‘I’m so glad this day has come’: Women’s boxing’s journey to prominence at Madison Square Garden 2022-04-28 08:14:06


Hddie Hearn and Jane Couch couldn’t be more different, but they are united this week by their shared disbelief and glee. As we approach the historic moment on Saturday night when Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano took to the ring at Madison Square Garden in New York to fight the most important and lucrative fight in women’s boxing history, the promoter and pioneer felt relieved and ecstatic. .

Twenty-four years ago The sofa won its case v British Boxing Control Board when the High Court ruled that she must become the first woman in the UK to obtain a professional boxing license. Until then, the BBC had banned women from participating in the ring on the grounds that they were too weak and “emotionally unstable” in the box, due to their menstrual cycle.

Three years later, in October 2001, Katie Taylor fought her first officially sanctioned women’s boxing match in Ireland. Taylor and Cyrano were only 15 and would now be the first two female boxers to earn more than a million dollars in one night—and the first women to top The Garden as fighters.

In another unlikely double act, Hearn is co-promoting the contest with YouTube star Jake Paul. An Essex promoter quietly listens in a posh lounge on West 35th Street, a few blocks from boxing’s most famous ring, as she tells a story about the days when his father, Barry, was shocked to hear Couch wasn’t paid to fight. It makes us feel that after decades of prejudice and pain, women’s boxing has finally transformed.

Speaking to me on the phone from England, Koch said of the historic Taylor-Cyrano match: “I can’t believe it, but it’s great. I’m so glad that day has come.”

Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano inside the Empire State Building
Katie Taylor (left) and Amanda Serrano inside the Empire State Building. Photography: John Nasion/NoorPhoto/Shutterstock

Meanwhile, for Hearn, “This upgrade still surprised me. The first surprise was when we sat down with Madison Square Garden and their management said, ‘We have to fight this fight.’ It was special. Then they said, ‘We have to put it in the big square.’ I knew. That we can go to Hulu [the smaller theatre, seating 5,600 inside the Garden] And sell it in one day. I’m known for being aggressive, but at the same time, I’m quietly conservative to ensure the right business decisions are made.

“They were very confident and there was also a feeling that we needed to make this an important moment in the sport. When tickets went on sale, it was the second fastest pre-sale in the park’s history. We received more media requests for this request than some of AJ’s. [Anthony Joshua] fights. This is more than media boxing. It’s a Bloomberg, CNN, Today Show.”

On Tuesday morning, on an NBC TV show that summarizes mainstream America and doesn’t usually present boxing, Taylor and Cyrano They were fun and respectful guests. They reflect on the scale of the competition for Taylor’s undisputed lightweight world titles which is full of dangers for both. They also talked about their Irish and Puerto Rican backgrounds.

Later that day, they engaged Hearn and Paul in an upscale showdown at the top of the Empire State Building. “My socks bothered me,” Hearn says, “because until then, I didn’t know what they were planning to do with the lights on Saturday night. They told me they were lighting the Empire State and I said, ‘What do you mean?” They said, “We light the building with the flags of Ireland and Puerto Rico.” I’d Now pretend it was my idea.”

When I last interviewed Couch in 2019, he was now 53 years old She told me how boxing “damaged” her. She wept as she described the personal and psychological cost of being the revolutionary that made women’s boxing legal in Britain. Koch admits: “I still feel it, because it was actually a cruel thing [the boxing authorities and promoters] did to me. The more I looked at it the more I thought: “Why can’t I get the right manager or coach to take care of me like they would take care of the girls now?” But someone had to be first and it was me. This wasn’t just my time. “

Jane Koch during her 2003 defeat on points by Lucia Riker in Los Angeles
Jane Koch (left) during her 2003 defeat to Lucia Riker in Los Angeles. Photography: Richard Heathcote/Photo Action

However, there is a sense of accomplishment for Couch because, in her 39 professional matches, she has cornered the bottom card of some great fighters – from Lennox Lewis and Vitali Klitschko to Roy Jones Jr. and Nassim Hamid. In 2003, she came a long way in Los Angeles with Lucia Rieker, a Dutch fighter who never lost in the professional ring. Couch assures that had she been given a proper platform, Rijker could have matched the influence of Taylor and Cyrano.

