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The Big Debate: Vol.1: Women's Boxing & the 3-Minute Round

Women's boxing is on the rise! Gradually vanishing are the days when pioneers of the sport, such as Jane Couch, who had a well documented legal case that forced the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBoC) to issue her with a professional boxing licence, and who had to literally fight inside & outside of the ring to get some recognition (link to Jane's autobiography below this article). I use the term "gradually" as there still exists some forms of prejudice against female fighters, but that is a discussion for another day.

It wasn't so long ago that you barely saw women's boxing get a mention within the mainstream media, now it seems to be everywhere! Social media has obviously helped massively with this new exposure. It seems that every boxing account on platforms such as Twitter, Instagram & Facebook have suddenly realised that by embracing women's boxing it will have an increase on their hit rates, or they may get lucky and get an invite to a Matchroom fight card or a press pass if they start up a YouTube channel and throw their hat in to the ring with certain fighters. I must also point out here that there are some great boxing channels out there, such as Women's Fight News, and Gail from Mad Boxing Chick that are doing wonderful work promoting female fighters, and bringing more eyes on to the sport.

A hot topic that does seem to be garnering headlines again at the moment, is the debate surrounding whether women boxers should be allowed to fight 3-minute rounds, with hall of fame promoter, Bob Arum, recently stating "the third minute of the round is usually the most exciting!".

Arum has been very vocal in recent days, going so far as to push for the lobbying of commissions to review their stances.

Mikaela Mayer in particular has been one of a growing group of female fighters who have strong views about women being able to fight over the 3 minute period, and that they are treated and monetised the same as their male counterparts.

Mayer, it must be pointed out is part of the Top Rank stable of fighters, who are promoted by the aforementioned, Bob Arum.

Mayer is due to defend her WBO Junior-Lightweight title for the first time this evening against former two-divisional titlist, Erica Farias (26-4, 10 KOs) live on ESPN at the Virgin Hotels in Las Vegas. The fight, as is the case generally with world title fights for women, is to be contested over ten, two-minute rounds. This is in contrast to male world title fights that are contested over twelve, three-minute rounds.

Mayer is Top Ranks only female fighter, recruited straight from the amateurs, and Arum is quick to point out that this is due in part to the two-minute fight rule that applies, and that this is what is preventing him from signing more female fighters to his stable, arguing that "when you look at women's fighting, what does it lack? It's only two-minute rounds. Look at fights. You'll see that the third minute of the round is often the most exciting. Women are deprived of that because they're just starting to get warmed up at the end of the second minute and there's no third minute" continuing "that's on the commissions to allow women to fight three-minute rounds. There is no earthly reason it can't be done!". Arum insists its not down to the TV networks, the fighters or the promoters, but the root cause is with the commissions "I would certainly have women fight three-minute rounds, but it's not allowed in Nevada or any other state".

Back in 2017 when discussing the World Boxing Council's (WBC) stance on women's boxing and three-minute rounds, WBC President, Mauricio Sulaiman, insisted that the two-minute round rule was for safety and not down to sexism.

Sulaiman stated that "when there are so many positive things that can and should be done to bolster popularity for the sport, the focus is on “longer rounds for female fighters.” And despite the wisdom of the science behind the 2-minute round, there have been outcries from some women boxers demanding “equality” based on instituting a 3-minute round" and that as President of the WBC he will not "jump on the bandwagon only to see fine athletes crushed beneath its wheels. The easy thing to do would be to try to be popular, pretend to be a hero and agree to change the 2-minute round to 3-minutes".

Writing an article for the WBN, Sulaiman continued "This is not a popularity contest. Our duty, as boxing regulators, is to always keep our priorities straight and the WBC’s backbone has always been safety. The WBC has spent a large amount of money and many years and effort in medical research with partners like the world prestigious UCLA group."

Quoted within the same article, Jill Diamond, the WBC Co-chair of the WBC Women's Championship said “If caring for your well-being is wrong, then I don’t want to be right" when describing the WBC’s position towards female fighters.

