June 5, 2013

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science - Women's Boxing Monthly Vol. 4

By Mark A. Jones – Women’s boxing continued to impress in the month of May, witnessing the retirement of Holly Holm from the sport after pleasing her massive New Mexico fan base one last time with a dominant ten round unanimous decision victory over Mary McGee.

Ava Knight traveled to Mexico where women’s boxing is wildly popular to defend her WBC Silver female flyweight title against Linda Soto, battering her challenger to retain the belt by unanimous decision. With the win, it marked the sixth consecutive time that Knight has fought in Mexico; she last graced the United States with her talent when she drew with Kaliesha West in a battle for the WBO bantamweight title in June, 2011.

Rising star Christina Hammer remained undefeated as she elevated in weight and pounded out a one-sided win over the defending WBF super middleweight champion, Zita Zatyko. Hammer displayed an elite skill level, suggesting that she will become a longtime superstar in women's boxing.

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science takes a step in the right direction this summer as all-time influential women’s boxing pioneers Lucia Rijker and Mia St. John are scheduled to appear at the International Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Canastota, NY, June 6-9. In 2012, “The First Lady of Boxing” Cecilia Braekhus, attended the ceremonies and was well received. Stay tuned in July as KO Digest reports on the Jessica Chavez vs Yessica Yolanda Bopp superfight and the return to the ring of Ann Sophie Mathis.

A look back at May 2013 in women’s boxing: 

Hammer (L) is a future star in women's boxing
On May 5 in Germany, the KO Digest #4 pound-for-pound female boxer, Christina Hammer (14-0, 7 KOs) Germany by way of Kazakhstan, the WBO, WBF middleweight champion, moved up in weight to challenge, Zita Zatyko (15-1-1, 11 KOs) Hungary, for Zatyko’s WBF super middleweight title and the newly created WBO super middleweight belt. Nicknamed “The Giant,” Zatyko measured an inch shorter than her upstart challenger but was four pounds heavier (162.50 vs 166.50) and ten years Hammer’s senior. Seizing the opportunity at super middleweight was inevitable for the 5’ 11” Hammer, who at the age of 22, is still growing into her athletic build.

During the referee’s instructions, the match-up was visually compelling as both fighters appeared in tremendous physical condition. Soon after the opening bell, it was obvious to even the novice boxing buff that Hammer owned far superior boxing skill and almost flawlessly executed her fight plan. In a similar fashion to longtime heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, Hammer relies on a deft jab and a superior understanding of range, forcing her opponent to assume a majority of the risk. In this battle, Zatyko had no answers for Hammer’s two-fisted attack, suffering a knockdown in the fourth round, barely lasting the stanza. In the fifth, Zatyko threw all caution to the wind, moving forward behind heavy punches, few of which landed. Hammer controlled the action over the remainder of the fight; her predictable, but steady attack placed Zatyko on the defensive, interested more in surviving the fight than winning it.

In the end, Hammer proved her worthiness as a pound-for-pound elite fighter by moving up in weight and dominating Zatyko, a fighter perceived to the best of a marginal collection of super middleweights. The scoring (100-90/99-91/99-91) indicated how dominating Hammer was in this contest. Due to the lack of challenges at both middleweight and super middleweight, there is little doubt that Hammer will make the move to heavyweight sooner rather than later.

On May 11 in New Mexico, the former KO Digest #1 pound-for-pound female, “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holly Holm (33-3-3, 9 KOs) Albuquerque, New Mexico, bested the hard-punching Mary McGee (20-2, 11 KOs) Gary, Indiana, winning every round on each card over ten rounds, successfully retaining her IBA and WBF light welterweight titles.

