BABY BEAR JAMES, aka
"Tansy O'Brien" was one of the top female boxers in the world
who fought professionally from 1976 - 1978. Her boxing
record was 5-2-1 (5KO). Baby Bear James paved the road in
many aspects as a pioneer fighter, being a trailblazer for many
"firsts" in the sport. She not only boxed for a
living, but she was a boxing referee, who may have been the
first to ever ref in the United States.
Baby Bear James originally came from Cheltenham, England, and at
the time weighing 180
lbs., she crossed the Atlantic to become a nanny in Canada.
Just two years later, and at a trim 128 lbs., she was fighting for a
junior lightweight world title.
10-round (2 minute rounds) World
January 14, 1978
At the time in 1978....Baby Bear
James said, "Two years ago I'd never believed I'd be boxing
today. Nobody likes to get hit, but I have the ability.
I can take a punch."
Baby Bear told WBAN, "I boxed for
a couple of years, but the highlight of my career was fighting
the first-ever 10-round world championship fight against Toni
Lear Rodriguez on January 14, 1978, which happened to be on my 21st
Birthday. " This was Baby Bear James last fight in
Baby Bear James, "I lost due to my untimely bout with Hepatitis,
which I'm sad to say finished my days in the ring. I was
diagnosed with hepatitis, which laid me low shortly before my
fight. I was so drained by the hepatitis I had no stamina. Toni
Lear was just too strong for me."
But that did not stop her
participating in boxing----she then went from fighting in the
ring----to becoming a boxing referee.
On May 6, 1978, at the Memorial
Hall , in Kansas City, Kansas, Baby Bear James refereed seven
boxing and kickboxing matches, that featured "Rasslin' Bear"
(yes, a real bear), who was the main attraction where any one in
the audience could volunteer to wrestle the bear!
Baby Bear James told
WBAN that there was quite a few of the audience who volunteered
to get in the ring with the bear---but that they didn't last
"Victor the bear" had a weakness for
and as long as he was getting his supply he wouldn't "sweep" you
off your feet as he was trained to do. [WBAN found some youtube
footage on Victor the Bear, above]
"I thought it was great publicity and as Clint Eastwood, Lee
Marvin, and Tony Randall had been in the ring with Victor,
I was in good company-----As long as I fed him his sweets he
knew not to wrestle me," added Baby Bear James with a
Baby Bear talked about her
past fights with WBAN, and said the following:
"I fought my first four bouts every three to four
months starting with Genevieve Thibault in January 1976 at
Granby in Montreal Quebec Canada. My next opponent was Elizabeth
Lefebvre in March and Marie-Francoise in July followed by Louise
Guyana in October. I won these four fights by knockout, but
none of these fights, I'm sad to say had any real media
To my knowledge I didn't think the fights were
sanctioned, and maybe looked upon as exhibitions, and I don't
remember them being well received by the media or the local
It wasn't until Albert Ladoueur, a sports writer for the Montreal
Matin came to the gym where I was training, that things changed
He watched me sparring with a male featherweight, and at
first he was a doubting Thomas as far as women boxers were
concerned. I invited him to have a sparring session, and after a
couple of right hands I won his respect.
He attended my fifth fight at Granby, in December 1976 where I fought Diana Mary
Brown. I was told she was a novice but she moved like Ali and
hit me from all angle's with her great combinations so I had my
The four round fight ended as a draw, and I was later told
she was Gwen Gemini, but that was never confirmed.
wondered if the names of my other opponents were who they said
they were. I now had the press on my side thanks to this fight
with Diana, as Albert gave us a great write-up.
Then I went to Las Vegas in January 1977, and I fought Aggie Henry
in a four round fight. I lost on points.
My next opponent was Joanne Gilmore from the USA, and we had
also fought back in
Granby Montreal Canada in July 1977. I won by TKO.
[Documentation of fight]
Then I fought
the title fight against Toni Lear Rodriguez, on January 14, 1978
, and as I said, I got a
bout with Hepatitis, which I'm sad to say finished my days in
One of the high points though was getting the opportunity to
train for the fight at Muhammad Ali’s gym and meeting him and
his legendary trainer Angelo Dundee.
On March 17, 1978, Baby Bear James made her debut as a boxing
referee, and the first card she refereed at was in Kansas City,