(JULY 11) As much as Thursday's
induction of the inaugural class into the International Women's
Boxing Hall of Fame was about the past, it was really more about
the future of the sport.
An appearance by U.S. Olympic
gold-medal winner Claressa Shields capped the induction of the
firs-ever class of seven women at ceremonies in Ft. Lauderdale,
as part of the festivities during the 2014 Women's National
Golden Gloves championships.
“I had to go through a lot to
make it to where I am, but to know there are women who paved the
way, it makes me feel a lot better,” Shields said. “I feel like
I'm not by myself. They understand the struggle , how hard it is
to be a female fighter and be recognized. They never had the
chance to go to the Olympics, so this is going to give me a lot
of motivation going into Rio in 2016.”
Inductee Lucia Rijker, who
attended the 2012 London Games which debuted women's boxing as a
sanctioned sport, recalled the pride she felt watching the
Olympic female fighters in person.
“I sat there and I felt as though they were my children,” Rijker
said during her induction speech. “I was so proud of the level
of boxing. When I heard 17,000 people roar a female's name, that
was a dream.”
In addition to Rijker, who was 54-0 as both a professional kick
boxer and boxer, the other inductees included Christy Martin
Salters, Regina Hamlich, Bonnie Canino, Barbara Buttrick, Joann
Hagen and Christy Halbert. A board of eight people involved in
various aspects of the sport voted in the first-ever class which
was announced on April 14.
“I moved here (to the United States) with a suitcase and a
dream. I was seven years old as a child, and I watched TV, the
Rumble in the Jungle,” she recalled. “I pointed at the TV and
said that's what I'm going to do. And everyone laughed at me. I
kept that dream. I started knocking on doors, and as you know,
most trainers said no. I had to knock out guys, one after
another, to prove that I could fight. ”
She said she only ever had one goal.
“To be the best female fighter in the world,” she continued. “I
always thought you need to be the best you can possibly be. It's
not about knocking somebody down, it's about bringing out your
full potential as an athlete. Whatever you do in life, do it
good, do it 200 percent, and that will bring out your fullest
potential, and that's what the sport did for me.”
Malissa Smith, author of the “History of Women's Boxing”,
introduced each of the inductees.
“Lucia Rijker's mark on the sport has been extraordinary,” Smith
said. “Rijker took the 1990s boxing world by storm. She entered
the fray and forever ended the notion that women couldn't box
with the same level of competitive prowess as men.”
Rijker was the star of the women's boxing documentary “Shadow
Boxers,” and was the arch-rival Billie “The Blue Bear” to
actress Hillary Swanks' portrayal of boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in
the Oscar winning movie “Million Dollar Baby.” Rijker
choreographed the movie's fight scenes.
“She remains pound for pound one of the best boxers ever in the
squared circle, male or female,” Smith added.
In 2005, Rijker was set to meet another of the Hall's inaugural
class, Christy Martin, but was forced to pull out of the
historic match up when her Achilles tendon ruptured week's
before the scheduled bout.
“Thank you Christy Martin, thank you so much for being in this
world of women's boxing,” Rijker added. “You were my drive. I
needed a focus point. I wanted to fight you.”
Martin's 1996 fight with Deirdre
Gogarty is considered by many to be the sport's seminal moment.
On the pay-per-view undercard of a Mike Tyson heavyweight fight
against Frank Bruno (which turned out to be a short and
uninspired affair), the women stole the show, slugging it out
for six action-packed and bloody rounds.
“It was viewed by millions around the globe,” Smith noted. “Like
the infamous shot heard round the world, many considered the
bout to be the start of women's boxing as a popularly contested
sport. She continues to inspire through her many personal
appearances and generosity to young female fighters who are
following in her footsteps.”
Martin compiled a career mark of 49-7-3, but faced an even
tougher fight out of the ring several years ago when she was
attacked by her ex-husband and manager, who eventually was
charged and convicted of attempted murder.
“She is a beacon who many woman find inspiration in from her
personal story of triumph and perseverance,” Smith added.
After recovering from her gunshot and stab wounds, remarkably,
Martin returned to the ring in 2011 against Dakota Stone. Like
so many of her opponents before, she knocked Stone down in the
fourth rounds, but ended up losing the fight when it was stopped
because of her broken right hand.
“Boxing is the greatest therapy I could have ever had,” she
said. “It's a great honor to be here.”
She also thanked another of the day's honorees, Bonnie Canino,
for the work she does with amateur fighters including being the
driving force behind and host of the women's national golden
“But most of all, I want to thank Bonnie for one thing, teaching
me way back that I didn't want to get in the ring with a
southpaw,” she laughed.
