Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer elevated it to literary importance, and Rocky Balboa gave it a theme song. Now the fairer sex is giving it the one-two punch. Welcome to the world of female boxing — and we’re not talking about the bimbos who cavort around the ring between rounds.
Female boxing is slowly but surely emerging as a legitimate sport. A movement is underway to add it to the 2004 Olympics. And the daughters of boxing greats Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, and Joe Frazier have turned pro recently, imbuing the sport with an aura of genuine star power — and attracting the attention of filmmakers and publishers alike.
Witness Girlfight, a gritty drama about an angry Hispanic teen who finds salvation in the ring. Directed by Karyn Kusama, the indie won two awards at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, launched the career of its unknown star, Michelle Rodriguez, and is enjoying a successful nationwide rollout. This in the wake of two acclaimed documentaries about fighting females, Shadow Boxers and On the Ropes, which was nominated for an Oscar this year.
Now come two new books by former female fighters. Both The Boxer’s Heart and Looking for a Fight offer first-person accounts of the boxing life. Both women trained at Brooklyn’s world-famous Gleason’s gym, and both ultimately decided to walk away from the fight game. But the similarities end there. Boxer’s Heart author Kate Sekules finds power and redemption for women in the ring. ”Now that the ultimate combat sport is available to us, I think it’s becoming clear that gymnastics is not the only sport we’re suited for,” she quips from her office at Food & Wine magazine, where she’s an editor. But Lynn Snowden Picket, who wrote Looking for a Fight, hopes her tale will keep women from entering the sport. ”You turn yourself into a killer, and the problem is you’re a killer all the time,” she says. ”It took me a few years to actually stop hitting people when I would get into little disagreements.”
Since giving up boxing, Picket has taken up scuba diving. Sekules still trains but doesn’t fight. ”In boxing you get hit, you get hurt, and you come back,” Sekules says. ”There’s a whole range of women who are good at it, [and] I think it’s a great thing for all women to experience.”