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Thursday, February 6
Updated: February 10, 3:12 PM ET
Historical Events in Women's Boxing

By Sue TL Fox

While women's boxing can loosely trace its beginnings to London in the 1720's, throughout the ensuing decades there were various exhibitions and scattered bouts until the 1950's. Then, several fighters, most notably Barbara Buttrick, JoAnn Hagen (Verhaegen), and Phyllis Kugler, staged professional fights. The sport rekindled again in the 1970's thanks to the efforts of several important trailblazers.
Christy Martin
Martin's big win on the Tyson undercard was also critical for the sport.

The 1970's, in particular, were highlighted by many women's boxing "firsts," including many states lifting bans for women to box; issuing "first time" boxing licenses, sanctioning boxing matches; and the various commissions approving more than four rounds for women's bouts. Although WBAN (Women Boxing Archive Network) looks at every single historical event as playing a part in the sport, here it cites its Top Historical Events that has impacted the sport as it is today.

  • 1975-1978: Here's the official start of boxing licenses. In 1975, Caroline Svendsen receives the first documented boxing license in the United States in the state of Nevada, and has a sanctioned boxing match in a scheduled four-rounder in Virginia City, Nevada. In 1976, boxer Pat Pineda is the first woman to be licensed in California; and in 1978, after an on-going lawsuit in the state of New York, three high-profile women boxers, Cathy "Cat" Davis, Jackie Tonawanda, and Marian "Lady Tyger" Trimiar receive their boxing licenses. There are many women who had received first-time licenses during this period, but these particular historical licensing events initiate a flurry of publicity that in turn encouraged other women to join the sport. (WBAN has spoken to past boxers from the 1950's who claim that they had received boxing licenses, but at this present time there has been no documentation to substantiate that information).

  • 1979: Shirley "Zebra Girl" Tucker challenges the state of California to increase the number of rounds women could fight. Tucker was backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, and ultimately was able to force the California Commission to change their regulations, which at the time forbade female fighters from fighting more than four rounds.

  • April 1987: Former world women's lightweight champ Marian "Lady Tyger" Trimiar stages a well-publicized month-long hunger strike, losing nearly 30 pounds, to advocate better money and conditions for professional female boxers -- even though she is protesting for others and not herself. Trimiar and others direct their picketing to the promoters at the time who are putting on televised cards. Trimiar tells the media, "Unless women get more recognition, we will be fighting just as a novelty for the rest of our lives. There will be no future."

  • April 16, 1992: After eight-years in court in Massachusetts, Gail Grandchamp of North Adams, Mass., wins her battle to fight by a state Superior Court judge who rules it was illegal to deny someone a chance to box based on gender. During her battle to win the right to box as an amateur, she passes the age of 36, the maximum age for amateur fighters. Even though she knew it would not help her as an amateur, Grandchamp continues her successful efforts, and eventually did box professionally for a time.

  • March 1993: Dallas Malloy, then 16, became the first female to challenge USA Boxing's bylaw that did not allow women to compete, and sues in federal court for gender discrimination. Malloy wins her case, which generates both national and international publicity. Malloy and Heather Poyner become the first to fight in the state of Washington in a sanctioned amateur bout. (It should be noted that this event has been portrayed in the news media as a "history first" for women boxing in amateurs, but WBAN has actually dated sanctioned amateur boxing for women boxers in Minnesota in 1978).

  • 1995: The New York Daily News Golden Gloves tournament includes women in their event for the first time. An amateur female boxer, Dee Hamaguchi, is credited for breaking this barrier, allowing this event to become a breeding ground for future professional world champions. In 1994, Dee had applied to fight in this tournament without revealing that she was a female, mailing in her entry form using the initial "D" without giving away her gender. Unfortunately Dee did not get her schedule for the physical exam and did not participate.

  • March 15, 1996: Christy Martin fights Deirdre Gogarty. Considered by many to be the birth of modern professional women's boxing, the two staged a bloody six-round slugfest on a Mike Tyson pay-per-view undercard, clearly impressing those ringside and a world wide audience, and upstaging Iron Mike's easy win over Frank Bruno. A flood of worldwide coverage follows, including a Sports Illustrated cover story on Martin a few weeks later. Sadly, while Martin could have easily carried the torch for the sport, she makes it perfectly clear through many public comments she is not an advocate for women's boxing in general, but instead is only in the sport for one person - herself.

  • Feb. 1998: In a landmark lawsuit, Britain Jane "The Fleetwood Assassin" Couch takes the British Boxing Board of Control to task for sex discrimination over their refusal to grant her a license to fight in the UK. Couch, who had been denied a boxing license since June 1997, and had to come to the United States in order to box, was relentless in her battle to face the BBC in this denial of her right to box. Couch wins the right to "fight" and in Streatham, UK, on Nov. 25, 1998, stops German Simona Lukic in the second round.

  • Oct. 1999: What was billed as the "first" sanctioned bout between a man and a woman takes place in Seattle, Wash. Margaret McGregor faces male boxer Loi Chow in a fight scheduled for four two-minute rounds. This event took on international presence, and brought to the surface many troubling issues in the world of women's boxing. After all of the hoopla was over, it was determined that the fight would be considered an "exhibition" and therefore was far from being the "first" of mixed matches that have taken place off and on throughout the history of women's boxing.

  • Oct. 1999: Muhammad Ali's Daughter, Laila "She-Bee Stingin" Ali, 21, makes her pro debut at the Turning Stone Casino, in Verona, NY. The news coverage leading up to this bout, and the media attention since she has gotten into the sport has surpassed any of the coverage of any one boxer on the scene in the past, and/or in the present. Her most significant fight -- and the sport's most significant fight since Martin-Gogarty -- comes June 8, 2001, when 8,000 fans and hundreds of media trek to upstate New York, for Ali-Frazier IV, a showdown with Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, daughter of longtime Ali archrival Joe Frazier. The two silence many critics with their spirited and entertaining eight-round bout, won by Ali. The fight draws more than 100,000 pay-per-view buys, again surprising the experts.

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