January 24, 2015

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science — 2014 Year End Review & Awards

Boxing's First Lady Cecilia Braekhus is Fighter of the Year
By Mark A Jones — Much took place in women’s boxing in 2014 making it a banner year in some respects. The professional female boxing scene is dominated by fighters from Mexico and Argentina in the lighter weight classes whereas the world champions in the heavier weight classes are based in Europe. In amateur boxing, American females have fared much better with Marlen Esparza (51 KG) and Claressa Shields (75 KG) achieving #1 rankings internationally. On Memorial Day, women’s boxing in the United States received much needed exposure when Private First Class Alex Love (Army) won a decision over 17-year-old Julie LaDisa (Bronx) on a Golden Boy Promotions pro-am card from Fort Bliss, Texas. The card was televised by FoxSports1.

Love, of Seattle, is a member of the United States Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) and competed in the first-ever USA Boxing Olympic Trials for female boxers in 2012. Danyelle Wolfe, San Diego, who is ranked #1 by USA Boxing at welterweight (152 lbs.), appeared in the revealing ESPN the Magazine Body Issue 2014. Women’s boxing must receive more exposure on the grassroots level if the professional ranks are to enjoy the popularity it once achieved a decade ago when Laila Ali, Christ Martin, and Mia St. John were driving the sport.

IWBHF inaugural inductees
At the National Golden Gloves tournament, on July 10, the first-ever International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame (IWBHF) inductions were held. A fabulous cast of seven inductees were celebrated for their contributions to women’s boxing at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The event was hosted by Bill Calogero and each inductee was introduced by Malissa Smith, the author of “The History of Women’s Boxing.” The IWBHF is the creation of Sue Fox; a former boxer and creator of the website, Women’s Boxing Achieve Network or “WBAN.” Foremost among the inductees is Barbara Buttrick “The Mighty Atom of the Ring” who barnstormed the United States in the 1940s and 50s and is considered the most important pioneer of women’s boxing. Buttrick compiled a reported record of (31-1) during her travels, often fighting in "exhibition" bouts against men. In the 1990s, Buttrick founded the Women’s International Boxing Federation, a major sanctioning body in women’s boxing.

IWBHF 2014 Inductees: 
Barbara Buttrick (boxer)
Bonnie Canino (boxer and coach)
Christy Martin (boxer)
Regina Halmich (boxer)
Dr. Christy Halbert (coach and author)
Lucia Rijker (boxer)
Jo-Ann Hagen (boxer, posthumous)

The IWBHF rolls out their Hall of Fame carpet
On December 1, the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame (IWBHF) announced the 2015 induction class. The induction ceremonies will be held on July 11 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and includes Muhammad Ali's daughter. 

IWBHF 2015 Inductees: 
Laila Ali (boxer)
Jeannine Garside (boxer)
Deirdre Gogarty (boxer)
Phyliss Kugler (boxer, posthumous)
Sparkle Lee (referee)
Terri Moss (boxer and coach)
Laura Serrano (boxer)
Ann Wolfe (boxer)

The sporting world mourns the loss of Mwelase
Tragically, on October 10, aspiring South African light-welterweight professional boxer, Phindile Mwelase entered the ring for the fourth time seeking her first victory against six-fight veteran Liz Butler. However, Mwelase was knocked out by her more experienced foe in the sixth round of a scheduled eight. After the bout it was discovered that Mwelase had sustained bleeding on the brain that required emergency surgery. Subsequently, she slipped into a coma from which she never recovered. On October 25 at a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, she died of the injuries that she sustained in the contest, she was 31. Reuters quoted South African President Jacob Zuma, who stated, “She joined a sport that is predominately male, and was proving that women can also succeed in boxing.” To date, the death of Mwelase is the second ring-death of a female boxer. The first such a event was in April 2005 when American amateur boxer Becky Zerlentes died of injuries sustained in a knockout loss.

Knockout of the Year: Anne Sophie Mathis NC 5 Christina Hammer

Controversial "knockout" in Germany
On July 26 in Dessau, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, it, what at the time appeared to be the matchup of the year, 23-year-old Christina Hammer (17-0, 8 KOs), entered the ring entered the ring with two middleweight titles to face perhaps the most brutal puncher in the history of women’s boxing in Anne Sophie Mathis (27-3, 23 KOs) for the WBO & WBF light-middleweight titles. Mathis, 37, a notoriously slow starter, allowed Hammer to win three of the first four rounds before becoming settled in the fight. In the fifth stanza, during a failed attempt by Hammer to clinch, Mathis landed a well-placed crushing right cross to the ear resulting in a knockdown. The assigned referee, Manfred Kuechler, failed to count Hammer out who required 25 seconds to erect herself properly from the canvas. Instead, Kuechler ruled the punch that knocked Hammer down an illegal blow to the back of the head and disqualified Mathis.

