One Year, Six Fighters & Three Incredible Fights

One Year, Six Fighters & Three Incredible Fights

Remember the days when women’s boxing was struggling for acceptance. There was apathy, indifference and in truth, very little mainstream coverage or interest. But times have changed, and then some.

Many will argue the upward trajectory started long before, but last year’s Fight Camp for me was the start of the renaissance of women’s boxing.

Eddie Hearn signed Katie Taylor, but it took some time for the masses to understand what an incredible talent she was. But when Hearn gave the women a prominent place on his behind closed doors back garden shows, something changed. And quickly.

When Natasha Jonas defied substantial odds, if not the judges, in her terrific fight with Terri Harper, nobody could be left in any doubt to the validity of their sport. Both fighters contributed greatly to a fight of the highest quality. Looking back at my post-fight report, I summed it up like this:

‘Sometimes something so raw, so primitive, so brutal can also be so beautiful.’ I was right.

There were other female fights on the original incarnation of Fight Camp. They all delivered. But to ensure we didn’t have another false dawn, we needed 2021 to deliver the same and much more. As the year winds down, nobody can seriously argue that we didn’t get that. Put two women in the ring together, you often got fight of the night, or even, the fight of the year.

2021 has given us plenty. Another year of progress, more and more fighters turning over, rivalries emerging, new potential stars like Alycia Baumgardner and others punching their way into the consciousness of a once unconvinced paying public. Fight fans are often fickle, they need convincing. Consider them now convinced.

This year served up three contenders for the fight of 2021. All three fights will live long in the memory. They will mean 2022 will have to go to extreme heights to beat the past 12 months.

Shannon Courtenay vs Ebanie Bridges

Make no mistake, Ebanie Bridges thought she could beat Shannon Courtenay. But not many believed that she could. The odds against her were long. Very long. Bridges has a way of convincing you. I put my money where her mouth is. Bridges said prior she was born to be in the spotlight. The Australian spits many facts. This was one.

There are many fake rivalries in boxing. Courtenay and Bridges isn’t one of them. They don’t like each other. Sometimes it’s that simple. Sometimes the best of enemies make the best of fights. This was that kind of fight.

Bridges took the fight at short notice. But took it without complaint. Before and after. Courtenay could have made her excuses not to fight. A good fight takes two. They both contributed plenty to a fight that more than lived up to the hype.

‘Both spilt blood, Bridges had to fight through blindness in one eye courtesy of a grotesque swelling over her left eye. A badge of honour that leaves no doubt that the Australian is a fighter through and through.’ My post-fight words.

Courtenay won the vacant WBA bantamweight title in a much closer fight than the judges had it. But Bridges proved many things. Sometimes even in defeat, you can come out the winner. Bridges proved that point.

“I have just proven that you can look like this and wear that and still be able to fight. Up until my fight, they didn’t think I could, and I have just proven that you can. If anybody tries to tell me what to do, they can go and f..k themselves. I don’t have people telling me what to do or how to be. I built me, this is me, and I’ll never change.”

Bridges is looking forward to a likely second tilt at a world title in March, a return visit to Leeds the probable destination. Courtenay lost her world title to the American Jamie Mitchell in Liverpool. For now, both are on different paths. But they have unfinished business.

Katie Taylor vs Natasha Jonas

Adam Smith in commentary called it spellbinding. It was breathtaking in its ferocity. It was a special fight. Katie Taylor and Natasha Jonas will never have a bad fight. It deserved a crowd. It deserved better in many ways.

Jonas even after her impressive showing against Harper, was still expected to lose to Taylor in May. She needed to raise her performance to another level against Taylor. She did exactly that.

After 8 rounds, Jonas looked the likely winner. But experience saw Taylor home. Just. Trust me, experience was the only difference. The WBC, WBO, WBA and IBF lightweight titles stayed with Taylor. Jonas yet again was so close to finally being able to call herself a world champion. Her time will surely come. The Cinderella fighter will get to go the ball in 2022.

Joe Gallagher told Sky Sports:  “It was nine years in the making and it didn’t disappoint. It delivered and more. It was a great fight and the only thing missing was the crowd. Could you imagine that arena, 20,000 full?” Sadly their business looks like remaining unfinished business for many reasons. But we live in hope that we get to see it again. We need to.

Courtenay vs Bridges was built on genuine hate, Taylor vs Jonas was formed out of respect and desire. The narrative might differ, but we got two fights of the highest order. But 2021 still had another gift to give.

Mikaela Mayer vs Maiva Hamadouche

The feeling-out process was reserved for the pre-fight preliminaries. It was breathless, unrelenting, in any other year, it would be the undisputed fight of the year. This was no ordinary year.

There were world super-featherweight titles on the line, but they seemed an irrelevance. The two fighters started throwing punches from the first second of this truly incredible fight, and they never stopped until the final bell sounded which gave us all time to draw breath. It was relentless, it was raw, but there was no lack of quality.

The scores looked wide, but not beyond the realms of realism. Every round was close, but Mayer edged most of them and quite rightly had her hand raised.

Mayer told me: “I have a little gangster in me and I can sit there and bang if I have to.“ The American proved many things as did Hamadouche. It was a very painful coming out party. Mayer seemed to enjoy it a little too much. She is that kind of fighter. Mayer has a new rival now, a fellow American, their fight next year will no doubt feature heavily in a similar article this time next year. And yes, I am being optimistic Mayer and Baumgardner actually fight each other. Sometimes you have to be.

We got three fights that gave us blood, guts and more than a little thunder. 2021 will be some act to follow, but the signs are that it will. We have come a long way. Apathy and indifference no longer.

Photo Credit: Matchroom Boxing/Top Rank

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