Bout No 11 in ring A at the Haringey Box Cup on Sunday was between a Midlands bouncer and a part-time singer from London’s East End; in the end the blonde girl from Canning Town won the middleweight title.
Lauren Johnson, the loser on points, works on the doors in Wolverhampton and is a member at the Walsall Wood club; the final on Sunday was just her fourth contest. However, she is also a brilliant statistic: since the Olympic Games, where women’s boxing featured for the first time, female participation at amateur clubs has increased from 23,300 to 36,900 each week.
“I’m boxing here for a gold medal because I saw the boxing at the Olympics,” said Johnson before her final. “I watched the boxing at the Olympics, saw the women and I joined a club.” On Sunday at the Haringey Box Cup, which is now in its sixth year and had more boxers last weekend than took part in last summer’s Olympics, 18 of the 69 finals were either women or girls.
In 2009 Nicola Adams, who boxed for the Haringey Police club, won the HBC 54 kilo title; in 2010 Anthony Joshua won at super-heavyweight; and Katie Taylor, the Irishwoman who won gold at the Olympics, fought twice to secure her own HBC gold the same year. On Sunday I marked my sheet with a dozen names from the finals that take place at London’s Alexandra Palace. It is a monumental event, put on by hundreds of volunteers and costing about £60,000.
During the finals, Ellie Booth, from Portsmouth, won the same title as Adams when she beat the world No 9, Sarah-Joy Rae from Switzerland. Booth is 21, has been in and out of boxing gyms since she was nine and works as a nursery nurse. “I know what Nicola achieved and she inspires us all,” said Booth.
This year’s female section was not as strong as usual because the EU Championships start this Monday in Hungary and a lot of countries held back their best boxers for that event. Adams will box next week in her first outing since winning gold last summer and changing for ever the way people look at women boxing. Adams gaining sweet, sweet revenge over the world champion, Ren Cancan of China, in the Olympic final, when she dropped her rival with a left hook, was both a glorious and sobering image.
The EU event is the start of a three-year programme for Adams, who has picked up an MBE, that ends at the Rio Games in 2016, with a pit stop next summer at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. “I’m just delighted to be back in the ring,” said Adams. “It has been too long and I can’t wait to get in there.”
At the end of three long days of boxing, involving nearly 400 boxers, the fighters left, promising victory next June – that is, assuming the organisers can raise the cash. “I will be back and I will win this title,” vowed Johnson, watched closely by her coach, Tony Wilson, the former British light-heavyweight champion. Wilson was once in an infamous fight involving a woman when his mother, a ringside guest, climbed through the ropes and started hitting his opponent, Steve McCarthy, with her shoe during a contest in 1989. Minna Wilson cut McCarthy’s head with her heel, he had three stitches, did not continue and her son was awarded the fight by a third-round stoppage. Women in boxing rings have come a long, long way since that crazy night.