Both Sulaiman and Diamond discuss that during the second annual women’s boxing convention in 2016 held in Tijuana, "there were over 40 fighters present during a presentation from Dr. Choe from UCLA, who emphatically described, with facts, how the bone structure of women is different than men, specifically in the neck region" and that Dr, Choe went on to highlight that women have almost 80 percent more concussion probability than men. A concussion or fatal accident is deemed to happen when an athlete is dehydrated and fatigued, and they have a slower recovery time. Dr. Choe highlighted that there is a simple formula: DEHYDRATION + FATIGUE + HEAVY BLOW = CONCUSSION.

They argued that the more time you fight, the higher the dehydration and fatigue. The risk factor increases. It is also a fact that women have stronger symptoms after concussion and suffer more pain and take longer to recover. Sulaiman finished by stating that "of all of the fighters who were present they were shocked to learn the physiology and medical explanation, and then understood the “whys”!. Sulaiman was adamant that the WBC will not sanction any bout for women if rounds are scheduled for 3 minutes, and will not sanction any bout scheduled for 12 rounds.

Interestingly, a precedent was set by Seneisa Estrada & Marlen Esparza back in November 2019, when the fighters contested the World Boxing Association (WBA) Interim World Female Flyweight title. This was scheduled to be contested over ten, three-minute rounds, and is best remembered for its brutal savagery, ending after an accidental headbutt caused a nasty cut over Esparza hairline, bringing the fight to an end in round 9 with Estrada being declared the winner on a technical decision.

When asked prior to the fight, why it was being contested over three-minute rounds, Esparza said it comes down to money. “Men run the sport and the only way to showcase what we can do properly, we need three-minute rounds. Women complain a lot, and I do too, about how much we are paid compared to the men. If we have those three-minute rounds, we can do the same job as the men do" continuing “Look at Hardy and Serrano. I love Heather, but if that fight had three-minute rounds, it wouldn’t have gotten out of the first. That happens in men’s fights. If they had to go two minute rounds, a lot of knockouts wouldn’t happen. The same way it helps the men, it can help the women.”

PINK Concussions, a non-profit focused on female brain injuries, supports the WBC’s position. Lou DiBella, a longtime champion of women’s boxing, also agrees with them. However others don’t. Esparza says she had asked the WBC to see its research. She hasn’t seen it.

Several medical experts also disputed the WBC’s position. When pressed Dr.Choe even backtracked on some of the comments the WBC attributed to her, refuting the notion that women take longer to recover from concussions than men. Dr. Choe reinforced that it was her opinion that there needed to be an in-depth study conducted with female boxers to determine the risk.

Although women's boxing is starting to gain a foothold, until more research is undertaken I cannot see the commissions changing their rules in the near future. For that research to be done, it would mean those same commissions, and regulatory bodies such as the WBC, WBA, & IBF investing large sums of money. At the end of the day they will argue that safety is their priority but it must also be remembered that these organisations are companies, much like the British Boxing Board of Control who are a limited company, and although the message they share publicly may be otherwise, at the end of the day they want to make money. There is also the argument that three-minute rounds may not help women’s boxing. There are a few female fighters that can headline televised events such as Katie Taylor, the undisputed lightweight champion, however, there are still quite a few mainstream promoters who aren’t interested in investing in women’s boxing. They don’t see the money in it.

That means it is left to the smaller worldwide promotional companies, and other regulatory bodies in the United Kingdom, such as the British and Irish Boxing Authority (BIBA) to make attempts to push for change & to ensure that research is undertaken when pushing for equal rights and equal fights for women's boxing to ensure that further research does take place when looking at increasing the time of the rounds from two-minutes to three-minutes. However, for that to happen the current status quo of the boxing landscape, especially here in the U.K would have to be challenged & changed which is easier said than done.

For change to happen, and for thorough research to be done for the benefit of female fighters, then it would take all of the actors that profess to have a vested interest in the sport to work together to make that change happen.

LINK HERE: The Final Round; The Autobiography of Jane Couch

LINK HERE: Women's Fight News

LINK HERE: Mad Boxing Chick

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