Holm beats McGee in her boxing swan song
McGee, who normally campaigns as a lightweight, was tailor-made to be exploited by Holm’s ambushing method of attack. While owning respectable hand speed, McGee has plodding footwork and needs to set her feet to punch, allowing Holm to evade her attacks with far superior movement. Holm started quickly, winning the first three rounds as McGee stood mostly stationary waiting to counter mistakes from Holm that weren’t coming. During the opening moments of the fourth round, McGee charged forward and was subsequently dropped by a check-hook from Holm only to have the knockdown ruled a slip by referee Richard Espinosa. McGee was also dropped in the tenth round by a well-placed straight left only to have that knockdown also ruled a slip.

Despite losing two points on miscalled knockdowns, Holm dominated the match on all three scorecards, 100-90. Like Jim Brown and Sandy Koufax, Holly retired in her prime, winning her last twenty rounds on all scorecards and compiling an impressive record in title fights of 22-1-1. An inspection of the boxing record compiled by Holm would suggest that she is a sure-fire future inductee into the IBHOF in Canastota, NY when eligible.

On May 17, at the Twin River Event Center, Lincoln, Rhode Island, Shelly “Shelito’s Way” Vincent (9-0, 0 KOs) Providence, Rhode Island, claimed the WIBA super bantamweight title by pounding out a one-sided ten round unanimous decision victory over the ever-tough, Angel Gladney (8-8-1, 6 KOs) Columbia, South Carolina. In the United States, rarely are female fights featured as main events. Vincent, whose popularity grows daily in New England, was rewarded with top billing by CES Promotions in her first of what is now expected to be many world title fights. Vincent employed her superior hand and foot speed to maneuver around Gladney’s straight-line attack, consistently beating her slower opponent to the punch. In round seven, Vincent was in her finest form, scoring a knockdown and nearly capturing her first career stoppage victory as Gladney barely survived the round. The final three rounds saw the defensively proficient but fan-friendly hometown fighter throw caution to the wind in an attempt to score a knockout, going toe-to-toe with her heavier punching opponent. The capacity crowd roared in agreement as the scoring, (80-71/79-72/79-72) all in favor of Vincent was announced. The win propels Vincent into the alphabet title picture at super bantamweight where Alicia Ashley (WBC), Yesica Patricia Marcos (WBA, WBO), and Katy Wilson Castillo (IBF) are the division's elite. Vincent was recently featured in the June 2013 edition of KO Digest Interview.

The third time was a charm for Mrdjenovich
On May 31, Jelena Mrdjenovich (29-9-1, 14 KOs) Edmonton, battled KO Digest’s #9 pound-for-pound female boxer, Melissa “HuracanShark” Hernandez (18-4-3, 6 KOs) Miami Beach, at the Shaw Conference Centre, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada for the third time in less than two years. In the two previous meetings, Hernandez escaped with a razor-thin split decision and most recently, in defense of her WBC female featherweight title, a comfortable ten-round unanimous decision victory over the hometown fan-favorite, Mrdjenovich. In this fist-flying affair, bloodied from an unintentional head-butt to the forehead in round two, Mrdjenovich rallied, scoring a knockdown in round five and fought aggressively in round six when the war was halted due to the severity of the cut. After the reading of the scorecards, Mrdjenovich became a six-time world champion, winning the WBC featherweight title by a unanimous technical decision (58-55/ 57-56/ 58-55). Mrdjenovich, now KO Digest’s #8 pound-for-pound female boxer and owner of a lethal left hook, battles top-level fighters each time out and now holds wins over Hernandez, St. John, Layla McCarter, Lindsay Garbatt, and Fujin Raika.