While Martin was making a name
for herself in the United States, Regina Hamlich became the
boxing queen of Germany, and beyond, with her beauty and brawn,
boxing and kickboxing from 1994-2007. Hamlich noted that upwards
of 10 million television viewers in Germany watched her farewell
fight, a bout that capped an exceptional 54-1 career.
“She single handedly put women's boxing on the map in Europe,”
Smith noted. “She fought the best boxing had to offer.”
Like all the other inductees, Hamlich recalled having to
overcome tremendous skepticism at the start of her career.
“I'm very proud to be here, because it's historic,” she said.
“We are, all together, the best example that dreams can come
true if you believe in it. In the beginning, they really laugh
about this little girl that liked to box. But women boxing is a
very good sport if you do it well, if you do it with your heart.
Believe in you.”
Dr. Christy Halbert is considered
to be one of the driving forces in USA Boxing that helped bring
women into the Olympic boxing ring. A former boxer herself, the
Olympic coach is the Director of the Boxing Resource Center in
Tennessee, and was the first researcher to publish on the social
experiences of women boxers in an article “Tough Enough and
She noted that the Shields had an advantage to winning an
Olympic gold medal that most in the room had not enjoyed.
“What's really interesting is that Claressa was born at a time
when she never knew she couldn't box,” Halbert said. “It's
because of the work of these women, the pioneering spirit, that
women are able to box today as amateurs and professionals. The
boxers being honored today, I think we represent boxers
everywhere who are lacing up gloves. All of us are pioneers.
Every time we climb through the ropes, we are representing a
little something bigger than ourselves. We are pushing that
envelope together. Sometimes that can be lonely work, and I know
we've all felt that from time to time. So an event like this is
even more special because we're celebrating the work. I'm
honored to be here.”
Canino also found her way to the boxing ring via the kickboxing
circuit, out of necessity, not necessarily choice.
“It was an easier way to get into the sport,” Smith noted about
kickboxing in the 1980s. “It was a new sport and they didn't
have the prejudices that boxing had. She is a remarkable warm
heart and spirit."
The south Florida native, who owns her own boxing gym, first got
into the sport in 1979.
“I'm really honored, and I'm a little star struck,” she said of
the inaugural class. “In a couple of weeks, it will probably set
Joann Hagen was inducted posthumously, and is regarded to be the
only woman to ever defeat another of the day's inductees,
Barbara Buttrick. Both fought in the 1940s and 50s, often in
exhibition and barnstorming type events.
“She picked up boxing where she could, and where she couldn't,
throwing herself into wrestling matches contesting as best she
could, often just out of the reach of the law, and sometimes
smack in the middle of it,” Smith recalled. “Literally, gates
would be closed when they found out it was a woman contesting
sport. She was a true pioneer of the sport with a graceful
boxing style which she perfected against tremendous odds.”
Joann once stumped a panel on the game show “What's My Line” and
also had an appearance on “The Steve Allen Show.”
Her fight against Buttrick occurred in September, 1954, in
“The two fought with vigor, not to mention memorable skills that
wowed the audience,” Smith said, “and, the coast-to-coast radio
audience that listened, the first female bout to have ever been
Her recognition plaque was accepted by niece Mary Cummins.
“If only Aunt Joann could be here. She would be very humbled and
very honored to be with all of you that worked to bring this to
fruition,” she said.
The diminutive Buttrick eventually founded the Women's
International Boxing Federation in the late 1980s.
“As you all know, my greatest fight was with the prejudices that
were shown in the early days,” she said. “Nowadays, what I enjoy
to see is all these girls going into the Golden Gloves, and the
fact they were accepted into the Olympics now. The gyms are full
of little girls learning to box.”
Smith said an admonishment to wipe off her muddy shoes one day
led Buttrick to a boxing career. There was a story on a
newspaper she was going to use to clean off the dirt that was
about legendary female boxer, Polly Burns.
“Barbara was thunderstruck. It was boxing's gain that the Mighty
Atom of the Ring chose to pursue a career in the squared
circle,” Smith said. “She literally barnstormed the country,
knocking down the barriers for women for contesting the sport in
Her official career record was 31-1.
The induction event and hall of fame was largely the brainchild
of former professional boxer and WBAN creator Sue “Tiger Lilly”
“I remember when she started the website,” Rijker said. “I'm so
grateful. She really created a center for all the women
worldwide to come together and know about each other. In those
days, it was so hard to know about other women, but we could see
'hey, there are other women out there who work as hard as I do.'
It really helped women's boxing. I'm really proud to be here.
It's so important, for all the women who went before us, and
also for all the women who will come after us.”