Video evidence later revealed that the punch was legal and that the referee was out of position to render a proper ruling. On July 28, the WBF declared the bout a “no contest” restoring Mathis as WBF light-middleweight champion. On July 29, Bund Deutscher Berufsboxer, the sanctioning commission, followed suit, changing the result to a “no contest.” A rematch has not been scheduled.

Best of the Rest: Yesica Patricia Marcos KO-1 Estrella Valverde,
Jackie Nava KO-7 Alys Sanchez, and Daniela Romina Bermudez TKO8 Linda Laura Lecca

2013 Winner: Diana Prazak KO8 Frida Wallberg

Upset of the Year: Ana Laura Esteche UD10 Monica Silvina Acosta

Esteche's upset was the biggest in 2014
On January 18 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Ana Laura Esteche, who failed in three attempts at lightweight to secure a world title, entered the ring against WBA light-welterweight champion Monica Silvina Acosta a gigantic underdog. Acosta, during her 5 ½ year reign as the WBC and later the WBA light-welterweight champion was considered talented but protected, held victories over Erin McGowan, Belinda Laracuente, and Alejandra Marina Oliveras. By most, Esteche was considered nothing more than a tune-up for Acosta, who looked forward to defending against the best of the division in 2014. From the outset of the bout, it was evident that the 36-year-old Acosta was not in prime condition. She was unable to move laterally to evade the sharp counters of the 23-year-old Esteche. Acosta delivered the heavier blows, but was outworked by the challenger who countered well and accurately. Before the scores (99-91/98-92/98-92) were announced, the champion placed the WBA belt around the waist of the new champion rendering the ring announcer’s proclamation moot. In September, Acosta (19-2-2, 5 KOs) lost a controversial split-decision to Marisa Gabriela Nunez (7-5-2) for the IBF light-welterweight title. Esteche (11-3-2, 2 KOs) defended her title in June against popular Russian contender Svetlana Kulakova (9-0-1) battling to a split-draw. In a non-title fight against WBO light-welterweight champion Fernanda Soledad Alegre (20-2-1, 10 KOs) in November, Esteche escaped with a split-decision victory.

Best of the Rest: Jazmin Ortega (2-1-1) UD-10 Irma Sanchez (28-6-1), Maribel Ramirez (9-7-2) SD-8 Esmeralda Moreno (29-7-1)

2013 Winner: Riyo Togo TKO1 Mariana Juarez 

The Sweet Side Comeback Fighter of the Year: Jackie Nava

Jackie Nava came back from childbirth
On May 24 in Tijuana, Mexico, 34-year-old Jackie Nava, after a 21-month layoff from the ring due to childbirth, returned in grand fashion winning the interim WBA World female super-bantamweight title (122 lbs.) by knocking out former world champion, Alys Sanchez (13-2-1, 4 KOs) in the seventh round of a scheduled ten. With the win, Nava became a super bantamweight world champion for the fifth time. Nava hit the canvas in the first stanza as a result of catching a clubbing right cross from Sanchez, but dominated the remainder of the contest issuing Sanchez a brutal beating knocking her down four times in route to the knockout win. In September, Nava retained the WBA interim title and lifted the WBC World female super-bantamweight title with a majority decision over Alicia Ashley (22-10-1, 4 KOs). In December, Nava moved her record to (3-0) in 2014 with a ten-round unanimous decision over Sayda Mosquera (7-1-1, 5 KOs). With the win, Nava retained the WBC super-bantamweight title and became the WBA Super Champion.

Best of the Rest: Paola Gabriela Casalinuovo, Martha Salazar, and Hanna Gabriel 

2013 Winner: Susi “Killer Queen” Kentikian

Robbery of the Year: Mariana Juarez UD 10 Melissa McMorrow

Juarez beat McMorrow with some help from the judges
On February 22 in Puebla, Mexico, Melissa McMorrow of San Francisco battered famous Mexican super-flyweight, Mariana Juarez of Mexico City with her ultra-aggressive, two-fisted attack over ten rounds conservatively winning eight of the stanzas. At stake for Juarez was the WBC International female super-flyweight title (first defense) and a rumored lucrative fight with fellow Mexican and WBC super-flyweight world champion, Zulina Munoz (44-1-2, 27 KOs). The three-judge panel, each from Mexico, awarded Mariana Juarez a unanimous decision victory (96-94 x 3) potentially robbing McMorrow of a shot at Munoz. Since, the 34-year-old Juarez stopped Carla Romina Weiss in four rounds moving her record to (40-7-3, 17 KOs). In August, McMorrow, 33, dropped to flyweight and lost another controversial decision in Mexico this time to Jessica Chavez (UD-10). The scoring (97-93, 97-94, and 96-94) favored Chavez, but it was McMorrow who controlled the action inside the ring. McMorrow’s record now is standing at a deceiving (9-5-3, 1 KO).

Worst of the Rest: Chavez UD-10 McMorrow, Jennifer Retzke SD-10 Florence Muthoni, Ji Hye Woo MD-10 Jennifer Han 

Worst of 2013: Jennifer Retzke D10 Florence Muthoni

Event of the Year: First Ever WBC Women’s Boxing Convention

The WBC's first female boxing convention
In September, a milestone in women’s boxing was established when the first-ever WBC Female Boxing Convention was held in Playa del Carmen, Quintana, Mexico. The convention was formed with the dual purpose of paying tribute to late WBC President Jose Sulaiman and to establish the worldwide legitimacy of women’s boxing. In attendance was the WBA President (Gilberto Mendoza), the IBF (Daryl Peoples), and the WBC (Mauricio Sulaiman). Elite promoters Oscar De La Hoya and Don King were also in attendance. The event was attended by an impressive list of past and present WBC champions from around the globe including Christy Martin (USA), Klara Svensson (Sweden), Jelena Mrdjenovich (Canada), and Carolina Duer (Argentina).

Best of the Rest: Norway legalizes boxing, Women’s IWBHF initial inductions 2013 Winner: Holly Holm Leaves Boxing for MMA

Fight of the Year: Delfine Persoon UD 10 Erica Anabella Farias

Persoon pounds Farias to win the Fight of the Year
On April 20 in Zwevezele, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, in the co-main event of a five-bout card, Define Persoon pounded out a ten-round unanimous decision victory (96-93/96-92/96-92) over Argentina’s Erica Anabella Farias lifting the WBC lightweight title from the longtime Argentine champion. Persoon of Roeselare, Belgium, with the win, cemented her placement with the pound-for-pound best of women’s boxing. From the opening bell, the two fighters exchanged heavy blows throughout the distance with both resorting to extracurricular activities to gain a foothold in the slugfest. Farias, in her first fight outside Argentina, received point deductions in the seventh and ninth rounds for dangerous use of the head. Persoon received a point deduction in round nine. The fight was more closely contested than the scorecards would otherwise indicate, but Persoon was duly awarded the victory. Persoon, the KO Digest Fighter of the Year in 2013, was exceptional in 2014 following the Farias victory. She bested speedy African Judy Waguthii (UD-8) and stopped WBC super-featherweight champion, Diana Prazak (TKO-9). Since, Farias (21-1, 10 KOs) elevated in weight and won the WBC light-welterweight title with a split-decision victory over brawler Alejandra Mariana Oliveras.

Persoon, with the above-mentioned achievements, stands at an impressive (31-1, 14 KOs).

Best of the Rest: Zulina Munoz TD-6 Alesia Graf II, Jessica Chavez UD-10 Melissa McMorrow, 
Susi Kentikian UD-10 Naoko Fujioka 2013 Winner: Melissa McMorrow SD10 Nadia Raoui 

The 2014 KO Digest Sweet Side Fighter of the Year: Cecilia Braekhus

Braekhus is in a class all by herself
The “First Lady of Boxing” and the consensus pound-for-pound best in the sport pounded out a stellar 2014, posting a record of (4-0) and with a shutout victory over Ivana Habazin, in September, she secured the IBF female welterweight title, the lone major title that had eluded her. The 33-year-old Braekhus (27-0, 7 KOs) holds the WBA, WBC, WBO, and IBF welterweight titles and in 2014, defeated Myriam Lamare, Jessica Balogun, Jennifer Retzke, and Habazin who combined for a record of 74-8-1. In addition, Braekhus, of Bergen, Norway, was instrumental in the ban on boxing in Norway being repealed on December 18. No timetable has been set on when the first boxing match since 1981 takes place in Norway.