On May 31 in Argentina, yet another talented Argentinian female boxer established herself as a legitimate world title holder. Daniela “La Bonita” Romina Bermudez (14-2-2, 4 KOs) won the WBO female bantamweight title with a first round stoppage of Neisi Torres (8-1-1, 5 KOs) Barranquilla, Columbia. Performing impressively in losses to the world class Edith Soledad Matthysse and the pound-for-pound elite, Yesica Yolanda Bopp, both fellow Argentinians, Bermudez pounded her defensively deficient opponent from pillar to post causing the referee to stop the contest with twenty-five seconds left in the opening round. Torres, a professional boxer for less than a year, is perhaps one of the emptiest fighters to ever gain a legitimate world title shot, earning a record of (8-0-1, 5 KOs) by facing competition with a combined record of 1-33-2. That list of fighters, who could only aspire to be referred to as tomato cans, were knocked out twenty-three times. This mismatch aside, Bermudez is a multi-talented boxer-puncher with the ability to box off her back foot or aggressively pursuing her opponent, displaying an above average defense with the ability to counter-punch effectively. At the age of 23, Bermudez is currently the interim WBA female super flyweight champ and once held the interim WBA female bantamweight title. Add Bermudez to the long list of spectacular female boxing champions from Argentina which has a population approximate to that of the State of California.

A look ahead to June 2013 in women’s boxing:

Can Rijker ready Prazak for Wallberg?
On June 14, in Stockholm, Sweden, KO Digest’s #11 pound-for-pound female boxer, Frida “Golden Girl” Wallberg (11-0, 2 KOs) Gthenburg, Sweden, defends her WBC female super featherweight title when she battles the rocket-fisted Diana Prazak (11-2, 7 KOs) Los Angeles by way of Melbourne, Australia. The Lucia Rijker trained Prazak owns superior punching power that works in concert with her forward-moving aggressive style. Conversely, Wallberg, a boxer-puncher with underrated infighting skills, can take advantage of Prazak’s pedestrian foot speed with effective lateral movement and counter-punching. Prazak, fresh off a one-sided loss to Holm, has to knock out Wallberg to secure the title, and she knows it.

Due to injuries, nearly fourteen months have passed since Wallberg last swapped blows with a professional boxer in the ring. A glimmer of hope for Prazak is that Wallberg, who was once inactive for five years, isn’t in prime condition and that trainer Rijker can exploit Wallberg’s penchant for not always using her height well and her tendency to square off her stance at close quarters. 

On June 14, in Queens, New York, two New York City based prospects, Vanessa Greco (1-2-2, 0 KOs) and Susan Reno (1-1, 0 KOs) are scheduled to battle in a grudge match. Last January, Reno pounded her way to a controversial split decision victory over Greco, who it seems is always involved in close fights. Both fighters are former New York Daily News Golden Gloves Champions and are exceptionally well known within the New York City boxing scene. Along with her trainer, Lee Shabaka, Greco is a trainer of a women’s boxing team named “Team Freeform.” Many members of have won amateur titles in New York City and nationally. As a boxer, Greco possesses a high boxing IQ and is formidable as an infighter. Reno was featured in a recently released women’s boxing documentary titled, “Fight Like A Girl” by Jill Morley; she is an ultra-aggressive puncher with exceptional power in her right hand. After defeating Greco in her professional debut, Reno recently dropped a decision to a top-level Canadian prospect, Jacqueline Park.

La Pantera says come and get it TBA!
On June 15, KO Digest's #2 pound-for-pound female boxer, Erica Anabella Farias (16-0, 9 KOs) Argentina, one of the most feared punchers in women’s boxing, defends her WBC lightweight title against the ever-tough TBA. "La Pantera" Farias has knocked down nine of her last ten opponents, stopping eight of them with only Melissa Hernandez and Ann Saccurato escaping a stoppage defeat.

Other world champions facing TBA in June are Tiffany Junot the WBC light middleweight champion, Jessica Nery Plata the WBC light flyweight youth champion, and Ibeth Zamora Silva the WBC light flyweight title holder. Former world title holder, Amanda Serrano (17-1-1, 12 KOs) is in action on June 29 at Resorts World Casino in Queens, New York, also facing a yet to be named opponent.

