Boxing will get the cleansing enema it needs this weekend when four of the finest female fighters compete for seven world titles at the O2 Arena.
The brilliant all-female card was originally scheduled for the O2 last month, but was dropped 24 hours after the Queen died; three of the four boxers in the two world title fights returned to their homes in America.
A new date was found, the full card was put on notice and after some gentle relaxation, everything is set for Saturday night. It is a great testimony to the promoters, Boxxer, for their direct actions and assurances. I was convinced that one of the two exceptional world title fights would fall victim to circumstances. The men would have fallen down like feathers in the wind and started suing.
“I truly believed that I was in the best possible shape when it was called off,” said Mikaela Mayer, who defends her IBF and WBO super-featherweight titles. “But I got back in the gym and realised there was a bit more – I’m better now than I was then.”
Mayer fights WBC super-feather champion, Alycia Baumgardner; it will be the fight of the night. Mayer is unbeaten in 17, Baumgardner has lost just once in 13. However, the two are a contrast in the harsh ways the women’s side of the sport has developed in recent years.
Mayer was an Olympian and was then too easily dismissed as the latest in a long line of pin-up boxers. There was always too much emphasis on her looks and not her ability. Baumgardner had to struggle to get recognition, struggle to stay in the business, and battled against poor, poor money.
She sold tickets to her fights from the front seat of her car to stay afloat. But looks can be deceiving, and Mayer had her own battles to fight and win on both sides of the ropes. Last November, Mayer beat Maiva Hamadouche in a fight-of-the-year contender and all talk of preferential treatment and an easy passage ended for good. It was savage from ringside that night in Las Vegas, with Mayer since taking care of Jennifer Han last April to enter Saturday’s contest at 17-0.
“I just don’t like her,” Baumgardner said. “I had to do things the old way.”
Mayer works with Al Mitchell, one of those American veteran trainers with a quiet reputation as both a decent and a wise boxing man. He is not one of the shouters; Mitchell served the type of apprenticeship that has vanished from the old game. The strength and conditioning fools taking over our game should sit at his knee and learn.
“Mikaela is an exceptional athlete – smart, tough and she can adapt,” Mitchell said. “Before the Hamadouche fight, I told her that she would not win the fight by boxing. She had to fight and she did.”
She certainly did, it was a relentless fight; Mayer taking control of the ring centre from the start. Nobody had ever done that to Hamadouche; nobody has ever done that to Baumgardner.
On Saturday, there is no easy option in their fight. The winner will instantly be in the top three female boxers in the world. There is no diamond-studded, fur-lined belt for that – it comes with recognition. And respect. And “Recognition and Respect” could have been used for the name of the promotion.
The main event is truly exceptional, a fight that the men have simply forgotten how to make happen. Claressa Shields, two-time Olympic gold medal winner, world champion at three weights and current holder of the IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight versions will fight WBO champion, Savannah Marshall.
Both are unbeaten and in a total of 83 amateur and professional fights, Shields has lost just once: Marshall beat her in 2012. This is redemption, repeat, a perfect boxing tale.
Shields landed back in London on Saturday; Marshall has left her Macclesfield base. It is simply a dream fight.
“The women are showing the men how to do it,” said Mitchell. He is right. There are perhaps 20 desirable fights in the men’s game that are defying the matchmakers. It’s a comedy of excuses, a blot on the boxing landscape.
It is also worth remembering that when Marshall turned professional in 2017 there were just seven licensed British women; there are now nearly 50 and 10 of them will fight on Saturday’s bill.
It is an “event” in any era, trust me. Enjoy it.
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies