Thoughts on Rousey v Holm
By now, the kick seen ’round the world has played out across countless twitter posts, Instagram photos, newspaper headlines, YouTube replays, and conversations, casual and otherwise at gyms, across breakfast tables, on subway platforms, and in every other place one can think of where people stop to shoot the breeze.
Even my sixteen year old daughter and her pals were full of opinions this morning, to a person, cheering on Holly Holm for her stupendous and stunning win over Ronda Rousey, to capture the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship title in the co-main event of UFC193. A bit of schadenfreude aside, for what has been interpreted as arrogance on the part of Rousey towards the boxing world, male and female, Holm’s picture perfect performance, quick hands, and focus, have brought into sharp relief, Holm’s superior multi-dimensional skills, ring savvy, focus and insistence, that if boxing couldn’t bring her the attention, opportunity and exposure she needs, then switching to MMA would.
That Rousey has garnered the attention she has received since bursting on the scene at Strikeforce, and becoming the first female to crack Dana White’s all male Ultimate Fighting Championship bastion, has been nothing short of phenomenal. She has garnered well-deserved accolades and a cross-over recognition into the wider public consciousness of a female martial sports practitioner that hasn’t been seen since the hey day of Laila Ali’s forays into the boxing ring. One could argue that what Rousey has achieved is all the more stunning since she did not bring the name recognition of a famous father into the Octogan with her. What she did bring was a bronze Olympic medal in Judo, talent, gumption, and the kind of golden-girl good looks that get recognized, but that shouldn’t take away from her do-or-die performances in the ring and what that has meant to popular culture and the perception of what fighting females are capable of–very much on equal footing with their male counterparts.
UFC193 is also notable for having had two-main events–both of which were female bouts. A very, very long way from the kind of offerings UFC had on tap for its fans a mere two years ago.
But it is to Holly Holm and the women she represents we must really speak to: the female boxers who work hard day in and day out for peanuts, but who ply their trade anyway for love of the sport and the sense of accomplishment that comes with climbing into the ring. Holm came into her battle with Rousey not only with a 9-0 MMA record (now 10-0), but a 33-2-3 (9-KOs) boxing career behind her with a string of championship wins, and a veritable alphabet soup of titles to include WBC, WBF, WBA, IBA, NABF, WIBA, and IFBA (and maybe a title or two, I haven’t found). She’s also fought, arguably, some of the best in the business to include such fighters as Chevelle Hallback, Jane Crouch, Belinda Laracuente, Mary Jo Saunders, Myriam Lamare, Anne-Sophe Mathis (who KO’d Holm in 2011 only to lose to her six months later) and Diana Prazak.
What is galling is that none of those battles, ten-round championship bouts all, with arguably the pound-for-pound greats in the sport, ever made it to Showtime or HBO or ESPN or were ever really known outside the tiny world of female boxing — and in Holly’s case, the local New Mexico sports community and their fans.
In fact, none of these fights were more than tiny ripples nationally, although blessedly Sue Fox’s WBAN was there to sing their praises if for no one else than folks like me who actually care about the sport and the women who put so much of themselves into pursing a professional career. And goodness knows while to a person, each of those fighters would deserve consideration at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, with the exception of consideration by the fledgling International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame (full disclosure, I am on the board), they will be forgotten, never mind having never really been known.
Still, those fights were sellouts, with screaming, cheering fans who LOVED those battles and coined them as the “fight of the night.”
More galling was to see Ronda Rousey’s face on the cover of boxing’s venerable Ring Magazine. Okay, okay, yep, I “get” it, she’s a true million-dollar-baby, but come on … she is NOT a boxer, and if the point was to honor the notion of female athletes in the ring, why not Holly Holm with an extraordinary record of achievement in the sport. But then again, perhaps I answered my own question, when it comes to women in boxing, there is utter silence, and not even Christy Martin cracked that code during her sensational career.
In the run up to the fight, Alicia Ashley, a champion many times over, who at 48, beat Bernard Hopkins by a month to become the oldest boxing champion in the world, said the following: “I feel it’s insulting to traditional female boxers that Ring Magazine chose for its historic cover a female that’s not a boxer. I think a montage of iconic female fighters to reflect the evolution of women in the sport would’ve celebrated women more than creating controversy. The fact that female MMA fighters are more accepted than female boxers is a testament that the more exposure given, the more common place it becomes. The fact that Holly Holm and other females of her caliber are crossing over into MMA with increasing regularity because they are more [likely] to be showcased, which translates into increased pay or sponsorship can only be attributed to the lack of support women are getting from promoters. The sport of women’s boxing will not advance if promoters insist on using one female to reinvigorate it. It certainly didn’t happen with Christy Martin or Laila Ali and it won’t with Ronda Rousey if she is the only female shown twice a year.”
Perhaps the Holly Holm win, coupled with the achievements of female boxers in USA Boxing’s elite program coming into the second Olympic cycle, will bring promoters and sports television producers to their senses about the opportunities for the great female boxing battles to come. And perhaps too, Oscar De La Hoya, who promised to put women on his fight cards at last year’s historic WBC women’s boxing conference will finally come through–though I tend to doubt it since his idea of promoting female boxing was to sponsor Ronda Rousey. Hmmm.
Oh and did I mention that Claressa Shields, will have the opportunity to compete for the chance to win a second gold medal for the USA in Rio in 2016–another greatest story, largely untold (and no Wheaties box, surprised?).
Meanwhile, women’s boxing does have an extraordinary champion to cheer for in Holly Holm, and in what can only be described as a true female boxer’s style, she felt only gratitude at having been given that chance to prove her metal.
All I can say is this: Female boxers … this 60-something girl boxer salutes you!
Holly Holm’s tearful, humble acknowledgement of her win: