January 3, 2014

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science - 2013 Year End Review & Awards

The modern age of women's boxing begins in 1996
By Mark A. Jones – The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science enters 2014 with the momentum of an event-filled 2013 in women’s boxing propelling it forward. As we backwards glance at the previous year in women’s boxing, to quote Bob Dylan from his 1965 release, “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” -- “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows” -- can accurately describe the emerging acceptance of women’s combat sport in the United States. Fading away are the timeworn social mores that “keep within bounds” the pathway women can follow in entertainment and culture. During the past twelve months, Rhonda Rousey has become an enormous attraction in MMA, NASCAR driver Danica Patrick won the pole position at the Daytona 500, and “Mama, Mama can’t you see what the Marine Corps has done for me!” Three women  – PFC's Julia Carroll, Christina Montenegro, and Katie Gorz possessed the necessary “do-or-die” motto to graduate from Marine infantry school just a year after the Pentagon lifted bans on women combat roles.

Generally, more popular throughout the rest of the world, women’s boxing has registered on the Richter Magnitude Scale of American sports only sporadically. During the 1950's, “The Mighty Atom of the Ring,” Barbara Buttrick barnstormed the United States, engaging in exhibitions often against male boxers and she became the first female boxer to have her fight broadcast on television. In the late 70's, Cathy “Cat” Davis, a puncher from Poughkeepsie, New York, appeared on network television and the August 1978 cover of “The Ring Magazine.” Led by Christy Martin, Mia St John, and Laila Ali; women’s boxing had a momentary resurrection of popularity beginning in the mid-90's when Hall of Fame boxing promoter Don King placed Martin on the undercard of Mike Tyson pay-per-view cards.

Currently, American female fighters, even those that are highly rated, are regional attractions having to travel abroad to participate in prestigious fights. In 2013, the following world class, American-based female fighters fought outside the United States: Diana Prazak (Sweden), Melissa Hernandez (Canada), Alicia Ashley (Mexico), Ava Knight (Mexico), Melissa McMorrow (Germany), Carina Moreno (Germany), and Tori Nelson (Bermuda).

Marcos and Acuna find large crowds outside the US
On January 25 in Argentina, Yesica Patricia Marcos successfully defended her WBO & WBA female super bantamweight titles against fellow Argentine Marcela Eliana Acuna battling to a ten-round draw in front of a boisterous crowd of 45,000. In 2011, in Mexico, a fight between Jackie Nava and Ana Maria Torres did an 18% share for 30 million viewers on Box Azteca. In 2010, the popular Ana Julaton, who is of Philippine decent, battled Maria Villalobos in Canada for two female super bantamweight titles; the fight did a 15.3 share in the Philippines. And back in 2007, German women’s boxing pioneer Regina Halmich, in her farewell performance, drew 10.2 million viewers on ZDF German TV.

How is this international success comparable to women’s boxing in the United States? As women continue to overcome gender stereotypes that exist within the “old-boy network” in male-driven societies and when women’s boxing is promoted on an equal basis with men’s boxing, it thrives. The wind is unquestionably blowing in that direction.

Women’s boxing in 2013 accelerated to high-speed out of the blocks with “The Blossom Murderer” Yesica Patricia Marcos (22-0-2, 7 KOs) successfully defending her WBO & WBA female super bantamweight titles by battling to a controversial split-draw with “La Tigresa” Marcela Eliana Acuna (40-6-1, 17 KOs) on Jan 25 in San Martin, Mendoza, Argentina. The bout drew a live audience of 45,000 and was televised on Argentina TyC Sports. Just one week later, on February 2 at the Berkeley Institute Gym, in Pembroke, Bermuda, the WBA female middleweight champion Teresa Perozzi (9-4-3, 1 KO) of Warwick, Bermuda, met Tori Nelson (8-0-3, 0 KOs) for the vacant WBC female middleweight title. This was a rematch of their October 2012 battle in Southampton, Bermuda, which ended in a majority-draw with a single Bermuda-based judge favoring Perozzi. In the rematch, the judges, for a second time couldn’t establish a winner ruling the fight a split-draw. The third round was “The Round of the Year” in women’s boxing witnessing both fighters taste the canvas. Early in the round, Perozzi was the first to hit the deck when she caught a counter right cross, the trademark punch of Nelson. Perozzi, a southpaw, after rising quickly returned the favor by knocking down Nelson with a straight-left cross. With the crowd on their feet, the remainder of the round was an intense fist-flying affair with neither fighter gaining a foothold that would lend them well later in the fight. Listed below, is the rest of the “Best of 2013” in women’s boxing.

Sweet Side of the Sweet Science Year End Award Winners:

Fight of the Year: Melissa McMorrow SD10 Nadia Raoui

McMorrow beats Raoui in the 2013 Fight of the year
On March 23 at the GETEC Arena in Magdeburg, Germany, “Mighty” Melissa McMorrow (9-3-3, 1 KO) successfully defended her WBO and WBF female flyweight titles with a ten-round, split-decision victory or Nadia Raoui (15-2-1, 3 KOs). Two judges called the fight 99-91 and 96-94 in favor of McMorrow of San Francisco, USA, while the third ruled in favor Raoui of Herne, Germany, 96-94. Often female bouts are considered “the fight of the night” and receive enormous fan support when placed on boxing shows. McMorrow, who turned in “fight of the year” and “upset of the year” performances in 2012 against Arely “Machine Gun” Mucino and Susi “Killer Queen” Kentikian respectively, has been winning over crowds since turning professional in 2008.

In this fist-flying affair against a brilliant counter-boxer in Raoui, McMorrow bobbed-and-weaved evading most of what the challenger had to offer. McMorrow’s sheer volume (upwards of 90 punches a round) gradually wore down Raoui who faded over the final few stanzas allowing the champion to achieve the necessary separation on the score cards in what was otherwise a closely contested championship fight.

The contest was placed on the undercard of the Robert Stieglitz vs Arthur Abraham II WBO super middleweight title fight. It was the only 2013 performance by McMorrow, who is promoted by German-based SES Boxing and televised on German television and Box Nation. McMorrow said of her battle with Raoui and her goals for 2014, “Fighting on this card was spectacular. I truly hope everyone in Germany (and in the UK and US, wherever it showed, and all those who regularly watch YouTube) really enjoyed it. Nadia Raoui is a deceptively strong fighter, especially on the inside where I like to fight. I am really honored that she brought her best to the fight. I see it as a huge compliment can't wait to get in the ring again. I want the WBA & WBC titles. I never set my goals low, so that is the goal for 2014!”

Best of the Rest: Diana Prazak KO8 Frida Wallberg, Jelena Mrdjenovich TD6 Melissa Hernandez, 
Jessica Chavez D10 Arely Mucino, and Jessica Chavez UD10 Yesica Yolanda Bopp. 

Knockout of the Year: Diana Prazak KO8 Frida Wallberg

Prazak levels Wallberg 
On June 14 in Stockholm, Sweden, local fan-favorite and WBC female super-featherweight champion Frida “Golden Girl” Wallberg (11-1, 2 KOs) was ahead on each scorecard (68-65 x 3) over the iron-fisted and Lucia Rijker-trained, Diana Prazak (12-2, 8 KOs). Prazak, a transplanted Australian living and fighting out of Los Angeles, landed a fight changing right cross early in round seven, a blow that staggered Wallberg, a moment from which she would never fully recover.

Midway through the eighth, Prazak landed a crushing counter left-hook that knocked Wallberg to the canvas. Rising from the knockdown at the count of three, Wallberg appeared unsteady, using the entire eight-count to shake off the daze. Prazak won the WBC female super-featherweight title moments later landing a right to the jaw that leveled Wallberg forcing an immediate referee stoppage.

The post-fight scene in the ring was an indictment on the lack of a well-seasoned boxing culture in Sweden and the utter incompetence of Wallberg’s trainer William Nguesseu who himself retired from boxing due to a head injury. Nguesseu failed to accommodate his freshly knocked out fighter with a stool, instead allowing her to be examined by the ringside physician while slumped over the ropes. Only after the prompting of Prazak and Rijker, was Wallberg positioned on a stool where she was evaluated for a second time by the ringside physician. As a result of Team Prazak’s timely intervention, Wallberg was removed from the ring on a stretcher and rushed to a hospital where it was discovered that she sustained a subdural hematoma which required emergency brain surgery and a medically induced coma.

During a post-fight interview, Prazak said, “This takes everything away from the victory. Everybody wants to win on a knockout, but nobody wants to win this way. It doesn't feel like I have won anything at all. I am praying for her.”

Since the fight, Wallberg has suffered from headaches and brain fatigue, but she has improved recently.

Best of the Rest: Oxandia Castillo TKO2 Hanna Gabriel, Alejandra Marina Oliveras KO5 Calixta Silgado, 
Zulina Munoz KO1 Maribel Ramirez, and Riyo Togo TKO1 Mariana Juarez.

Upset of the Year: Riyo Togo TKO1 Mariana Juarez

Togo upsets Juarez but did she cheat to win?
On April 27 at Arena Mexico, Mexico City, Mexico, the ever-popular Mariana Juarez, in front of her hometown fans, made the strategic oversight of slugging with a slugger named Riyo Togo of Tokyo, Japan. Just moments before the bell ending round one, Togo landed a well-placed counter left hook to the jaw that floored Juarez. Rising on wobbly legs at the count of eight, the assigned referee waved off the fight after a thorough visual inspection. The stoppage loss by the commonly durable Juarez was her first since 2005. On July 13, Togo’s knockout victory was tainted when just before the rematch with Juarez, Togo was discovered to be wearing gloves with the padding moved aside to allow the wrapped hand to directly press against the leather of the glove.

Juarez (38-7-3, 16 KOs) rebounded in the rematch winning a one-sided unanimous decision over Togo (11-5-1, 9 KOs). "Togo's team," according to WBC inspector Dr. Soberanes "had moved aside the padding from the front part of the glove to attain more punching force. The knuckles were protected by just the hand wrap and skin." Said Juarez on the issue of Togo's glove padding, "After finding out that they had seized the gloves last Saturday, it made me question whether she fought like that when she knocked me out in one round. On that occasion, I felt that her punches were very hard and look, I can take a punch and I've fought against some very heavy punchers.”

Best of the Rest: Jessica Gonzalez SD10 Yazmin Rivas, Diana Prazak KO8 Frida Wallberg, and 
Anabel Ortiz SD10 Etsuko Tada. 

Comeback of the Year: Susi “Killer Queen” Kentikian

Swarming 26-year-old flyweight Susi “Killer Queen” Kentikian (32-2, 16 KOs) of Hamburg, Germany, by way of Yerevan, Armenia, experienced a traumatic 2012 as two American flyweights from California, USA, left Germany with her WBA, WIBF, and WBO world flyweight titles. In May 2012, “Mighty” Melissa McMorrow lifted the WBO and WIBF titles from Kentikian (MD10) spoiling “Killer Queen’s” twelfth defense of the WIBF strap. In December, Carina Moreno ruined Christmas and Kentikian’s fifteenth defense of the WBA flyweight title by winning a closely contested ten-round, split-decision. Kentikian said of 2012, “Last year I had to take two highly controversial defeats. I knew then no longer whether boxing at all is the right thing for me. I was briefly dropped, but I am quickly got up again. 2013 is a fresh start for me. Yes, I'm back! And the feel stronger than ever before.”

Suzi got her groove back and some new belts
For 2013, Kentikian prepared differently joining the stable of middleweight champion Felix Sturm. “I changed my training. My ambition has grown. I feel as if I were again 18 years old!”

In February, Kentikian battled undefeated contender Sanae Jah of Belgium for the interim WBA flyweight title. Entering the fight with only seven bouts and two stoppage wins, it was supposed to be a fight where the drastically more experienced former champion “got her groove back.” Kentikian defeated Jah (UD10) and secured the interim title but struggled with her timing and took unnecessary punishment.

She showed much better in her July rematch with Moreno winning the full WBA female flyweight title with a ten-round unanimous decision 97-93, 97-93, 96-94 over the talented American counter-puncher. Kentikian said of her effort, “the first rounds, I won, and in the middle of the fight, it was two rounds for her, but those were tactical rounds for me." In December, skilled southpaw and former two-division champion, Simona “Romagna Queen” Galassi hoped spoil the holiday season for the “Killer Queen” by taking the WBA title back to Forli, Emilia Romagna, Italy; however, her 41-year-old legs failed to keep her away from the younger champion losing a unanimous decision 98.5-94, 99-91.5, 97-95.5. Entering 2014 on a three-fight winning streak and the WBA flyweight title securely around her waist, “Susi has her groove back” and will look to add to her already impressive legacy.

Best of the Rest: Marcela Eilana Acuna, Tori Nelson, and Jelena Mrdjenovich.

Robbery of the Year: Jennifer Retzke D10 Florence Muthoni

IBO title still vacant after a draw robbed Muthoni (R)
On August 3 in Eberswalde, Brandenburg, Germany, in a battle for the vacant IBO female welterweight title, Christmas came early for IBF light-middleweight champion Jennifer Retzke (13-1-1, 9 KOs) Berlin, Germany, as the three wise men at ringside presented her a majority-draw against speedy Kenyan Florence Muthoni (9-3-1, 3 KOs) Nairobi, Kenya. In boxing, speed kills. Muthoni, fast but feather-fisted, moved in-and-out raining flurries of punches on Retzke, who is more comfortable as a lead puncher. Retzke had trouble adjusting to the intense volume of Muthoni. Winning an overwhelming majority of the first eight rounds, Muthoni had apparently outworked Retzke by a large enough margin that the hard punching German’s late rally would be insufficient to overcome her slow start.

However, of the assigned judges, only Italian Giulio Piras ruled in favor of Muthoni (96-94) while Matteo Monetella (Italy) and Erich Stuempfl (Germany) issued identical scorecards of (95-95) allowing Retzke to escape with a majority-draw keeping her reputation as a future star at welterweight intact. The belief that German-based fighters receive the benefit of the doubt on German soil in closely contested title fights held true in this matchup.

Worst of the Rest: Yesica Marcos D10 Marcela Acuna, Janeth Perez UD10 Galina Ivanova, 
Irma Garcia UD10 Janeth Perez (first fight).

Event of the Year: Holly Holm Leaves Boxing for MMA

On April 16 the 31-year-old pound-for-pound No. 1-rated female boxer, Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (33-2-3, 9 KOs) shocked the boxing world and announced that after her May 11 title defense against Mary McGee (Holm won a ten-round unanimous decision) that she would bid adieu to the boxing ring in favor of the octagon of mixed martial arts.

Holm's decision was a blow to women's boxing
"When we were deciding which way to go with my future, my trainer, Mike Winkeljohn, said it best, ‘You want to climb a new mountain.’ This thing has created a new spark in me, and I’m following my heart. I wish much success to Cecilia (Braekhus) but not fighting her does not, by any means, define my boxing career. I know there’s a lot of talk about that but what does that say about all the women I’ve already fought? I’ve never been a paper champion. I’ve grown so much every step of the way. This is obviously an emotional, spiritual and physical journey, and I’m so grateful for the people who have supported me. I just want to fight where my passion is. I train in an MMA gym and always have.”

In reality, Holm’s retirement represented the last symbolic shovel full of dirt placed on top of arguably one the most anticipated match-ups in the history of women’s boxing (Holm vs Braekhus). Holm, a 3-division champion, defeated a who’s who in women’s boxing including Christy Martin, Mia St. John, Anne Sophie Mathis, Mary Jo Sanders, and Jane Couch; pounding out an amazing (21-1-1) record in world title fights.

Best of the Rest: International Olympic Committee rejecting a plan to increase the number of medal events for female boxers in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Irish superstar Katie Taylor draws 20,000 in Bray, Ireland, Marcela Eilana Acuna vs Yesica Patricia Marcos championship fight draws 45,000 spectators in Argentina.

KO Digest Sweet Side of the Sweet Science Fighter of the Year: Delfine Persoon

2013 Female Fighter of the Year Delfine Persoon
Belgium, with a population of approximately 11-million people, will probably never be known as a hotbed of boxing talent; however, they can boast that perhaps the best female lightweight boxer in the world, Delfine Persoon (28-1, 13 KOs) hails from Roeselare, West-Vlaanderen. Entering 2013, the 28-year-old Persoon, owned the WIBF lightweight title; she added the WBF and WIBA belts in December with a stoppage victory over Lucia Morelli (TKO10). In an era where high-profile fighters perform only a few times a year, Persoon pounded out a (7-0, 4 KOs) record in 2013 defeating legitimate contenders Irma Balijagic Adler (UD8) and Fatuma Zarika (UD8) in the process. In a November tuneup, she took only three rounds to demolish the current IBF welterweight champion, Eva Halasi in a non-title fight.

