It’s never a bad thing to have a few days in Las Vegas. To have those days with no work to do makes it even better, so when I received a call from Sue Fox in November of 2021 to let me know that I was being honored with a place in the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2022, you didn’t have to tell me twice about making plans for a cross country trip to the “Fight Capital of the World.”
Sure, it was a nice getaway weekend with my bride, but more importantly, it was a time to see old friends, meet some folks I covered but never met face-to-face, and celebrate fighters from a sport that was finally getting some well-deserved attention last year.
I also got a cool plaque and was able to stand side-by-side with some of the best boxers in the game. I had to give a speech, so that was a minus, but apparently, I did all right in my three minutes, so it wasn’t too traumatic.
And yeah, I finally met the Webber sisters. Now for those of you who are new to women’s boxing, you may not have heard of Cora and Dora Webber. But you should go look them up, because back in their time in the late 70s through the 90s, they were two of the baddest women on the planet. Now mind you, the records won’t show it, but this was at a time where the ladies would be in with killers almost every night, and in the case of the Webber twins, every night.
The record of Dora (inducted into the IWBHF in 2021) included the names Kathy Collins, Leah Mellinger, Lucia Rijker, Jane Couch and Sumya Anani. Cora (inducted in 2022) fought the likes of Belinda Laracuente, Bonnie Canino and Melissa Del Valle. If you weren’t’ following the sport then, those were among the best in the game, and the Webbers didn’t duck anybody.
So maybe it was the boxing nerd in me, but if I had to meet anyone in Vegas last October, it was the Webber sisters, and they didn’t disappoint as they talked about their grandkids and were even seated at the same table on induction night. Hard to believe it was over 20 years since they each stepped through the ropes for the last time, but it brought me back to my boxing “childhood,” so to speak.
In those days, it was the late 90s and working maintenance for a living wasn’t doing it for me, so I started writing for the Cyber Boxing Zone. Back then, this internet thing was fairly new, and most of those in the power positions in the industry didn’t take an “internet” writer too seriously. Outside of a few kind and forward-thinking souls who took pity on us and gave us good seats on fight night and facilitated interviews, it was a tough go in terms of getting access if your outlet had www in front of it.
What to do if you didn’t want to write opinion pieces all day while covering fights from your couch? In my case, I had to get creative, and that meant finding fighters who were as hungry for coverage as you were to give it to them. And, if I’m being honest, in my early writing days, the ladies of the sweet science were my saviors. So while I couldn’t get the top stars from the men’s side of the game on the phone, I could talk to the entire pound-for-pound list in women’s boxing without jumping through hoops to get those interviews.
And what stories these ladies had. Rijker, Anani, Christy Martin, Mia St. John, Kathy Collins, and my all-time favorite, Jill Matthews. Forget Harry Greb, the fact that there is no footage of Matthews’ pro fights on YouTube is a crime. At least there’s her NY Golden Gloves bout with my buddy Dee Hamaguchi there, but I digress. Matthews was all fury on fight night, and the greatest quote ever outside the ring.
“The old school people wanted to see a fight,” Matthews told me when I caught up to her in 2016 for a Ring magazine story. “They wanted to see you go in there and bust it up. The newer fighters got all technical and castrated, and the barroom brawl aspect got taken out of it. No one wants to see a dance; they want to see a fight. When I fought, it was do or die. They’re trying to get me and I’m gonna take them out as soon as possible.”
Add in that she was in a punk band with her husband, and the fact that she didn’t become a worldwide superstar is an even bigger crime than there being no pro footage of her on the internet.
This is what it was like in those times, though, when some women were basically paying to fight, and if they weren’t, they went home with peanuts for purses. It was a disgraceful state of affairs for those who were putting their health on the line and training just as hard, if not harder, than the men were.
So when Fox, one of the pioneers of the sport in and out of the ring, launched the IWBHF in 2013, the ladies finally had a place where they were celebrated for what they sacrificed so much for.
“I’ve been thinking about this for years, and if I take a task on, I want to succeed at it,” Fox told me before the announcement of the IWBHF’s inaugural class in 2014. “I saw that nobody else was ever going to do it, so I decided that I’m just going to have to take a baby step and challenge myself. But I didn’t want to just do just do it and drop the ball.”
This October in Las Vegas, the IWBHF will celebrate its 10th anniversary. Guess Fox didn’t drop the ball, but in all seriousness (and I mentioned this in my induction speech), she should have a place in the HOF she started, even if she fights against such an honor.
And there she was on induction weekend, running all over the place to make sure everything ran smoothly, and still doing it all with a smile. In return, she delivered a night and an honor that those people inducted will never forget. Do you think the Webber sisters thought that one day they would be in a hall of fame? Probably not. But they earned that recognition from the sport because of what they gave to it.
When it became my turn to speak, I had nothing prepared but I did have a theme. First, I wanted to make my case for Sue Fox getting her place in the hall. Next, I had to remind those in the sold-out ballroom that boxing isn’t easy, despite what the uninformed might think. That meant following up my New York buddy Kathy Collins on the mic and letting people know that I fought in the Golden Gloves two years after she did. Collins went on to win multiple world titles in the pro ranks. I touched gloves and woke up in an ambulance 63 seconds later with two guys telling me it’s going to be okay.
That drew laughs, and should have, but the point was that these women did something the smallest percentage of the population could do, and they did it without getting the money or acclaim afforded their male counterparts. And yet they still did it. If that’s not for the love of the game, what is?
So while Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano and their peers at the top of the sport are finally getting their just due, let’s not forget that they didn’t invent women’s boxing. The ones who did are the fighters in the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame, and they should all get a standing ovation for that, even if it’s a couple decades late.
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