On June 29 in Mexico City, Yazmin “La Rusita” Rivas (27-7, 9 KOs) Mexico, defends her IBF bantamweight title against Kimika Miyoshi (8-5-1, 3 KOs) Japan. At first glance, it would appear that Rivas would have an easy time defending against Miyoshi. A closer look reveals that Miyoshi recently defeated Riyo Togo by decision winning the OPBF bantamweight title in the process. In April, Togo scored a spectacular first round upset knockout of Mariana Juarez. Rivas struggled to get past the forty year old Maria Elena Villalobos (12-9) in her last defense, escaping with a razor-close split decision victory. Talented, but inconsistent best describes Rivas, who needs to be in top form to successfully defend her world title.

Three Questions - Sweet Side Q&A with Sonya Lamonakis

Lamonakis and promoter Lou DiBella
Sonya Lamonakis, a Greek born, Massachusetts raised, New York City school teacher who doubles as a world ranked professional heavyweight boxer, has much to say about the current status of women’s boxing. Starting from the bottom of the amateur ranks, losing her first three fights, Sonya endured, eventually becoming a four-time New York Daily News Golden Gloves Champion, a two-time National Champion, and a Ringside World Champion.

After compiling an amateur record of 25-6, Sonya became the first female fighter signed by well-known boxing promoter, Lou DiBella. Currently, Sonya has an excellent (7-1-1, 2 KOs) record as a professional. The lone blemish on her otherwise impressive ledger is discussed below in KO Digest’s brand new “Three Questions” feature.

Q: Many talented female boxers struggle to get noticed in an American society that more often than not shuns them. Has your extremely rewarding position as a New York City school teacher blunted any of these effects on you personally?

A: If anything, it's helped me. People respect boxers and not many boxers have an education to fall back on. I started boxing after my education, which gave me options. Women's boxing is improving and getting noticed more. I’m happy to be part of the movement to make that happen.

Q: Your promoter, Lou DiBella, should be congratulated on placing female boxers in prominent position on his cards. Following his lead, what other actions would propel women’s boxing forward in the United States?

A: I wish more promoters would. Women need to be better compensated for their fights, but there is no money in women's boxing. Maybe if they started putting women's boxing on ESPN or HBO, it would help get the women more noticed. Honestly, we're just trying to survive in a male dominated sport. The recent progression is very helpful as we continue our uphill battle to be noticed.

Q: In your most recent bout, a decision loss to Martha Salazar, mistakes were made by the California Boxing Commission. Could you describe them? Will the outcome be changed to a no decision?

A: The Commission said they would change it but they said it would take a couple months. It has to go in front of a committee. She never came to the weigh-in on Friday, they never picked me up at the airport, and had no hotel room for me. When we asked to watch her hands get wrapped they said it was too late. The six rounds were three minute rounds which was never discussed. There was a mistake by the commission. I want a rematch here in NY, where they do things correctly. Drug tests, pro gloves, weigh in, pre-fight physical, and witnessed hand wrapping.

KO Digest's Dynamite Dozen Pound-for-Pound Women's Ratings:

#3 P4P rated Ava Knight wins again in Mexico
1- Cecilia Braekhus (22-0, 6 KOs)  WW
2- Erica Anabella Farias (16-0, 9 KOs) LW
3- Ava Knight (12-1-3, 5 KOs) Fly
4- Christina Hammer (14-0, 7 KOs) SMW, MW
5- Jessica Chavez (18-3-2, 4 KOs) JFly
6- Yesica Yolanda Bopp (24-1, 11 KOs) JFly
7- Anne Sophie Mathis (27-3, 24 KOs) JMW
8- Jelena Mrdjenovich (29-9-1, 14 KOs) FW
9- Melissa Hernandez (18-4-3, 6 KOs) FW
10- Layla McCarter (35-13-5, 8 KOs) JMW
11- Frida Wallberg (11-0, 2 KOs) SFW
12- Esmeralda Moreno (25-6, 9 KOs) JFly  

"The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science" is written and compiled by women's boxing expert Mark Jones - exclusively for KO Digest. You can find more of Mark's work on his women's boxing blog: Boxing Jones