|Tuesday, February 8
Women's boxing becoming a real joke
By Tim Graham
Special to ESPN.com
This is turning into a joke, even by boxing's comical standards. And it doesn't show any indication of improving.
Women's boxing of late. (Rim shot here).
Only a couple years ago, there was a foundation of legitimacy in women's boxing. Laid by talented ladies like Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker, Sumya Anani and Kathy Collins, the base seemed in place. It wasn't implausible the sport one day might be mentioned in the same breath as basketball or tennis.
Now it sadly may have gone past the farcical point of no return.
Women's boxing is turning into the most shameless one-on-one athletic combat exhibition since the advent of cockfighting.
Compared to women's boxing, American Gladiators is off the respectability chart.
Over the weekend, 38-year-old Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, the daughter of Joe Frazier, turned pro. Keeping in mind her father retired when he was 37 because he felt his days were through, Frazier-Lyde showed skill comparable to a preschooler in a playground scuffle.
Frazier-Lyde scored an embarrassing first-round technical knockout when her opponent turned her back to avoid some less-than-spectacular punches.
As expected, Frazier-Lyde immediately challenged Laila Ali, another boxing novice who happens to have bloodlines of a legend. They probably will make a lot of money for their matchup of mockery. Sadly, it's the only reason they took the sport up.
Oh, yeah. The daughters of Archie Moore and Roberto Duran also want to fight.
And let's not forget the other cadre of commercialized boxing ladies out there: the sex symbols. Mia St. John is the poster girl for that group.
Meanwhile, the respectable talents of Martin, Rijker, Anani, et. al. go unappreciated.
"It's women capitalizing on their father's names or their sexuality and not going out there and doing what some of the other women have done," Rijker's manager, Stan Hoffman, says. "These are women who spent years and years learning their trade like the guys do. These women paid their dues and can seriously fight."
Martin was the first to prove it to a widespread audience. She started captivating global audiences on Mike Tyson undercards -- usually upstaging the main event -- and she eventually appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
But what promoters and most fight fans saw wasn't a chance to celebrate women in sports. They saw dollar signs. They had found another way to make money off a woman's body, and fans had discovered a new form of cheap entertainment.
Why did Bob Arum forego former client Rijker, inarguably the most talented female fighter in the world, to pick up St. John, a woman who knows more about T&A than TKOs? Because St. John, a woman who will get seriously hurt and probably disfigured if she ever were to fight anyone with talent, was relatively inexpensive and was more marketable with her nude modeling past.
Arum, with sexual innuendo and double entendre one-liners at his press conferences, doesn't conceal his reasoning.
"Bob Arum himself said to me, 'People like to see her rear end. That's why they come,' " Hoffman says.
And Arum was financially -- if not morally -- right. St. John appeared on the cover of Playboy last year, an honor that garnered more attention than Martin received for being on SI.
Yes, Katarina Witt also appeared on the cover of Playboy and Steffi Graf was featured prominently in SI's swimsuit issue. But they were world-class athletes long before. They didn't need to display themselves for validation, while Arum and St. John must use her body to drive ticket sales.
Arum and others of his ilk are selling sex over skill, flesh over athleticism. And in that regard they can be likened to pimps. Promoters easily can be viewed as such when it comes to male boxing, too. But the fact of the matter is, male boxing isn't always a spectacle, while female boxing has turned into nothing more.
"It really disturbs me," says Hoffman, who also manages WBA middleweight champion William Joppy, former IBF middleweight and super middleweight champ James Toney and heavyweight contender Hasim Rahman.
"Sexism rears its ugly head."
There is a beautiful art to behold even when two anonymous men go toe-to-toe in a smoke-filled auditorium. The crowd admires the spirit, the skill, the will not only to win but to survive one more round.
Women boxers could be enjoying that same art. And if people think they do, they're only fooling themselves because most are watching not for the appreciation of the sport, but for the titillating amusement.
Remember the male vs. female bout in Seattle last year? The dog and the pony must have had the night off.
Most people watch only to laugh.
Right now, no one's giving us any other reason.
Tim Graham is a veteran boxing writer who pens a bi-weekly column for ESPN.com.