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The NABF and Six Rounds: "Burying the Lede"
By Bernie McCoy
January 25, 2010


(JAN 25)  "Burying the lede" is a newspaper (remember newspapers?) term noting that a piece of writing "emphasizes details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing (or omitting) more essential points." Here's a recent example under the head, "NABF Female Rule Change:" "The NABF is a stepping stone to a World Title. We want to differentiate from other belts. We are dedicated to encouraging fights within the USA, Canada and Mexico during an economically challenged time. We also want to motivate young fighters. Therefore we are going to allow 6-8 round championship fights. We will also look seriously as (sic) the athlete's amateur record in considering their qualifications. Hopefully this will diminish your costs but not the quality of your fighters."

This particular item served to generate considerable reaction within the boxing community. It prompted, on cyberspace communication vehicles, present and former female boxers, boxing trainers and managers, ringside officials, the occasional fan and even the premier photographic chronicler of the sport, to react in, mainly, high dudgeon, to the perceived apocalypse that would descend upon Women's boxing should six round championship bouts become a reality. These critics are, primarily, people who care deeply about the sport of Women's boxing and are quick to come to the sport's defense and criticize any threat they consider detrimental to the sport and it's athletes. In it's mildest form, the particular criticism of the NABF "rule change" centered on the fact that six two minute rounds is stretching the definition of "championship fights." I think that criticism is, at least, partially valid and I suspect, so too, does the NABF.

That's because this "rule change" isn't mainly about six round title fights. Neither is it about whether twelve minutes of boxing can determine a regional boxing champion; it's certainly not about demeaning the finely tuned athletes who currently grace a sport that has not given back to those female boxers anything remotely close to what those athletes have given to the sport. No, what this "change" is about is a step towards engaging those who can provide the sport of Women's boxing with the opportunity to showcase the abundant talents of the sport's athletes while, at the same time, move the sport forward after a steady ten year downward trajectory.

It's, at least, partly an appeal to boxing promoters, primarily in the US, where the vast majority of the best female boxers are located, to take a fresh look at female boxing and provide the sport with something only boxing promoters can effect: exposure on boxing cards. It's about working with those promoters in order to provide compatability between the sport of female boxing and those who promote the sport of boxing. The goal is to gain meaningful exposure and visibility for Women's boxing, a sport that has, for the past decade, undergone a steady decline. It's about providing a modicum of proactive leadership from within the sport, another element that has been largely absent for the last decade.

In the first quarter of the first year of the first decade of the new century (March 3, 2000) Christy Martin, who had, almost by herself, carried the nascent sport of female boxing into it's modern era, fought ten rounds, on the under-card of the Felix Trinidad/David Reid WBA title bout at Caesars Palace. Her opponent that night was Belinda Laracuente and those ten rounds had boxing fans talking for days afterward: about the ring skill of both fighters; about two boxers who almost stole the show of the Don King promotion; about the narrowness of the Martin win; about how soon there would be a rematch. The sport of Women's boxing, at this point, in this brand new decade of this brand new century, seemed poised on the cusp of a success unimagined in the 19'70's when a network announcer (Tom Brookshier), likened a rare female boxing match on CBS Sports Spectacular to a "saloon fight in a western movie."

But as the decade proceeded, the sport of Women's boxing failed to continue the upward spiral of success portended by the Martin/Laracuente bout. In point of fact, in spite of the burgeoning influx of talented female fighters into the professional ranks, the sport began a slow, inexorable decline. The reasons for this were myriad: the best of the female boxers were often reluctant to fight the best of the competition: Martin/Rijker, Ali/Wolfe, both, potentially, seminal bouts for the sport, failed to materialize; Sumya Anani, who is in any conversation about the best female fighter of that decade, electrified a Friday Night Fight audience and commentator Teddy Atlas on ESPN by stopping a tough, resilient Jane Couch in four rounds, and then, incredibly, Anani endured 15 months, in the middle of the decade, and in the midst of her skill as a fighter, unable to find an opponent willing to climb in the ring with her. Throughout the sport, boxing management, seeking to build up the records of their fighters, put "getting a W" ahead of "making a good fight." And as good, competitive female bouts decreased so too did the television exposure available to the sport.

And the sport of Women's boxing, over that ten year period, experienced a decline in popularity despite the fact that never before in the history of the sport had there been so many good female fighters in the professional ranks. Eventually, of course, the inevitable: In spite of the growing number of talented fighters, the televised opportunities for the sport went missing. A lack of direction for Women's boxing, from within the sport, eventually served to severely decrease the sport's relationship with television networks and leading boxing promoters. And thus it was sadly appropriate that the decade ended with a manifestation of the sport's decline when a scheduled bout in Albuquerque, NM, featuring two of the best female fighters in the sport was scratched due the inability of the overseeing authorities of the program to solve a relatively simple administrative dispute. Albuquerque is not a great distance from Las Vegas, but, in terms of prestige of the sport of Women's boxing, Holm/Hernandez was light years distant from Martin/Laracuente. The decline of the sport of Women's boxing, over the first decade of the new century, was slow rather than precipitous and while the sport's ten year timeline of descent was marked by a few sporadic highlights, there was, unmistakably, a direct line of decline from the bright spotlight of Caesars Palace to the obscurity of embarrassment in New Mexico.

It serves no purpose to point fingers, too many share the blame for the decline of a sport that could have been, that should have been, so much better. Fault, however, can be labeled in one word: leadership. There was none in the sport of Women's boxing. For ten years, the sport existed in an atmosphere of stasis. It was the thinking of far too many of those in a position to move the sport forward, that two women climbing into the ring with gloves on would be sufficient to captivate a changing sports environment. In addition, it was far too comfortable, for far too many in the sport, to maintain the status quo. No concerted effort was made, from within the sport, to sell the quality of the athletes, the excitement of the competition; to sell what has always been intrinsically appealing about the sport of boxing, in this instance, embellished with the added appeal of finely trained female athletes.

So let's not "bury the lede" on what the NABF is trying to do with a slight tweak of a sport that needs all the help it can get. Let's, likewise, be very clear that the NABF is not the entire sport of Women's boxing; it is not even a world wide organization and any change the NABF may proffer is not going to be seismic in terms of the effect on the overall sport. But let's also be very clear that what the NABF is doing is taking a proactive initiative and signaling that a major regional female boxing organization is willing to work to provide compatibility with the logistical requirements of boxing promoters and their fight cards. And given the recent history of the sport, any type of clear direction for Women's boxing, must only be viewed as a positive effort. Will it be successful? Will boxing promoters take another look at the sport of Women's boxing? I don't know. I hope so, because ten more years like the last decade will be disastrous for the sport. And in the event such an initiative results in some good female fighters getting the opportunity to show how appealing the sport of Women's boxing can be, this move by the NABF can be fairly held as an example of something the sport hasn't seen in this century, an example of leadership. And that's something the sport of Women's boxing has been lacking for far too long.   Bernie McCoy

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