Over the weekend Eddie Hearn put on the biggest female lead card in British boxing history, with 2 world title fights and an interim world title fight. It was, by far, the most important female card in British boxing history, and a great sign of what could happen in female boxing. It was lead by the fantastic Katie Taylor, who again showed she was class, who was backed up by Terri Harper and Rachel Ball, both of whom won in tough looking bouts.
The show was a start in what appears to be a long game for Hearn to dominate female boxing over the coming years and, on paper, it seems like he has spotted a whole in the market, and is looking to corner it off. Sign up the biggest and best names, and use female boxing as key part of his business.
Fans from North Korea, China, and Japan however may well feel that we've seen big pushes behind female boxing before. And we've seen them burn out. In fact we've seen several big pushes in Asia behind female boxing, and in some cases they seemed to be going somewhere before fizzling out without ever making the big break through they needed.
A great example was China, who pushed the sport hard in the early part of 00's. They hosted an all-female card in 2004, way ahead of the current wave of female boxing, and their first 3 world champions were all female. The first was Gao Li Jun, in March 2006, followed by Xiyan Zhang a month later and then Wang Ya Nan in 2008. They looked like they were going to be a super power for female boxing. Then nothing.
It wasn't until Cai Zongju in 2017 that China had a woman who was seemingly a bankable commodity, with model like looks, a successful style in the ring and solid skills. Her reign never got going and she faded back in the amateur system.
North Korea was another country that got in early on, and the national had the aim of dominating the 2008 Olympics with female boxing, before the IOC decided to delay Olympic female boxing.
Instead of moping around the North Korean's turned professional and were quickly linking up with the WBC. In fact in 2005 North Korea hosted a world title triple header for 3 WBC female world titles, with all 3 titles being won by North Korean women, on an all-female show. It seemed as if North Korea was going to be a real factor in female boxing thanks to their talent scouts and trainers which had been preparing fighters to prove the nations ability. That quickly petered out and their notable fighters, like Kwang Ok Kim, Eun Soon Choi and Myung Ok Ryu both ended their careers before 2010.
Fair enough, you might think, who would want to travel to North Korea to fight? Well they had fighters like Yazmin Rivas, Ana Maria Torres and Alicia Ashley travel to North Korea to face the locals. At that time the options for fighters was thin and it seems that Kim Jong Il was going to do all that was needed to prove how dominant North Korea was.
Then nothing. Nothing at all. North Korean female boxing stands out as a footnote. An oddity. A strange, short lived experiment, that lasted a few years, then poof. Vanished. It was over.
Of course China and North Korea are hardly boxing power houses. They are oddities. Strange countries who didn't really have male boxing, and they lacked structure. They lacked a true professional boxing foundation. One country that has that is Japan, and they too have tried to open up the female boxing market.
Originally the Japan Boxing Commission was against female boxing, and the first females in Japanese boxing weren't recognised by the JBC. Pioneers like Masako Takatsuki in the 1970's had to fight under the auspices of the All Japan Women's Martial Arts Federation, and even in the 1990's Nojima "Sugar" Miyuki couldn't get backed properly as a female boxer. Much like Britain's Jane Couch, who had to battle the BBBof C for a license.
The JBC were really slow to get involved, and instead it was the now defunct Japan Women's Boxing Commission (JWBC) who controlled female boxing involving Japanese fighters. The JWBC was founded in 1999 and ran until 2008, when the JBC finally accepted female boxing.
When the JBC finally accepted women's boxing it attempted to make up for lost time, and the Japan Professional Boxing Association (JPBA) ended up promoting female boxing shows as an almost annual event under the "G-Legend" banner of shows. This consisted of 6 female only shows from 2008 to 2014, including 2 triple world title shows on Hina Matsuri, or "Doll's Day".
It seemed that the JPBA had seen a gap in the market, and something they could build on. Not only that but they were tying it into a day, set aside for "Girl's", like we've seen with New Year's Eve being set aside for a big boxing event.
In 2014 the JPBA stopped running their female only shows, with other promoters, like Futur Promotions, reason Promotions, Watanabe Promotions and even Shinsei all promoting female only shows. It seemed clear the push was on for female boxing in Japan.
The push behind fighters like Naoko Fujioka, Ayaka Miyao, Tenkai Tsunami, Momo Koseki, Naomi Togashi, Etsuko Tada, Mari Ando, Shindo Go, Naoko Shibata, Kayoko Ebata and others helped Japan to become one of the most important countries for female boxing.