“One hundred percent. She had such strength – like [the British middleweight] Savannah Marshall has it now. I had no strength. You were just a strong fighter, advance. I either won or lost on points and fought my face.”

Couch had a lot of guts and won a copy of the world title, but didn’t get paid for many of her matches. When I asked him if Barry Hearn was interested in women’s boxing, Couch replied, “No, but he was involved in promoting the bill when Prince Naseem fought Ogie Sanchez in Connecticut. [in August 2000]. I was on the bottom card and Barry and Emmanuel Steward [the brilliant American trainer] They were having breakfast at Foxwoods Casino. I went: “Hello!” They’re like: “Oh, hi Jane.” I told them I was boxing but I didn’t get paid. Barry said: ‘You are a professional boxer. You have to pay. So he gave me some money. I think it was $500. “I don’t allow you to box for free,” he said. But I actually agreed to boxing for free because it would raise the profile of women’s boxing.”

It’s completely different now and Eddie Hearn admits, “Before we started working with Katie, my dad thought that women shouldn’t be boxing. It’s the same for Frank Warren and Bob Arum and all the old school promoters. It got the stigma of tough guy sport.” It was only the changing perception of women’s sports in general that opened the door for Katie. But I learned from Katie that broadcasters were looking to use women’s sports as an indicator. She taught me that this is wrong. Checking the box is not egalitarian.”

After reaching for his phone to read me the direct message I sent him on October 3, 2016, when Taylor asked him if he was interested in promoting it, Hearn remembers her professional appearance a month later. “I wore it as a main event at Wembley and everyone just peed and said, ‘What are you doing? It’s embarrassing. Make the women’s fight the main event? We got about 3,000, mostly Irish fans, at Wembley Arena, and it was fantastic.

She fought like a Mexican. She doubled up to the body, left a hook in the head, and turned. After everyone finished, including my dad, he went: ‘Fuck the hell.’ I knew you had to give her the platform to convince people to watch. At the time , 80% of the audience had already decided that women’s boxing wasn’t for them. 10% were a little curious and the rest 10% were already believers. Now that 80% of non-believers are down to 10% more likely. I knew it was going to happen. Just let people They see fighters like Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano and they’ll be convinced.”

Promoting Taylor was an educational thing for Hearn. “I went to Katie about four years ago and said, ‘I’ve got a great idea. On International Women’s Day we’re going to do an all-female card in Madison Square Garden at the Hulu Theater. It’s going to be groundbreaking, so-and-so. I was so excited. Impossible,’” Katie said. She looked at me like she was disgusted. She taught me that the only way we can have a sustainable future with women’s boxing is for it to become a stand-alone product as a great sport – not as a symbol of goodwill. If it stands alone, has its own value, then we have longevity and sustainability.

‘We Deserve the Spotlight’: Taylor and Cyrano face off before iconic fight – VIDEO

“This is what Katie Taylor built. She and Cyrano don’t sell the garden [with a 17,500 capacity] Because everyone goes: “We should support women’s sports.” She’s selling the garden because it’s a great fight.”

Hearn reclines in his chair and smiles. “I remember another thing I said to Katie: ‘Imagine making a million dollars in Madison Square Garden in a major fit. “I just said it as a salesman line. And now we’re here.”

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Away from New York City, Jane Koch’s pain eased a bit this week. During our last interview, she said, “It pains me to talk about this so frankly, but I don’t think people realize the damage they’ve done. Most of them have never met me and would call me a lesbian or a weirdo.”

She suffered from depression and panic attacks and only started her first “proper” relationship at age 41. But now, counting down the hours until she and her partner, Brian, can watch Saturday’s fight, she says: “All the girls, Katie and Amanda, and Savannah, Clarissa Shields did a great job. I couldn’t represent women’s boxing how you represent it. I didn’t get media training or even the character they have. It’s amazing what’s happening in New York this week. I feel so proud.”