A culture shock and more than just a cut eye
By Michael Benjamin
Those memories still linger of that night in the mid 2000s when I trooped to Base Camp Ayangana for
the Guyana Defence Force Novices Boxing Championships. This is the first stage of senior amateur competition and is usually action packed by dint of the unconventional styles and rollicking slugfests.
On the professional scene, Gwendolyn ‘Stealth Bomber’ O’Neil had managed to institutionalize the involvement of the ‘fairer sex’ and had become a household name just after she had defeated American, Kathy Rivers in March 2004, for the Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) light/heavyweight belt.
Women’s boxing was quickly gaining traction and on that night in Ayangana, there were about three female bouts. While O’Neil’s feat was meritorious, the pundits, accustomed to the raging slugfests among strong muscular males, were somewhat apprehensive and refused to accept the notion of women in the fistic sport. They simply laid back and awaited the natural death of the phenomenon.
Anyway, back to ringside at Camp Ayangana; the principals were ushered in the ring and introduced just before the bell rang for the first round. I remembered those two women, eager for combat, rushing to centre ring but instead of trading punches, engaged in a fierce ‘cut eye’ battle much to the merriment of the crowd. Believe me, not a punch was thrown; the women just stood there trying to hurt each other with their fierce ‘cut eye’ exchanges while the referee, probably experiencing such ‘fury’ for the first time, stood transfixed in amusement, maybe for ten straight seconds before reasserting himself and urging the women to ‘get it on.’
What followed afterwards were fierce unconventional exchanges of slapping, pushing and tugging, interspersed with a few instances of fierce ‘cut eye’ and ‘suck teeth.’ I guess only the gloves they wore spared the crowd from a fierce round of clawing and scratching. Naturally, the crowd was amused by such theatrics but the hard core pundit felt somewhat vindicated that this new phenomenon would not last.
In the meantime, O’Neil continued her trek to the top and in July 1999, travelled to Trinidad and Tobago where she stopped Kim Quashie in the first round following up that feat with a lopsided points win over Margaret ‘Chico’ Walcott in December of that same year.
While the sceptics awaited the natural death of the phenomenon of women trading (legal) blows, the women continued their upward trek and before very long, a multitude of females had stripped their skirts, replacing them with Everlast boxing trunks. Refreshingly, what had started out as a ‘cut eye’ affair, suddenly bloomed into a new but exciting prospect in the ‘square jungle’ as the women transformed the boxing arena and managed to woo the crowds.
There was Pamela London, who later went on to emulate O’Neil, winning the WIBC Heavyweight title from Trinidadian Kim Quashie by 7th round TKO at the Jean Pierre Complex, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Pauline, her younger sister, soon joined the fray and though she is still to win any major title, or even a major fight for that matter, she has brought a new trend of bravado and ‘braggado’ to the sport. One only needs to attend one of the press conferences and listen to Pauline outline plans of her intention on fight night to appreciate the pizzazz that she, and by extension, the ‘fairer sex’ brought to the sport.
Entered Shondell ‘Mystery Lady’ Alfred, whose petite physique hardly gave an inkling of the power she packed in those muscles. Alfred could pass for what Guyanese referred to as a ‘Tomboy.’ She grew up in the depressed community of Albouystown where she tried out her (legs) at athletics and her hands at karate. Her dad, Cecil ’Koker Dawg’ Alfred, boxed during the era of such stalwarts as the late Mark Harris and Compton Canzius, Michael Reid, Vernon Lewis and Kenny Bristol among others. It came as no surprise when Shondell stepped into the ring against Stepney ‘Stepping Razor’ George and pounded out a unanimous verdict in their 4 rounds featherweight fight.
In June 2000, Alfred suffered her first setback when she lost by TKO (4) to IFBA champion, Doris Hack in a lightweight bout at Casino Nova Scotia in Halifax. Alfred enhanced her experience, albeit with mixed successes, in Canada (lost by 6 round TKO to Lisa Brown) and Denmark (lost to Alexandra Mattheus) among others before her double win against Corrine DeGroot that netted her the WIBA Bantamweight title. DeGroot did not take that loss calmly saying that she was ‘done in’ which forced WIBA President, Ryan Wissow, to mandate a return bout on the grounds that the referee had failed to acknowledge a 10th round knockdown by DeGroot of Alfred.
The return bout was the most definitive with Alfred unleashing a terrific left hook to DeGroot’s jaw which smothered her ambitions and left her prostrate on the canvass.
Maybe, the complexity of women in the fistic sport was endorsed when Alfred left Guyana a few years ago to engage Zulina Muñoz at Foro Polanco, Mexico City, Mexico, for a 12 rounds bout for the World Boxing Council (WBC) female Super/flyweight championship belt. Pre medical tests showed that she was pregnant and the fight was not only aborted but Alfred was denied an opportunity to win another lucrative world accolade. She has since given birth to a bouncing baby girl but is yet to resume her career which once again raises the troubling issue of whether females should don gloves, one that remains troubling and contentious.
Nevertheless, females are involved in the administrative aspect of the sport and their presence has indeed made a big difference. I remember Hermina April, a competent referee/judge who has since migrated to the USA. She was a busybody on the Guyana Amateur Boxing Association and was a very good judge. Then there was another official, Faye Ann Green Haley, whose contribution was also immense. Currently, several females are within the administrative sector of the sport including Nurse Green (medic), Ramona Agard and Paulette Nurse (referees) among others.
During my active days as a boxing referee I was mandated to carry a female bout and stepped into the dressing room just before the fight. I noticed that one of the women had recently had her hair done and decorated with clips. This was a new phenomenon for me and I enquired of the senior referee if this was permitted. It was not but to have the clips removed before the bout would have been tedious and time consuming so the pugilist was given some reprieve.
During the bout, she received several clouts and after each one of them, a part of her well groomed hair unravelled. Around that time too, her breast protection gear also unravelled and I had the time of my life reasserting the situation back to equilibrium. There I was grabbing from braided hair to dislodged groin protector to shifting breast protector and depositing them over the ropes.
In the end, the crowd enjoyed a good side show and the laughter was raucous. Good luck for me I was spared the ‘cut eye’ but certainly was not exempted from the other culture shocks associated with women in the fistic sport.
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