How female fight game got serious

THERE was a time when the only women in boxing rings were covered in mud, fighting each other for a few dollars in Thai sex clubs. Then the sport went downhill and famous daughters started trading punches.

I sat through too many insulting nights in Las Vegas in the 1990s, watching women with absolutely no ability receive criminal beatings from one or other of the selected female fighters. Some had famous dads, others had been centrefolds and all were matched far too easily.

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It started to change, thankfully, by about 1999, when amateur boxing associations all over the world held their domestic championships. The gory days of mismatches and carnage were over and with it went the coverage; the sport of professional women's boxing has vanished from the back pages since the Ali and the Frazier girl had their big bust-up in 2001.

The showdown of the famous daughters was the end of the hype, but the sport was evolving away from the dreadful mismatches involving clueless glamour models and former NFL cheerleaders, who threw punches like clueless glamour models and former NFL cheerleaders.

It is a very different boxing world now and last weekend in Mexico City, Mariana Juarez retained her WBC flyweight title in four rounds when she was the main attraction in front of nearly 7,000 people. La Barbie, as she is known, is a relentless little scrapper and conquering the Mexican fight public is an achievement. Many of the men are booed for not fighting hard enough!

In Denmark next month, Cecilia Braekhus defends her three welterweight world titles against French fighter Anne Sophie Mathis in Frederikshavn; the women are the main attraction and it is easy to see why.

Braekhus is unbeaten in 19 fights, has a lucrative deal with Adidas and is an 80-fight veteran of the European and World Amateur Championships. Mathis has lost just once in 26 fights and has stopped or knocked out 22 of her victims, including a massive win last December against the American Holly Holm, who was considered the world's best female fighter. It was a real knockout, at the end of a great fight in Holm's hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

"I looked at female boxing for a few years and I wanted to make sure there were enough real fights to be made before I started to promote it," said Kalle Sauerland, of Sauerland Promotions, who have been working with Braekhus since 2008. "Cecilia is a terrific fighter and a great attraction and there are a lot of proper fights. It's not a joke any more."

Later this year the women's game will change once again when the sport debuts at the Olympics, when, in theory, many of the stars will then have to deal with offers from promoters to turn professional. There is a buzz in America over a couple of their hopefuls and in Britain, where there is a chance of a medal in all three weights, there will be no shortage of offers.

"I'm a bit old-school in my ways," said promoter Frank Warren, who now works closely with his sons. "I know that Francis and George are watching and keeping an eye on the women's sport and they would, if it all made sense, promote the top British women from the Olympics." Sauerland has about a dozen women from 10 countries on his radar.

It is, then, a great time for Britain's Nicola Adams to hit form and she returned from a tournament in Bulgaria on Sunday where she finally beat her nemesis, Ran Cancan, the double world champion from China, to take the gold medal.

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