Should Boxing Be a Women’s Sport?

If you aren’t at least in your mid 40s you won’t remember what heavyweight boxing once was–the Super Bowl, the Olympics, and March Madness all rolled into one.  When I was in kindergarten my best friend and I would retreat to my family’s unfurnished attic on South Hill in Ithaca, New York (my dad taught English at Cornell and was a leader in the anti-war movement there ironically enough) to act out the great Ali fights of the era, against Frazier and then Foreman. Howard Cossell didn’t become the first superstar sports announcer on Monday Night Football but the man who called heavyweight fights.

As my college friend, and great writer, Carlo Rotella has chronicles in his book “Fight Time” and pieces like “Shannon Briggs Says Nyet” in the NYT Magazine the heavyweight category has moved on since the demise of Mike Tyson (it really already had but Tyson was the last great hope to revitalize what had already been lost).  Mike is doing Animal Planet shows about his birds and the sport has been taken over by Russians since great American athletes who in prior generations would have become fighters now become NFL linemen. Or NBA power forwards.

Enter women into boxing as an Olympic sport. I realize that Ali’s own daughter was a fighter and a fight movie made by Clint Eastwood won an Oscar, deservedly so. But to me there is something wrong about women fighting.  Call me old-fashioned, a sexist pig, a bastion of male stupidity.

Here’s the thing: boxing was never a great idea to begin with.  Take really poor people in a ring and watch them bloody each other.  Give all the money to the promoter. Repeat. Until the boxers themselves beat each other to the point of becoming vegetables. I realize that hockey and football both have a huge issues with conclusions these days, but the whole goal of boxing is to knock the other guy unconscious.  There’s no ball. No touchdowns.  Just brain damage.

But along the way something happened that imbued this animalistic ritual with beauty and grace and meaning. It became the canvas for writers to think, talk and write about manhood for a generation. Norman Mailer didn’t cover fights because they were fights but because they were a way to probe into the male soul.

Ali is still one of the most influential sports heros not just because he was “The Greatest” but because he took a political stand. He was a man of substance on top of his athletic prowess. That was nowhere more evident than perhaps the most famous fight of all time, the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” in Zaire.

I’m a documentary film nut and still my favorite documentary is “When We Were Kings” about this fight. The footage shows just how much Ali was physically overmatched.  He looks like a tennis player rather than a boxer.  George Foreman is a massive human specimen who is going to kill him. Mailer describes an ambulance pulled up to the back of the ring that everyone in the Ali camp was convinced would be used to take his dead body to the hospital.

Here is my favorite part of my favorite documentary.  Worth the 10 minutes even if you totally disagree with me about women in boxing.

About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. Joanna Schroeder says:

    One question, Tom:

    Why not women?

    Not “why not anyone?” but why not women?

    • Because his chivalry instinct has an aversion to seeing women being potentially injured.
      Of course men being injured is a non – issue in and of itself, it’s just generic injury.
      Also note that the psychological and social effect on males of women entering traditionally male fields is also something of a non – issue for the aforementioned reason.

    • The same reason why men don’t hang out in beauty parlors. All throughout the centuries, a mans place has been on the battlefield. Women should concentrate on how to welcome home their warriors and keep them at home so they won’t wander off looking for a mistress. Let us men fight the battles!

      • Shut up, mysogynistc American. Like, “misogynistic American straight male” is like a pleonasm already.

        Box/UFC is NOT a real battle. Wake up. And women fighting as well won’t make men not be able to fight anymore.

  2. Anthony Zarat says:

    “But along the way something happened that imbued this animalistic ritual with beauty and grace and meaning. It became the canvas for writers to think, talk and write about manhood for a generation.”

    So boxing is OK for men because it fills a masculine need — but it is not OK for women because it does not fill any comparable feminine need? Why? How do you know? More precisely, how do you presume to speak for 3 billion women?

    You ask:

    “Should Boxing Be a Women’s Sport?”

    Boxing should become a women’s sport if women want it to. Maybe it will be a vehicle for women to re-discover a competitive side of themselves that has been lost for 5000 years. Maybe it will be something completely different. I don’t care and neither should you. People are free to make the choices that they want. If enough women decide to make that choice, then boxing will be a woman’s sport.

    Note that the gender-equality-nuts who are promoting female Olympic boxing are just as misguided as you. The number of women who have chosen to take up boxing is microscopic. Promoting boxing for women because of an ideological bias is just as foolish as suppressing boxing for women because of an ideological bias.

    Just let people do what they want.

  3. Women boxing or in UFC is a joke.
    They look like small boys having a bad hair day.
    No wonder they say dumb stuff like
    “Tapping out of a war.”

    • Yeah, women are usually smaller than men, so that makes it “ridiculous” when women fight – with all the technique and abilities they show. Sure, that’s only bullshit, not something they take seriously and that they love.

      Can Americans get more misogynistic? No, they can’t.

  4. If there are women who want to box competitively, then yes, it should be a sport.

  5. Amber- So true, but the civilians living in any country to gets invaded don’t have many choices. Not like sports. I’m sure a lot of folks in Iraq would have liked to tap out, but they didn’t get that chance.

  6. I don’t know why you think it’s ironic to be anti-war activist and watch boxing. Sports are honorable because everyone has agreed to fight and there are rules. In war, that is never the case. People don’t get to walk away or tap out. How many times have you gone to see a car race and a driver purposely drives into the stands?

    • People also don’t have to join the military if they don’t want to fight, and if they’re injured in war, they’re not going to be forced to stay if they reasonably cannot fight due to injury.

      • Have you heard of conscription? Also “people” is a generic term, young men get drafted specifically, not people in general.

  7. So what steps are you willing to put into place to discourage women from boxing that won’t be sexist?

    • I’m thinking at this point we should call it quits on the sport altogether. But if women want to beat each other’s brains in have at it. I think what was once a noble sport has degenerated into something less than that with profound health risks. Ultimate fighting is actually much safer because there are flesh wounds but not the repetitive brain blows.

      • I once saw a slow-motion brain scan of someone hitting a soccer ball on the forehead. The brain sloshes around in the skull! I think sharing such videos with people would do well to discourage boxing the natural way.

        • NickMostly says:

          That reminds me of this video from 3 years ago.

          slow motion punches

        • Spidaman3 says:

          I do have one question about the soccer video (Nick’s video answers), did the person have a mouth guard? I know clinching your teeth on one reduces the amount of shaking from taking such hits

        • It might discourage people from doing soccer, but it won’t discourage people from doing boxing. Boxing has been around for 200 years, tons of people like you have tried and failed. Boxers are aware of the risk, and they choose boxing anyway because boxing is a CHOICE. Choice still matters, even in this PC society.

      • NickMostly says:

        Ultimate fighting is actually much safer because there are flesh wounds but not the repetitive brain blows.

        Huh? What would you say is the purpose of “ground and pound” then?

        • I could be wrong but my impression is that because of different equipment and lack of focus on head blows that ultimate fighting has more injury but less long term damage

          • NickMostly says:

            That’s the claim. However Ultimate Fighting hasn’t been sanctioned long enough to know what the “long term” injury figures are. There are fewer deaths overall, but we’d need to know what the ratio of deaths to sanctioned bouts is to provide an accurate comparison.

  8. More and more we hear about women trying to make their mark in an area that had until recently been considered for men only. My question is where do we draw the line? Men and women are very different in many ways and all for good reason. From a biblical perspective men and women were supposed to join hands, become one flesh and fill the earth. It is written that it is not good for man to be alone. Now I don’t want to turn this into a big lecture but shouldn’t there be a clear distinction between what makes a man a man and what makes a woman a woman? Personally, I believe that men are slowly forgetting how to be men and women are slowly forgetting how to be women.

  9. Men are also trying to make their mark in areas that had until recently been considered for women only. We don’t draw the line, we let people be people it doesn’t matter their sex, gender, sexual orientation, nationatilt, race, etc.
    And sure, there is a clear distinct between what makes a man and a woman – biologically speaking, that is usually the chromossomes and some biological differences because of it. Also every woman and man are different. There’s no way to forget how your biological body works.


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