Super-fights such as Shields v Marshall are enabling clubs to grow numbers and improve lives outside the ring.
By Yolanthe Fawehinmi Claressa Shields’s brilliant victory over Savannah Marshall to become the undisputed middleweight champion at London’s O2 Arena this month was a landmark night for women’s boxing. The bout headlined an 11-fight, women-only card and came at a time when women’s boxing is rapidly on the rise.
The fight perfectly illustrated that the idea boxing is not for women has been dealt a right hook over the past 10 years and not just in the professional ranks.
There is an increase in regular women boxers
According to a Sport England survey there were 17 per cent more regular women boxers in 2020 compared to 2015, with as many as 420,400 women involved, while England Boxing disclosed figures showing a 65 per cent growth in female membership since 2017, despite the pandemic.
One such new entrant into the ring is Mary-Kate Smith. The18-year-old from Shrewsbury has been boxing since 2019 and 11 months ago stumbled across a women’s only boxing class at Telford Amateur Boxing Club.
Thankfully, having ignored advice that “boxing isn’t really for girls”, Smith has since found the sport to be hugely beneficial to all aspects of her life.
“Boxing takes up so much of your mental headspace, so it helps to clear my mind,” she says. “I love the people I have met [at the gym], especially my coaches who have taught me so much. They are like my second family.” - Mary-Kate Smith
Smith has been nicknamed MK47 by her coaches, due to the promise shown in the ring, and has benefited from the women’s only classes, run by Boxwise, a non-profit social enterprise that helps young people build confidence and improve their health and well- being through boxing. As the former WBA female super-welterweight champion and also a Boxwise ambassador, Hannah Rankin has seen the growth of women’s boxing from both professional and amateur corners of the ring. The Scottish boxer came to the sport in her early twenties, after her mother died from cancer, and it quickly became her discipline of choice.
“There haven’t always been female role models who are accessible in sport, but thanks to social media, television and promoters pushing women’s boxing to the forefront, we are seeing more young girls pick up their gloves,” 32-year-old Rankin says.
BoxWise works with accredited England Boxing coaches
Boxwise, set up by former public servant Richard Ogden and philanthropist Nick Maughan, works with accredited England Boxing coaches in safe and controlled environments.
“When I first attended a class I was so nervous and brought all my mates with me, because I didn’t want to make any new friends here. But now some of my closest friends are all here,” Kaci-Louise Parkes, another Telford Boxwise participant, says. “It’s helped so much with my mental health. It’s a second home and helps when I’m having a bad day.”
The Telford gym may be a world away from Shields v Marshall at the O2, but no less important.
“The stigma that women aren’t as strong as men or that women’s boxing isn’t watchable is tiresome,” Ogden says. “We’ve also started going into primary and secondary schools to teach boxing to girls only classes. We shouldn’t need to have these separate classes where girls can box safely, but I don’t think we are there yet as a culture or society.”
Published in The Telegraph Womens Sport, 27 Oct 2022