Women's fight is no knockout

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The Independent Online
ALMOST 2,000 people, of whom perhaps one in every 10 was female, paid between pounds 15 and pounds 40 last night to watch the first officially licensed women's boxing match held in Britain.

Most of them had never seen women boxing before, and turned up at Caesars Palace in Streatham, south London, to see what it might be like. It must be said that they're still waiting.

Jane Couch, from Blackpool, whose 13-month legal battle with the boxing authorities had enabled the fight to take place, duly beat Simone Lukic of Frankfurt after one minute and four seconds of the second round of their welterweight contest, when the referee, Richie Davies, decided that a solid right-hand head-shot had removed the German woman's ability to defend herself.

Lukic wobbled back to her corner while Couch leapt triumphantly around the ring, accepting the applause of her new admirers.

Had the fight been between men, they would have been attacked by the crowd long before the end. While 30-year-old Couch, who calls herself the Fleetwood Assassin, showed aggression and appetite but only rudimentary technique, her 18-year-old opponent boxed as if the sport were no more than aerobic exercise, undertaken without the intention of inflicting or receiving damage.

If it seems banal, in the circumstances, to remark that someone with Lukic's looks would probably take every precaution to protect them, then it turned out to be perhaps not far wide of the mark.

The courage required to step into a boxing ring in any circumstances should not be under-rated. But the events of the first of the scheduled six two-minute rounds suggested that Lukic would have no answer to Couch's hunched style and conventional jabbing. When the first light blow to the head had her closing her eyes and twisting away, the outcome seemed inevitable.

A lone cry of "Give 'er one!" seemed inappropriate to this decorous event, although one solid right to Lukic's jaw shortly before the bell carried an unmistakeable message.

Caesars Palace was known as Streatham Locarno in the days when fans flocked to see champions such as Freddie Mills and Frank Bruno fight there, but only by the loosest definition was this related to real pugilism. Mere curiosity was the reason the customers flocked in, taking their seats as Sinatra crooned "The Lady Is A Tramp" over the sound system. When Couch eventually took the ring, it was to the strains of "My Way", the version recorded by Mr Sid Vicious.

"I'm for women's rights," said the promoter, Roy Cameron, a 64-year-old retired scrap-metal dealer from west London who began promoting fights four years ago at Acton Town Hall and whose partner, Maurice Rosen, a property millionaire, bankrolled Jane Couch's legal battle with the British Boxing Board of Control. "Maurice got her an agent, a lawyer, and a barrister - a pounds 600-an-hour man, the best in the country. He told me, 'If you take the board to court, you can't fail.'"

Cameron had 20 fights himself as an amateur welterweight, and comes from a boxing family - his father, uncle, and his elder brother, Jim, all fought, although his female relatives stayed out of the ring.

Promoting Jane Couch, he said, was Rosen's idea, but he had been happy to go along with it. "I'm not over-excited about tonight because I don't get excited about anything. But I'm not surprised by all the publicity. Everybody went rushing to Lindburgh when he crossed the Atlantic, didn't they? This is not a peep show. It's a historic thing."

That wasn't how Jane Couch saw it, at least before the evening began. "I'm a grassroots fighter getting paid what a six-round pro would make," she said. "It's not about history."

Afterwards she was understandably jubilant.

"I was a bit nervous," she said. "It's nice to get the first one over with."

Her purse of pounds 1,250 was not remotely commensurate with the publicity she had attracted, but it didn't look bad in the light of the expenditure of effort and, it must be said, of the exposure to physical risk.

So there was no female blood spilt at Caesars Palace last night, which probably disappointed some people. But now that the taboo has been broken, it can be only a matter of time.