“Women are not made to be hit in the breast and face like that” was Muhummad Ali’s myopic view on the matter in 1978; for the kitchen, catwalk or begrudgingly the boardro
“Women are not made to be hit in the breast and face like that” was Muhummad Ali’s myopic view on the matter in 1978; for the kitchen, catwalk or begrudgingly the boardroom, but the buck stops at imitating men’s rough and tumble. When boxing’s greatest ambassador discredits your combat sport, however skewed the view may be, you know the discipline has a dire public image.
But the 21st century has broken; Laila Ali became a crossover female boxing star much to her father’s ire and women’s boxing gained sanctioning to the extent that in 2001 ferocious femmes were pitted at an inaugural World Championships. Incrementally, the world has grown to champion sexual equality, even if it means bruising and belligerent trades for those who where once termed ‘the fairer sex’. But for Women Boxers the road to emancipation has been particularly impassable, with the notion of a female’s supple skin absorbing rocking hooks and stiff jabs, abhorred as too ghoulish by the majority.
As with the thoughtless critiques of many sports, audience disapproval in reality regularly equates to misunderstanding, or in all likelihood flagrant ignorance.
I for one have been guilty of this. Why don’t I like NFL; simple, the stop, start nature of the game frustrates me. Have I ever sampled NFL; save a seldom glance to be baffled by the technicalities and note that there are regular intervals, no. A qualified arbiter, not quite. By the same token, how many of those who cringed and bristled at the very mention of Women’s Boxing had taken their ample time to set eyes on the supposedly distasteful attraction?
With the accreditation of Women’s Boxing as an Olympic sport at London 2012, female pugilists had for the first time been permitted a striking platform upon which to edify the world as to the craft and sadism latent in a girl’s fists. Down netball jerseys, leotards and Pointe shoes; arise the next in-demand accoutrements in any school girl’s PE kit, the impenetrable mouthguard, the cocooning hand gauze and the trusty boxing glove.
Tellingly, when the first lady threw a punch in anger at the games, any outstanding criticisms scarpered. There was a distinct dearth of noble males embarking on a passé campaign to free dames from the savageness of boxing at the London, Excel arena. Well, if there were any naysayers in attendance, the fighting prowess on exhibition swiftly quelled their stomach for their quest.
Nestling down to watch GB’s Nicola Adams wrest gold from three-time world champion Ren Cancan of China, you were treated to a glut of delights which only boxing can afford its battle-worn enthusiasts.
There was prodigious skill; Adams showcased the canny ability to dart in and out to strafe her opponent, punishing her with a bountiful repertoire of jabs and counter hooks. There was crunching power; Cancun was floored by a discombobulating Adams left hook in the second round, a rare sight in the head-guarded world of amateur boxing. There was a slew of heart; Cancun extricating herself from the heap she became on the canvas to harass and courageously track the slick Adams to the final bell.
Hell, for those armchair viewers with a pining for razzmatazz, Adams even managed to orchestrate a brief “Ali shuffle” in the final round, paying homage to her idol. This was boxing of the highest order, a smorgasbord of the intoxicating appeals that characterise the sporting tradition of pugilism.
Crassly, it could be depicted as Frazier- Ali in sports bras, but perhaps more befittingly (and tactfully) this was the emergence of Women’s Boxing as a credible, breathtaking sport, unquestionably worthy of its Olympic endorsement.
And so, the Olympics beguiling power to overhaul outdated dogmas, or redirect the winds of prevailing thought is demonstrated again. Over the years, the Olympics have impressed upon the global consciousness the irrepressibility of black society with Jesse Owens 1936 triumphs in the heart of Nazi Germany, the marginalisation of the Aboriginal people with Cathy Freeman’s win in Sydney 2000, and highlighted the American Civil Rights Movement with Mexico ‘68’s ‘Black Power Salute’. No matter how big or small the message, the Olympics has always constituted a global mouthpiece able to trumpet the octaves of both sporting and political change.
London 2012 has at present yielded Sarah Attar, the first Saudi women to evade the manacles of gender inequality to represent her nation, and Oscar Pistorious, the first double amputee to storm the able-bodied Summer Olympics, participating in the 400m. You can now add to this the termination of any nagging neurosis over the value or righteousness of Women’s boxing. One of London’s enduring legacies will be a generation of girls inspired to pursue their fistic ambitions; a dream now as conceivable as any other.