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Anne Sophie Mathis Moves Ahead
by Bernie McCoy
August 31, 2012

(AUG 31) On June 15 Holly Holm out-pointed Anne Sophie Mathis over ten rounds in Albuquerque, NM, reversing a seventh round TKO win by Mathis six months earlier in the same New Mexico venue. The two bouts were landmarks in the sport of Women's boxing as they matched fighters who many in the sport consider the two best female fighters, today; possibly the two best in the history of the sport. The rarity of such bouts, matching the "best of the best," made these fights compelling to the fans of the sport who have historically been disappointed when such proposed match-ups failed to materialize (Rijker/Martin, Ali/Wolfe). And for what it's worth, after seventeen rounds of Holm/Mathis I gave a slight edge to Anne Sophie Mathis based, primarily, on the dominance she showed in the first bout, contrasted to the comparatively narrow margin of the return bout (I am discounting the ludicrous 99-91 judgment turned in by one of the ringside arbitrators). Next up for Mathis is a September 22 bout with unbeaten Cecilia Braekhus in Denmark, Braekhus' home country.

In an interview conducted, because of geography and language restraints, via email on the Internet, I asked Mathis if she was concerned about fighting in Denmark. "If (the bout) goes to decision I find it hard to believe that would be in my favor." This seemed a clear sign that Mathis' strategy in Denmark will seek to avoid putting the fight into the hands of the judges. "Braekhus will be there (in front of me) and I will have the opportunity to fight," Mathis responded to a question of whether she was concerned that Braekhus would attempt to emulate the "stick and move" tactics that proved successful for Holly Holm in her return bout win.

Braekhus' record (five KOs in twenty wins) seems an indication she may lack the potential power to "punch with a puncher," much as Holm attempted to do in the first bout, leading to Mathis' TKO win. This would seem to portend a Mathis/Braekhu bout in the classic puncher/boxer tradition. And to be clear, Cecilia Braekhus, with twenty wins in as many bouts, is not merely some kind of "next" opponent. Braekhus has boxed 144 rounds against some of the best welterweights in Europe, utilizing ring skills that position her, prominently, in any discussion of the top fighters in the sport.

Mathis continued, "The winner (of Braekhus/Mathis) will be obliged, by the WBC, (the bout is also being contested for the WBA and WBO welterweight crowns) to meet Noni Tenge (who is fighting Layla McCarter on September 30 in South Africa)" With all due respect to the World Boxing Council and Noni Tenge, such an obligation comes up irrelevant in the larger context of what's best for the sport of Women's boxing. Because if Anne Sophie Mathis wins in Denmark, there is one fight and one fight only for her and that is a third bout with Holly Holm. The two Mathis/Holm bouts energized the sport like no other fight in recent memory and the "rubber" match would be equally, if not more, compelling. And this time, whoever promotes what will be the biggest bout in the history of the sport, should get it right: world wide media coverage during the run-up to the bout, "live" TV of the bout on a major sports/boxing outlet (ideal female bout for HBO's debut into the twenty-first century) and a venue that insures that the third bout in this historic trilogy is not cloaked in obscurity, as were the first two bouts.

Mathis claims not to have been 100% for the second bout: "I could not go to New Mexico (as I did) the previous time because my coach had a very large health problem. My primary training was done in Paris and that did not allow me to acclimate to the significant climate (altitude) change in New Mexico in the one week I had there. There was some talk with my coach about canceling the bout, but we did not want to do that. (Also I felt) the ring was oversized to the point that it would have been illegal in France and the canvas was as soft as a judo mat. (Also) the judge (referee) allowed too much holding throughout the fight and (I thought) Holly's tactics were somewhat amateurish."

It's clear that Mathis will not return to New Mexico and, in my opinion, that shouldn't be a "deal breaker" for a third bout. While the size and condition of the ring fits under the category of "home court" advantage, it is hard to overlook that these adjustments seemed specifically designed to enhance Holm's "stick and move" strategy. Is Mathis correct that such adjustments would have been disallowed at another site? Probably. But it's also fair to point out that Mathis' corner did not adjust their pre-fight strategy (make the fight in the middle of the ring, look to land big punches) to counteract Holm's tactics (a lot of movement, in and out sporadic punching and clinching to avoid middle of the ring exchanges). Over the ten rounds, Holm's corner won the strategy battle and, with it, a deserved close decision. Even Mathis admits that, "I knew I had lost before the decision was announced."

And Mathis is just as clear where she thinks the third fight, if there is one, should be, "I could very well meet her in Europe. Possibly the only European promoter who could (make) a deal with Fresquez is Sauerland and if I win the (Braekhus) bout why not make an agreement (for a bout in Europe). In all fairness, a third bout, if, indeed it can be put together, has to be held somewhere outside New Mexico (a high profile venue in Las Vegas would be an alternative). When fighters are as evenly matched as Holm and Mathis, some advantage is, inevitably, going to accrue to the fighter at who is at home The first two fights were held in Albuquerque. A third time is out of the question.

If indeed, a third fight does not materialize, as some smart people in the sport believe will be the ultimate conclusion, Anne Sophie Mathis, at 35, is not quite ready to "hang 'em up." "If I win (against Braekhus) I still have fighting to do. I have not been worn out (28 bouts, 138 rounds) and I will fight Tenge and then, possibly, a rematch with Braekhus and then consider going up in class because, by then, I (will) have seen everything (at welterweight).

Anne Sophie Mathis has already game planned a future, with and without a third Holm bout, including moving ahead to new challenges in a new weight class. But I think she knows, just as I think a very smart boxing guy in New Mexico knows, and certainly, the legion of boxing fans, energized by the first two Mathis/Holm bouts, know that without Mathis/Holm III there will be an unfilled gap in the sport of Women's boxing and in the legacy of two of that sport's premier fighters. Holm/Mathis III needs to happen and it needs to happen without the distracting encumbrance of the phrase "home court" anywhere in the scenario.
NB: As noted, the interview with Anne Sophie Mathis was conducted via email on the Internet. Mathis' answers were conveyed in a language in which I have little or no facility (no, not English, in this case, French). In interpreting Mathis' replies, help came from two of the leading lights in the sport of Women's boxing: Jill Diamond and Mary Ann Lurie Owen. Diamond, the prominent female member of the WBC, NABF and the major force behind WBC Cares, enlisted the help of Jean Pierre Perraux, a renowned New York bassist and guitarist, whose interpretation of Mathis' words proved invaluable to the writer. Lurie Owen, who oversees the popular "Boxing Rant" blog on Facebook, proved that she is as comfortable with the French language as she is when situated on boxing ring aprons, bringing to fight fans a peerless photographic record of many of the major bouts in the sport. Bernie McCoy

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