Saturday, August 29, 2020

Could Women’s Boxing Emerge Atop The Boxing World Following COVID-19?


The sport of Boxing, much like the rest of the world continues to deal with the impacts and uncertainty of the global COVID-19 epidemic. While much of the content penned by yours truly throughout 2020 here on The Boxing Truth®️ has obviously centered upon the circumstances and frankly negative aspects of the ongoing crisis, there has been good that has emerged out of a bad situation for all. Even though it has been an adjustment for some to get used to watching not only Boxing, but all sports currently active in an atmosphere without spectators, we have also been treated to great competition. For Boxing, the women of the sport have been able to take advantage of horrible circumstances and use the atmosphere of closed-door Boxing events to elevate themselves and Women’s Boxing as a whole.


Readers may be curious as to what I mean in making that statement. It is important to keep in mind as this observer has said numerous times in several writings over recent months that Boxing is in the midst of what was previously an unforeseen circumstance as is the rest of the world. Despite the sport taking gradual steps towards resuming activities akin to what Boxing is like throughout a normal calendar year, many of the sport’s top stars remain sidelined both due to financial reasons in likely not wanting to forgo a portion of revenue they might be entitled to from live gate attendance as well as justifiable concern over potential exposure to COVID-19. Due largely to this, several lucrative fights that could generate significant business for the sport remain in discussion for the future likely aimed for after the COVID-19 crisis significantly declines, whenever that might be. In the meantime, the women of Boxing have stepped up to provide competitive bouts, which have turned out to be some of the best fights since the sport began the process of trying to resume in June and has also produced some Fight of the Year candidates.


It is not and should be no secret to readers who have followed my work both online and in print over the last two decades that I have been and remain a strong supporter of Women’s Boxing. Unfortunately, up until recent years, the sport for women has not enjoyed the same level of exposure as compared to Men’s Boxing. While I could go on and on discussing some of the legends of Women’s Boxing as well as fighters who deserved more television exposure, particularly here in the United States for years up until the sport finally started being featured on a regular basis thanks largely to digital streaming networks like DAZN and cable networks like ESPN and Showtime, I’ll move on.


In the absence of what some Boxing fans would call marquee attractions, the women of Boxing have seized opportunity. For many years, fans have only been granted occasional access to Women’s Boxing, which I believe has negatively impacted the sport’s growth. One could make an argument that it wasn’t until the success of women in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as well as the success and notoriety Claressa Shields, the only two-time Olympic Gold medalist in the history of United States Boxing, that Women’s Boxing started to receive long overdue attention. As most know, Shields has continued her success as a professional and has gone on to win world championships in multiple weight classes.


Unlike in years past however, recent times have seen women in the sport headlining several cards on global television platforms in a short span of time. Some may recall undefeated Jr. Lightweight contender Mikaela Mayer, who scored a dominant ten round unanimous decision over former world title challenger Helen Joseph during the month of July in the main event of a card broadcast by ESPN. Mayer, who scored her thirteenth victory as a professional maintained her standing in WBC and WBA’s respective Women’s ratings in the 130lb. Jr. Lightweight division as the number one contender recognized by both organizations and would appear to be nearing an opportunity to fight for a world championship in the near future.


What turned out to be a showcase for Mikaela Mayer in the month of July was followed by a series of separate women’s bouts during the month of August that frankly could compete with each other for Fight of the Year honors. Some may recall the grueling battle that marked the first time that two British women faced each other on British soil for a world championship when undefeated unified WBC/IBO Jr. Lightweight world champion Terri Harper engaged in a ten round war with 2012 British Olympian Natasha Jonas in a bout that was ultimately scored a split decision draw on August 7th. This would be followed the following week with two intriguing fights on consecutive nights that each made their respective claim as a Fight of the Year contender.


The first took place on August 14th in the same ring where the battle between Harper and Jonas took place in Brentwood, England as part of Matchroom Boxing’s “Fight Camp” series. A bout in the 126lb. Featherweight division between current contender and former three-time former world kickboxing champion Rachel Ball and undefeated prospect Shannon Courtenay. An eight round bout that saw the ebb and flow shift frequently throughout, but one that was decided by a knockdown in the first round against Courtenay that allowed Ball to earn a decision victory.


On August 15th, the action shifted to the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Matchroom Boxing’s United States promotional branch staged its first Boxing card since the COVID-19 epidemic began in the city’s downtown district on a closed street. The main event of this card featured the return of undefeated Undisputed World Welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus attempting to defend her title for the twenty-sixth time against former world title challenger Jessica McCaskill.


