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Seven Rounds That Show the Way
By Bernie McCoy
December 18, 2006


I recently watched a tape of the remarkably good Ann Sophie Mathis/Myriam Lamare fight, from France, and I thought of a line a very smart woman once gave me about the present being "simply the ever moving outer edge of the past." Here's how good those seven rounds, that ended with Lamare, at last, giving in to Mathis' relentless attack, were: you had no trouble thinking of the past and wondering whether "this is what Rijker/Martin would have been." And I'm not talking about the Bob Arum-induced fiasco of 2005, but, rather, Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker, as they were before the turn of the last century, climbing into the ring, maybe around 1998, when both women were at the peak of their talent. That never happened and watching Mathis/Lamare, you were once again freshly disappointed. Here's how good those seven rounds were: you barely noticed there was anyone else in the ring until the referee stepped in to call a halt to this compelling bout, you simply could not take your eyes off the nonstop action created by these two fighters.

That bout in France and those two athletes once more provided validation for the premise that when two very good fighters eschew one more easy bout, one more predetermined win and, instead, step into the ring with each other, Women's boxing can be as good a sport as any of it's current counterparts. Mathis/Lemare did not receive much notice on this side of the Atlantic, only among the hard core followers of the sport, but the clarion call that the bout signaled will, hopefully, reach the into the mindsets of the female boxers currently at the top of the sport in this country, along with those who, purportedly, administer Women's boxing.

I'm thinking of Laila Ali, Mary Jo Sanders, Holly Holm and their respective "teams" to pinpoint three of the best known and talented of the current crop of female boxers. All three fighters have generated considerable publicity and well deserved renown, while establishing formidable records in the ring; Ali, on a national level, Sanders and Holm, on a regional basis. Each of these three athletes currently top the list of female fighters in terms of name recognition and each of the three has, in common, considerable talent inside the ring. All three fighters have the benefit and support of competent boxing and marketing organizations, and as a result, they have, in concert with those organizations, the power to make any matchup in the sport of Women's boxing a reality. Ali, Sanders and Holm have the name recognition, the drawing power and the talent to be part of bouts that would, easily, be the U S version of Mathis/Lamare, not only from a skill standpoint, but from the point of view that bouts featuring these three fighters against each other would be a "best ever" benchmark for the sport of Women's boxing.

Let's just conjure, for the moment, a matchup between Mary Jo Sanders and Holly Holm, a bout that immediately morphs into a present day "Rijker/Martin." Subsequently, since both Holm and Sanders have expressed a desire to "move up in weight," let's further project that the Holm/Sanders winner moves on to meet Laila Ali. Here's what happens, if bouts such as these materialize; Women's boxing suddenly generates and probably exceeds the type of "buzz" that the sport had, briefly, during the "Million Dollar Baby" movie excitement. The difference being that, this time, the "buzz" is not concentrated on a fictional fighter on a movie screen, this time the talk is about three very real, very talented female fighters who have done something extraordinary in the current environment of Women's boxing; they have agreed to step in the ring with each other. If, and when, that scenario comes to pass, the sport of Women's boxing, in sport sections and TV networks across the country, rockets by such sports as the WNBA, overnight. Bouts featuring Laila Ali, Mary Jo Sanders and Holly Holm against each other would create the type of coverage that might even prompt HBO to recognize that the date on the current calendar is 2006, not 1956. And for that to happen, it takes only one step: three good fighters decide it's finally time for the best in the sport of Women's boxing to step up against the best competition available.

But, let's be clear, neither Laila Ali, Mary Jo Sanders or Holly Holm, collectively or individually, owe anything to the sport of Women's boxing. As with every other sport, every other business, individuals, while cognizant of their sport or their organization, have a primary allegiance only to themselves. It is, however, a fact that elite athletes in any sport, and particularly in an individual sport such as boxing, usually have an ongoing, inbred desire to showcase their exceptional talent. Laila Ali, Mary Jo Sanders and Holly Holm, given their skill, probably do, somewhere in their recesses of their competitive psyche, feel the need to display their talent against the best possible opponent. Instead of "sure thing" bouts against "middle of the pack' opponents, instead of another bout against another fighter with a losing record, instead of one more fight against a previously defeated fighter, an Ali/Sanders/Holm round robin is the kind of marquee attraction that showcases not only good fighters against other good fighters, but are bouts that, for the first time in a long time, maybe for the first time ever feature the best the sport of Women's boxing has to offer in head/head competition. These are bouts in which the outcome is, clearly, in doubt before the opening bell, bouts that would most closely approximate the extraordinary seven rounds that was Mathis/Lamare. That's what most of the great athletes seek, an opportunity to compete and win against other great athletes and leave a legacy for themselves in their sport.

I hope that's the case with these three fighters. I example them because of their commonality of talent, because of their ability to, almost instantly, propel the sport of Women's boxing to a height it has only fantasized about achieving, when, in the past, the top fighters have talked, in vain, as it turned out, about fighting each other. But, primarily, I talk about these fighters because, to date, none of the three, at least in my mind, has achieved the plateaus their talent has the potential to take them to. I'm not a matchmaker, I make sentences and I know there are other fights out there for Laila Ali, Mary Jo Sanders and Holly Holm; easier fights, certainly less compelling fights, from an objective observer's standpoint. However, by stepping into the ring with each other, Laila Ali, Mary Jo Sanders and Holly Holm will provide themselves with the opportunity to test their talent at the highest level the sport has to offer. Ann Sophie Mathis and Myriam Lamare reached that level recently in France. It was as good as the sport has to offer and it showed the way for three very good fighters in this country. All that's necessary now is a desire for greatness.

Bernie McCoy

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