Women's boxing hits bump in the road

With two separate fight cards featuring several top female fighters - including Suswella Roberts, Melinda Cooper and Heather Percival - taking place this weekend in Southern California, it's interesting to note the advancements and regressions women's boxing has taken recently.

Women's boxing did not start with Christy Martin, as most people believe, but had been in existence since the 1970s.

"Carolyn Swenson got the first license in California in 1975," said Sue Fox, a former boxer and the editor of "In those early days, I would pay to travel and fight. I just loved to fight."

Fox and others like her began in the world of martial arts before boxing opened up for them. She estimates that in the '70s there were at most 100 female fighters worldwide.

"That may be over-estimating it," Fox said.

Now there are more than 700 women boxing professionally in the world with a growing amateur fight scene that is developing more pro fighters every year, such as Kaliesha West of Moreno Valley, Calif. West begins her pro career next month.

Yet, many fighters emerge with little or no experience in the female boxing world.

"It's embarrassing for the sport when you hear about a woman 10-0 fighting for a world championship against another girl with only one professional fight," Fox said, adding that several mismatches took place last year for world titles. "It's not good for the credibility of the sport."

During the past five years, there has been a decreasing number of quality professional women's bouts. One female main event featured a well-known fighter receiving an alleged $1,200 in a televised bout. Men usually make at worst $5,000 for a televised main event.

"Women have to stop accepting that kind of money," said Fox, who remembers Lady Tyger going on a month-long hunger strike to raise awareness for female boxing in New York in the 1970s. "I wish the women today had that same kind of moxie."

Recently, it looked like women's boxing was moving in the right direction when Top Rank offered to put up a $1 million payday to the winner between longtime rivals Lucia Rijker and Martin. The idea came from the popular support received by Academy Award winner "Million Dollar Baby" directed by Clint Eastwood. The bout fell through due to an injury to Rijker, and nothing was ever mentioned about it again.

"That fight is dead," said Lee Samuels, the publicist for Top Rank.

The rest of 2005 followed suit, with bout after bout falling through for one reason or another. Few competitive fights took place. No one wanted to risk losing and promoters weren't looking to put on any female bouts.

"They're hard to make," said Ray Alcorta, whose Maywood fight cards have included several female bouts, with fighters such as Mia St. John, Mariana Juarez and Percival.

Alcorta said several female bouts have evaporated due to last-minute cancellations and attempts to extort more money at the last moment.

"It's almost not worth it," Alcorta said.

Fox, who keeps a close watch on the female boxing scene, said she couldn't recall a more debilitating year than 2005.

"It seemed we went backward," said Fox, who became a police officer in Oregon after retiring from boxing. "We need someone to fight Sumya Anani, we need fighters with undefeated records willing to step out of their hometowns and we need competitive fights. That's what the sport needs."