That push has continued, don't get us wrong, but it feels very much like it's been tailed back a lot. The new generation, which were supposed to be inspired by the likes of Koseki, Fujioka, Miyao and Tsunamo, haven't really emerged in the numbers Japanese boxing was hoping for. The likes of Eri Matsuda, and Kasumi Saeki are promising, but they seemingly stand alone in the new charge of female fighters. A lot of the veterans are still hanging on but the long term future for female boxing in Japan doesn't look like that that many had hoped for. They have failed to create the new star, the female Joichiro Tatsuyoshi, the enigma to drive a generation.
Japanese female boxing is still alive, but it's the women from a decade ago that are still the key players. New wave of talent hasn't come. It's the veterans, still, that are keeping things going.
So what does this mean in regards to the UK?
Well, maybe it means nothing. It might not matter. But it might, and it might be a sign that just because we're seeing female boxing pushed hard now it might not be pushed for long. 2020 has been the perfect year for female boxing. Promoters have been needing "cheaper" world title fights, and they have been used perfectly by Eddie Hearn in the UK, filling up cards, assuring fans a world title fight, even if some of them have been rather poor bouts.
The key however to the success isn't the here and now. The key, as we found out in Japan, is what's next?
Hearn is talking about trying to get unified champions across the weight classes in female boxing, which sounds brilliant, even with the caveat it's coming from a man who has said a lot over the years. The reality however is that this generation of fighters needs to inspire the fighters of 6, 8 or 10 years down the line. That's the key to a longer term success of female boxing.
Will Hearn continue to pile money in to female boxing, and say it's equal to men boxing when we have fans back in the venues? Will he continue to push it when the world is back to "normal"? Or is this the latest failed experiment? Is the UK set to be the latest country to try female boxing for a few years, then drop out?
Katie Taylor, the crown jewel for Eddie Hearn, is 34. She maybe has 3 or 4 years left at the top. Terri Harper, Savannah Marshall and Rachel Ball are all in their 20's, and all 3 are emerging as notable fighters in their own right. The real question however is will they be able to take the mantle from Taylor? Taylor, as a draw, is in a world of her own. When she goes will anyone be able to take the brass ring and run with it? Or will Taylor's eventual retirement leave a hole that can't be filled?
Don't get us wrong, what Eddie Hearn is doing for female boxing is setting a great foundation for the future. We just need to hope for several things over the coming years to build on that, or we'll see history repeating.
For Hearn to make this a success he needs to make sure match ups are interesting, or as interesting as possible, the best genuinely do need to fight the best, as there is a massive gulf between the best, and the best of the rest. He needs to hope for an influx of talent, inspired by the current generation of fighters, to fill out the holes in a lot of divisions that lack depth. He also can't rush that talent. There's not point in having the fight beat out of every promising fighter years before they mature and develop. For now rushing fighters is fine, but the future needs to allow fighters to develop.
Most importantly however he needs to query why other countries never managed to get their female boxing scene's off the ground and keep them there, Japan aside. That may be a lack of interesting match ups, it may be growing purses with fighters increasing their demands, or it maybe that the events simply don't draw the numbers they need to be viable longer term.
With female fighters already speaking out about their pay, it may well be that we are only a blink of an eye from female boxing seeing a boost in pay days, though could that be at a cost to the opportunities?
It's going to be a very, very fine balancing act over the next few years. Purses will almost certainly have to increase, but that will come at the cost of chances of fighters? Will they lose the ability to get exposure due to increasing pay days? Will days of having multiple female world title bouts on a show in the UK be a short lived thing? Will fans tire of mismatches before that happens?
Hearn might have big plans for female boxing. We suspect China and North Korea also had big plans for female boxing. But those plans are not as simple as saying he wants to do something and we could end up with Hearn realising things aren't as easy as he hoped, and dropping his new toy before they come to fruition. Lets, for the hope of female boxing, hope that doesn't happen. At least not until other promoters, globally, begin to pick up the slack.
Although we've had pioneers in female boxing dating back decades we dare say this current era of female boxing is merely a transitional one. For those hoping female boxing takes off big time, we need to hope that the next few years gives us great fights, high profile rivalries, memorable occasions, and lasts several years. If it does that it will female boxing to actually transition into the position where the next generation is here, and they will be the ones harvesting the fruit of the effort and labour the current generation give. We need to hope, as sad as this sounds, that the current fighters are willing to be selfless for the future of female boxing.
Thinking Out East
With this site being pretty successful so far we've decided to open up about our own views and start what could be considered effectively an editorial style opinion column dubbed "Thinking Out East" (T.O.E).