The Best of the Rest: Delfine Persoon, Yazmin Rivas, and Susi Kentikian 2013 FOTY Winner: Delfine Persoon

Prospect of the Year: Light Welterweight Farida El Hadrati

France's Farida El Hadrati
The 33-year-old Farida El Hadrati (6-0, 3 KOs) of Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dome, France, turned professional at thirty-one after a stellar amateur career that witnessed her win championships on both the domestic and international levels. She turned professional in December 2012 winning three of her first four contests by knockout. In May El Hadrati won the WBF International female light-welterweight title with a dominate ten-round unanimous decision over Kremena Petkova. In December, El Hadrati added to her resume by winning the EBU female light-welterweight title by pounding out and impressive unanimous decision victory over Sabrina Giuliani (12-3); by far the most impressive opponent the French slugger has faced during her brief career. El Hadrati is more slugger than boxer employing an aggressive two-fisted swarming attack. She owns good power in her right hand and has more than enough hand speed to compete with the best at light-welterweight.

Best of the Rest: Nicole Wesner (Germany), Anahi Esther Sanchez (Argentina), Csilla Nemedi (Hungary), Tania Enriquez (Mexico), Ana Cristina Vargas (Mexico), and Karen Elizabeth Carabajal (Argentina)

2013 Winner: Flyweight Joselyn Arroyo Ruiz

The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science State of the Game:

Mighty McMorrow is fun to watch
Best Amateur: Katie Taylor (Ireland)
Best Boxer: Cecilia Braekhus
Best Slugger: Delfine Persoon
Best Defense: Alicia Ashley
Best Counter Puncher: Marcela Eilana Acuna
Give that Girl A Title Shot: Jessica Nery Plata
Best Power Puncher: Anne Sophie Mathis
Best Body Puncher: Yesica Patricia Marcos
Most Aggressive: Alejandra Marina Oliveras
Most Fun to Watch: Melissa McMorrow
Most Improved: Magali Rodriguez
Most Avoided: Jelena Mrdjenovich
Most Protected: Eva Voraberger
On the Rise: Klara Svensson
On the Decline: Janeth Perez
Underrated: Ana Laura Esteche
Overrated: Ji-Hye Woo

Five Female Fights We Want To See For 2015:

Acuna vs Marcos II in 2015?
1. Cecilia Braekhus vs Erica Anabella Farias - Braekhus has conquered the welterweight division; it is time for the best to move up or down. Farias is the WBC junior welterweight champ.

2.  Anne Sophie Mathis vs Hanna Gabriel
- Both girls possess one-punch knockout power.

3. Susi Kentikian vs Arely Mucino II - Mucino showed well in the first matchup nearly five years ago before an unintentional clash of heads caused the bout to be stopped (NC-3).

4. Marcela Eilana Acuna vs Yesica Patricia Marcos II
- The first fight drew more than 40,000 fans. Why not do it again?

5. Marina Juarez vs Zulina Munoz - This super-fight is scheduled for February. 
Can the classic style of Juarez hold off the crude aggression of Munoz?

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

It begins and it ends with Braekhus #1

1- Cecilia Braekhus (27-0, 7 KOs) Norway
2- Delfine Persoon (31-1, 14 KOs) Belguim
3- Marcela Eilana Acuna (42-6-1, 18 KOs) Argentina
4- Ibeth Zamora-Silva (21-5, 8 KOs) Mexico
5- Anne Sophie Mathis (27-3, 23 KOs) France
6- Jackie Nava (31-4-3, 13 KOs) Mexico
7- Susi Kentikian (34-2, 17 KOs) Germany
8- Erica Anabella Farias (21-1, 10 KOs) Argentina
9- Jelena Mrdjenovich (34-9-1, 18 KOs) Canada
10- Christina Hammer (17-0, 8 KOs) Germany
11- Yesica Patricia Marcos (26-0-2, 9 KOs) Argentina
12- Diana Prazak (13-3, 9 KOs) Australia        

"The Sweet Side of the Sweet Science" was written by women's boxing expert Mark A. Jones -- exclusively for KO Digest. You can find more of Mark's female fight coverage on his women's boxing blog:  Boxing Jones