Braekhus, known as the first lady of Women’s Boxing, is regarded as one of the sport’s top stars and had the historic distinction of being in the main event of the final Boxing card televised by United States cable network HBO as it exited its coverage of the sport after forty-five years in December 2018. As with many dominant world champions on the men’s side of the sport, the question that has followed Braekhus for several years was who could pose a challenge to her reign as the top fighter at 147lbs. Something that has also made Braekhus unique has, despite many women’s world champions throughout the sport moving up and down in weight to challenge for world championships as well as seeking more lucrative opportunities in a sport that is still growing, Brækhus has chose to remain in the 147lb. Welterweight division.


In Jessica McCaskill, Brækhus faced a former world title challenger who as a Lightweight gave Lightweight world champion Katie Taylor a stern test in December 2017. Despite McCaskill entertaining the bout with Brækhus with a record of 8-2, with 3 Knockouts, there was no dispute that the champion Cecilia Braekhus had a significant edge in terms of experience coming in unbeaten in thirty-six previous bouts. The question at least in my mind going into this fight was whether or not McCaskill could avoid being outworked over the course of the fight by a fighter in Brækhus who has an ability to win rounds in a similar manner as Katie Taylor, who had scored a unanimous decision over McCaskill. 



Although the fight between Brækhus and McCaskill saw many exchanges of offense between the two fighters throughout, what stood out to me was McCaskill’s overall offensive output in bringing the fight to the champion, consistently getting her punches off first, and seeming to get the better of the action when the two fighters would exchange in close on the inside. When it comes to close fights as I have often said through the years, it will often come down to what a judge prefers in their own criteria based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense. In some cases,  particularly in Women’s Boxing due to the two minute duration of rounds, it can be difficult to distinguish who has the upper hand in a close fight such as this was.


From my perspective, it was the small things that stood out that ultimately proved to be the difference as McCaskill would defeat Brækhus via ten round majority decision bringing an end to Brækhus’ decade-long reign atop the Welterweight division in becoming the new Undisputed Welterweight world champion. While a rematch between McCaskill and Brækhus could happen down the line and one could argue is warranted based not only on Brækhus’ status as a longtime champion, but also how close the fight was between the two, it is perhaps an irony that the month of August for the women of the sport concluded with a different rematch, that could lead to another rematch for McCaskill.


The rematch between undefeated Undisputed Lightweight world champion Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon. While yours truly provided a recap of that fight shortly after it concluded, I feel it necessary to address some criticism that was pointed in my direction for how I personally saw the fight in feeling it was a dominant performance for Katie Taylor in a fight that if one is objective, likely answered some skeptics, During the rematch, which took place on August 22nd in Brentwood, England, I as I regularly do, shared how I saw things across social media platforms and shared how I scored the fight as it was taking place.


While a difference of opinion as to how one sees a fight is a tradition as tried and true as the sport of Boxing itself, what can be overlooked at times particularly amongst casual fans is the criteria that is demonstrated throughout a fight, which more often than not plays a critical role in how a bout is scored. Although the rematch between Taylor and Persoon much like their first encounter was competitive from start to finish, what made it a dominant performance in my eyes for Taylor was how she executed an effective Boxing strategy by making her opponent miss, using lateral movement to maintain distance, effectively timed counter punching, and finally often throwing punches in combination when she let her hands go.


It was this strategy that differed significantly from the first fight in June of last year when Taylor was willing to stand and go toe to toe with Persoon in what was ultimately judged a close fight in Taylor’s favor. There were times throughout the rematch where Taylor appeared as though she was ready to forgo her tactical Boxing strategy and go toe to toe with Persoon, but for the most part, she remained disciplined and got a more clear victory the second time around in a fight that this observer had her winning eight rounds to two or 98-92 in points. While everyone is certainly entitled to their own view, this was my view as someone who has covered the sport of Boxing most of his life and as one who has scored countless fights unofficially as a part of that coverage on every level of Boxing amateur and professional.


Now that I have hopefully made my explanation on how I saw this rematch clear, one thing is also clear. Women’s Boxing continues to make significant steps forward. It is not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a rematch between Katie Taylor and Jessica McCaskill before the end of 2020 depending on the circumstances of COVID-19. It would also not surprise me to see a potential third fight between Taylor and Persoon at some point in the future. While Taylor’s victory in their second encounter was more definitive as compared to their first encounter, both fights were very competitive and one should not dismiss the idea that Persoon could find herself in line to fight Taylor again. As Women’s Boxing continues to grow with the increased exposure, hopefully along with growth will come the opportunity for these fighters to earn more lucrative opportunities. Something that should come with progress and for the women of Boxing, something that much like consistent television exposure is overdue.


“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”


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