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Women's Boxing Grows in the Garden
By Bernie McCoy
February 24, 2009


(FEB 24) Madison Square Garden, in New York City, has always been a good place to watch a night of boxing, particularly if talented athletes are answering the bell. Not every fight night at the Garden is Ali/Frazier I and for my money give me the old, city block square building on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets on a Friday night for boxing "as it oughta be." But if I have to choose between a casino in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut, a parking lot in Las Vegas or a bull ring in Mexico City, I'm in the Garden every time.

Boxing came back to the Garden last Saturday night, replete with the usual mix of blocks of neighborhood groups sitting together in the upper reaches of the place; the sport's lifers roaming the aisles seeking out conversation and inside information about the "main go;" flags being paraded throughout the arena reflecting the ethnicity of fighters on the card and, on this night, two skilled female athletes who provided just short of ten full rounds of good boxing; not good female boxing, good boxing.

Kina Malpartida and Maureen Shea were fighting for the vacant WBA super featherweight title. Malpartida was relatively unknown in New York, coming into the fight with a record of eight wins out of eleven bouts, all either on the West Coast or in Australia. Shea, on the other hand, came to the title bout as a native of the Bronx with an Irish name, both long-standing bona fides in both New York City and Garden boxing. In fact, this was Shea's third appearance on a Garden card. The crowd was with the 13-0 Bronx fighter from the walk to the ring.

The little I knew of Malpartida came from a woman in Australia, Mischa Merz, a talented writer and amateur boxer, who described the fighter as "tall, extremely athletic, a great mover, a bit of a gun," adding, "this will definitely be a challenge for Moe (Shea)." It seems prescience can be added to Merz's arsenal of talents. Malpartida had had only two fights in the past fourteen months, both losses, both to highly regarded fighters, Ela Nunez and Rhonda Luna. Shea is a New York fixture, starting in the Daily News Golden Gloves and traversing, as a professional, through various New York fight venues from the Yonkers PAL Center, to Iona College in New Rochelle, to the Westchester County Center in White Plains to the Garden. The "book" on Shea was that she had been brought along "carefully" and with the exception of veteran Olivia Gerula, Shea's opponents seemed to lack quality skills. This, in turn, raised a question about the level of Shea's talent, since wins over overmatched opposition seldom bring out the best in any fighter. On Saturday, in Madison Square Garden, against a quality opponent, Maureen Shea answered many of those questions about her capability in the ring.

Both fighters hit the canvas during the bout, Malpartida in the opening round and Shea, just before the bout was stopped in the final round. In between these bookend knockdowns, Malpartida's best moments came when she kept Shea at arms length in the middle of the ring, counter punching, most effectively with her right hand. Shea came forward, "bringing the fight" for almost the entire bout, trying to cut the ring, attempting to force Malpartida into a corner or back on the ropes, where Malpartida's four inch height and reach advantage were minimized. Early in the bout, with the first round knockdown probably still fresh in Malpartida's mind, the strategy worked better than it did as the fight progressed into the latter stages. Malpartida was in complete control in the tenth round as Shea appeared to tire a bit. Still, the knockout came as a stunning climax.

It was a good fight. I had it closer than a post fight examination of the judge's scorecards which indicated Malpartida comfortably ahead entering the final round. Both fighters are well schooled and have good ring skills. It was a very good example of very good boxing, by fighters who happened to be female. Did the ten rounds capture "fight of the night" laurels? Maybe not, but if that discussion comes up, those ten rounds, at least, get a mention. It most assuredly was a very good advertisement for the sport of Women's boxing on a platform that commands attention. Hopefully attention was paid, by matchmakers, promoters and those who, ostensibly, plan the future course of the sport of boxing. Women's boxing, when done right, deserves a spot on any program or card seeking quality entertainment and good boxing.

As for the two athletes, on this night Kina Malpartida was the better fighter. She deserves the title, coming into an imposing venue, fighting a hometown fighter, surviving a quick opening round knockdown and charging back to win with devastating finality. Maureen Shea, on the other hand, did, indeed, answer many of the questions that have trailed her thus far in her ring career. She does have the talent to compete with the quality fighters in the sport. Hopefully, she will continue along that path in the future, because the questions about her skill sets in the ring have been answered. Kina Malpartida and Maureen Shea made good use of their time in the Garden, they can and should be a large part of their sport's future growth.

Bernie McCoy

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