In a March 2012 WBC lightweight title eliminator bout, Persoon was victorious over Kremena Petkova (KO2), as a result, the WBC held purse bids in December for a WBC lightweight title fight between champion, Erica Anabella “Pantera” Farias (18-0, 9 KOs) and Persoon. Belgian promoter Filiep Tampere won the purse bid offering $61,101. The super-fight between Farias and Persoon will take place on April 20 at Zwevezele, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

Best of the Rest: Ibeth Zamora Silva, Christina Hammer, Jessica Chavez, Erica Anabella Farias, and Marcela Acuna.

Prospect of the Year: Flyweight Joselyn Arroyo Ruiz

Princess Tapatia is the Prospect of the Year
Nineteen year old flyweight sensation, Joselyn “Princess Tapatia” Arroyo Ruiz (15-0, 6 KOs) of Guadalajara, Mexico, is establishing herself as a future star in the sport. Since turning professional in early 2011, Arroyo-Ruiz has won 15-straight including the NABF female flyweight title in her eleventh bout. To date, she has defended the belt once defeating Momoko “Supernova” Kanda (UD10).

Hailing from the boxing rich heritage of Guadalajara, Mexico, Arroyo Ruiz pays proper homage to Mexican female boxing legends Jackie Nava and Ana Maria Torres who came before her. "What they have achieved Jackie Nava and Ana Maria Torres is great for women's boxing, they opened the way for new generations of boxing as in my case, they are an example and motivation", said Arroyo Ruiz.

With the mentality of a boxer-puncher, Arroyo Ruiz battles out of the orthodox stance enjoying a stiff jab that enables her to land accurately in combination behind it. Her defensive abilities and understanding of range are remarkable enough to challenge the flyweight division’s elite. Currently, she enjoys lofty ratings by the (WBC #10) and the (WIBA #14) and should close in on title contention in 2014.

Best of the Rest: Shelley Vincent, Maria Suarez, Jemyma Betrain, Gina Chamie, and Heather Hardy.

The Sweet Side State of the Game:

Ireland's Taylor is the world's best female amateur boxer
Best Amateur: Katie Taylor (Ireland)
Best Boxer: Cecilia Braekhus
Best Slugger: Erica Anabella Farias
Best Defense: Alicia Ashley
Counter Puncher: Marcela Eilana Acuna
Power Puncher: Anne Sophie Mathis
Body Puncher: Yesica Patricia Marcos
Most Aggressive: Alejandra Marina Oliveras
Best Jab: Cecilia Braekhus
Left Hook: Jelena Mrdjenovich
Right Cross: Erica Anabella Farias

Most Fun to Watch Like Rocky Balboa: Zulina Munoz
Best Fighter Nobody Knows About: Su-Yun Hong

Five Fights We Want To See In 2014:

Ava Knight vs Melissa McMorrow - The two best American fighters are flyweights from California.
Diana Prazak vs Amanda Serrano - Both these female fighters throw heavy leather.

Erica Anabella Farias vs Delfine Persoon - The two best lightweights in the world by a mile.
Mariana Juarez vs Zulina Munoz - The popularity of Juarez against the raw power of Munoz.

Cecilia Braekhus or Ann Sophie Mathis vs Christina Hammer - Two division champion Hammer is running out of options at middleweight and super middleweight and needs a legacy bout before an eventual move to heavyweight.

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

The First Lady of boxing is #1 P4P

1- Cecilia Braekhus (23-0, 7 KOs) Norway
2- Erica Farias (18-0, 9 KOs) Argentina
3- Christina Hammer (16-0, 8 KOs) Germany
4- Yesica Bopp (26-1, 12 KOs) Argentina
5- Ann Sophie Mathis (27-3, 23 KOs) France
6- Marcela Acuna (40-6-1, 17 KOs) Argentina
7- Jessica Chavez (19-3-3, 4 KOs) Mexico
8- Delfine Persoon (28-1, 13 KOs) Belgium
9- Jelena Mrdjenovich (31-9-1, 16 KOs) Canada
10- Diana Prazak (12-2, 8 KOs) Australia/USA
11- Ibeth Zamora Silva (19-5, 8 KOs) Mexico
12- Naoko Fujioka (11-0, 6 KOs) Japan 

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