Jane Couch: Born Fighter
Fourteen years of pain, inside and outside of the ring, in many ways, Jane Couch was a born fighter.
Couch retired from boxing in 2008, she had fought harder than most. It wasn’t just the fights, it was the right to fight. A long draining process that took away so much.
Times have changed, women’s boxing is not only accepted, it’s thriving. The likes of Katie Taylor, Terri Harper, Natasha Jonas and the rest of the new wave of talent, owe Couch plenty, they might even owe her everything.
Couch paved the way for the stars of today. Denied her basic right, a sign of another discriminatory time, Couch took on the establishment and won.
The right to fight ended up in court, Couch took on the British Boxing Board of Control in 1998. Couch felt discriminated, she was right. It was illegal for women to fight in Britain, the Board argued women’s hormones rendered them too emotional and fragile to box. It was an argument without merit, it was embarrassing, the time elapsed makes it look far worse than it did then. A time of shame.
Couch famously won her sexual discrimination case. But it came at an emotional cost. Even in victory, many in her sport still wanted her to fail, winning in a courtroom was just the start of the battle. The press was brutal, labelling Couch a freak, a monster, winning made her a villain. Still the outcast, all Couch wanted to do was fight.
The media wanted a piece of Couch, a month-long bombardment. She tried in vain to plead her case, but many had already made their minds up. Couch felt like a ‘puppet on a string’ the coverage was unfair, it was harsh and brutal. It was wrong. Couch was ahead of her time, the sport and the wider public wasn’t ready to accept her or change. It made too many people feel uncomfortable.
The early boxing career of Couch was hard, a story of broken promises, many times fighting for free. It was a sacrifice with little reward. With a dream, Couch left her hometown of Fleetwood, Bristol her new base, an original fight camp. Life on a farm in the middle of nowhere was a lonely experience. Away from friends and family, it was work, it was home, it was isolation from a normal life.
Couch was there to train, for once she felt part of something, but at what cost. The early life in Fleetwood was where the fighting started. The streets with many stories to tell, punches were thrown, Couch threw most of them. Searching for an identity, a meaning for life, Couch was heading on that long road to a wasted life. The rebel needed a cause.
She eventually found her calling, watching a documentary on Christy Martin changed her life forever. The early fights with gloves were illegal, but it was a new beginning. The move to Bristol with a new fighting family was the supposed next step.
Training was her life, but it didn’t allow time for work or anything else. Couch tried to pretend everything was fine, but she was lonely and unhappy. Eventually, Couch went home, she stayed too long. The success came, the money didn’t. Food was a luxury, another basic right she was denied. When she started out it wasn’t supposed to be this way.
Couch the innocent naïve young women who just had a dream, she didn’t realise what the sport could do to the unsuspecting. The few get the riches many more are left in a very dark place.
After a handful of fights in the early days, Couch landed a world title shot in Denmark and she returned a world champion. Couch expected a hero’s welcome on her return home. She would be disappointed. Nobody came. The trade paper Boxing News didn’t even deem it worthy of a mention. Couch deserved better.
The fights kept coming, sometimes Couch would be paid, many times she wouldn’t. A brave fighter who fought with heart, one who would never give up. Against all odds Couch achieved plenty in her career. She retired at 40, with five world title belts on her resume. The MBE she got in 2007 was the least Couch deserved for what she made possible.
Boxing was hard on Couch, it left her damaged. A private funeral in a graveyard to bury her boxing life was needed to move on, a new start, a new life, a happier life. Couch, ever the fighter, won another important battle.
The Jane Couch story is told deep and with honesty in her gripping must-read autobiography The Final Round. Very soon her journey will come to a new audience. Suranne Jones has picked up the TV rights to her story. Couch always deserved more, finally, the recognition is coming. Not before time.
The importance of Couch to her sport can never be underestimated. She paved the way for the rest. The fight came at a cost and it should never be forgotten.
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