Laila Ali, the daugh­ter of Muham­mad Ali, who fought Joe Fra­zier’s daugh­ter, Jac­qui Fra­zier-Lyde, in­side a cav­ernous cir­cus tent in Verona, New York state.

Hav­ing at­tended that event – which in­evitably be­came known as Ali v Fra­zier IV – it was clear that with the right protagonis­ts, women’s box­ing could thrive. It was packed with box­ing roy­alty that night, in­clud­ing their great heavy­weight fa­thers, and seem­ingly ev­ery A-lis­ter in the United States, as an all-women’s fight head­lined a pay-per-view event for the first time on that con­ti­nent. It was an amaz­ing eight-round, all-ac­tion bat­tle won by Ali by ma­jor­ity de­ci­sion.

Then there was San Fran­cis­can Mia St John, a black belt in taek­wondo, who de­cided to pur­sue pro­fes­sional box­ing af­ter grad­u­at­ing from uni­ver­sity with a de­gree in psy­chol­ogy. Start­ing in 1997, St John first worked with shock-haired pro­moter Don King for 18 months, be­fore switch­ing to ri­val pro­moter Bob Arum at Top Rank, fight­ing on the cards of fan favourite Os­car De La Hoya for four years. St John was a gen­uine star. She ap­peared on Amer­i­can chat shows and, in Novem­ber 1999, the cover of

In spite of all that, Arum told me re­cently that it was im­pos­si­ble, what­ever they tried, to turn St John into a box-of­fice star as a fighter. That is chang­ing, how­ever. Frank War­ren was never a fan of women’s box­ing, but al­tered his view af­ter see­ing the dou­ble Olympic gold medal­list Ni­cola Adams.

The UFC’s front man, Dana White, said he would never en­ter­tain women’s mixed mar­tial arts, but the pro­moter had his head turned by Ronda Rousey in 2011, af­ter see­ing her in Scott Coker’s Strike­force or­gan­i­sa­tion. It was the start of a flood of fight­ers into women’s MMA.

Hearn, a gen­er­a­tion on, told me this week that he plans to shift the par­a­digm in the sport by sign­ing as many women as pos­si­ble, to get the best fight­ing the best.

Hearn’s most ac­com­plished boxer is Katie Tay­lor, who fights in his back gar­den in Brent­wood on Aug 22, in a re­match with Bel­gian Delfine Per­soon, who trains fel­low po­lice of­fi­cers in tac­ti­cal-weapons as­sault in her day job. Both bat­tle at a fre­netic pace in the ring, as they showed in their first en­counter at Madi­son Square Gar­den in New York, last June.

Tonight’s chal­lenger Jonas, 36, se­cured her place in his­tory as one of the first women to com­pete at the Olympic Games in Lon­don in 2012. Harper, 23, the de­fend­ing world su­per-feather­weight cham­pion, gave up box­ing ini­tially at the age of 16 to work in a chip shop in Don­caster be­cause she could not find op­po­nents (dur­ing the lock­down, she was even stack­ing shelves in her lo­cal Co-op, man­aged by part­ner Jen) and hopes to head­line in New York and Las Ve­gas in the fu­ture.

There is ev­ery chance Harper may do so, too. There is lit­tle doubt that there is some­thing deeply com­pelling and vis­ceral in the na­ture of women’s fight­ing, and tonight’s main event will be no dif­fer­ent.

Tal­ent: Terri Harper de­fends the su­per-feather­weight belt

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