Jane Couch: Wiser, Stronger & New Stories To Tell
By Emilia Roman
Nervous, yet excited, I am about to ring the former five-times world champion, and women’s boxing pioneer, Jane Couch.
After reading and re-reading her book, and diving into the depths of her vulnerability, you feel like you know Jane without having ever met her, which leaves you wondering how to act, what to say, when speaking with someone who has changed the world, only 27 years ago.
“Hello, Emilia! How are you?” I hear a kind and cheerful voice taking charge of our conversation, and immediately putting me at ease. In the next couple of minutes, Jane’s kindness and friendliness shone through, proving that the ‘Fleetwood Assassin’ is more than just a former boxer, but a woman who won the greatest battle of her life, the battle against resentment.
Jane Couch had struggled with a tumultuous boxing career, where she only had one goal, to box. This simple want and passion for the sport seems today altogether not that impressive, but in 1994, it most definitely was out of the ordinary.
Marked by many lows, leading to an incomparable achievement, a Fleetwood- born, laid back teenager, took the British Boxing Board of Control to court and became the pioneer of women’s boxing in the UK.
Turned wiser, rather than sour, Jane has taken charge over her past, and, after publishing her autobiography, The Final Round back in 2019, she is ready to share even more, as the co-producer of a TV drama series based on her life, along with Suranne Jones and Laurence Akers.
Jane said: “When I wrote the book I touched on a lot of the bad things, and in the TV series there will be more bad things.”
The book already tells an almost unbelievably distressing story, that seems cut from fiction. From the champion’s early training days resulting in fights for no pay, to her difficult relationship with the media and the British Boxing Board of Control. It is hard to imagine what else is left to say and expose. But Jane is confident in the series, but both excited and nervous about its outcome.
“I am very nervous to have a series on my life,” she said humbly, “You do not think you are that interesting or people will be that interested.
“I think they will capture how I want it because they are an amazing team. You just do worry that things don’t get put across how you want them put across, but I think they will,” she added when speaking about the show’s producers.
This fear of not getting across the right message through her story, is not surprising, for those who know that Jane lived a history of “set-ups.” From being asked by media producers to act, dress, talk a certain way, as she expands in her book, to the “behind the scenes” misunderstandings and feuds with the most powerful men in the boxing industry.
Jane said: “It’s beyond belief how they actually did set me up,” when talking about some of the radio interviews she had to do after getting her licence.
“I didn’t know how to get across, I was trying to bring women’s boxing to the UK, and they made it more about me, and they brought up my background. And I had a tough background, but then most kids do, and especially kids from boxing,” she added, reflecting on the way the media treated her.
But while Jane blames some for the hardships in her career, and for the abuse she has endured, she makes it clear that she played a part in it as well, trying foolishly to “play the game”, and use all the publicity she got in her advantage. But, in the end, with no real media training, this tactic had backfired, leaving her “trapped” in a world created by others.
“I felt trapped, I felt there was no way out of it. And when you are constantly reading negatives, negatives, negatives, you become negative within yourself and I am not that sort of person. I just wanted to get on with my career, like a male boxer would have been able to.”
Empowered by her wounds and experience, Jane is seeking to guide others through her story, and believes that there are still many changes that need to be put into place so professional boxers, whether male or female, active or retired, have a voice, and a sustained means of living.
“The boxers are just a commodity but, you know if it weren’t for the boxers, there would be no managers, no trainers, no promoters or the officials. And they overlook that,” said Jane.
During our conversation, Jane brought up the issue of the British Boxing Board of Control being a self-regulatory body, and how this affects the industry, putting athletes in some difficult situations and at risk of losing their careers.
“It’s an organisation that controls itself and it cannot be allowed. There are people’s careers and livelihoods on the line here and it can’t be allowed to go on as it is.
“They need to answer to somebody when they make a bad decision. That can ruin a kid’s career,” she added passionately.
While Jane has given up on boxing, she has not given up on the fighters. She understands first-hand how being undervalued, underpaid, unprepared can ruin a good athlete, no matter how tough he or she is in the ring.
“I wouldn’t encourage anyone to go into professional boxing, male or female, because it is a tough sport, but if you are going to do it, pick the right team,” said Jane reflecting on her career.
While so much has already been said, there are still lessons that Jane is ready to unveil, and, as I finish the phone call I wonder, what else will her story teach us.