Book on women’s boxing by Owen dedicated to struggling sport
Story & photo by Chris Cozzone
Photographer Mary Ann Owen can remember a time when you could find an all-women’s card in Las Vegas, or, the very least, a female bout on nearly every show.
Things sure have changed.
“It used to be so popular,” recalls Owen. “Arizona Charlies used to stage all-girl shows and it was standing room only. I’ve seen it rise, and then fall back down.”
The rise of women’s boxing, and subsequent decline, at least in America, Owen believes, is only temporary. Having covered women’s boxing since the late 1990s, Owen has seen it all. In fact, the decade-and-a-half she’s covered the sport has been chronicled in the form of a newly-released book, “Extraordinary Women of the Ring,” published by Kirographaires Editions in France.
The book is a who’s who chronicle of the last ten years of women’s boxing – in word and through hundreds of photos, all taken by Owen.
Having to go overseas to get a book published on women’s boxing, Owen believes, sums up the plight of the sport in America.
“It’s huge in Europe,” says Owen. “They’ve really embraced women’s boxing there – it’s just like it used to be here. France, Germany, parts of Sweden – they treat female fighters like rock stars over there. And the bouts are good, credible fights.”
While working as a corrections officer in the ‘90s, Owen took up boxing as a means of self-defense. One day, a friend of hers asked her to shoot a local show at the Orleans Casino. Having dabbled in photography through her life, Owen accepted the challenge and was instantly hooked when watching Brenda Burnside fight a four-rounder on the card.
“I couldn’t believe women went into the ring like that,” recalls Owen. “In my generation, growing up in the ‘50s, women had never even been allowed to participate in sports.”
Owen started covering local boxing for the now-defunct Lady Boxer magazine. Then, in 2000, with Butch Gottlieb, she started the website BoxinginLasVegas.com. All the while, she collected info and photos on women fighters, including the top name in her day, Christy Martin.
“Everyone says this about Christy Martin, but she’s the one who really inspired me,” says Owen. “She wasn’t the first – you had women like Barbara Butrick, now in her 80s, who laced up the gloves in the ‘40s and ‘50s. But Martin was the first to shed a lot of light on the sport. She was a pioneer – and the first to be on the cover of Sports Illustrated.”
Owen got to meet Martin, and photograph several of her fights in the peak of her career. Now, a decade later, she’s had the opportunity to shoot Martin in Vegas as the pioneer stages a comeback on an upcoming Top Rank card.
“More promoters need to do what Top Rank is doing – and that is, give women’s boxing another chance,” says Owen. “Promoters need to get out of the Dark Ages. Step up to the plate, let’s start putting some of these girls on your shows.
“They need exposure – but make credible matches, with girls who can fight. The girls are always the ones who get the bad rap because they don’t have the exposure that men’s boxing does. If a girl fight is bad, it’s ten times worse because there are not that many of them.”
Owen believes the sport will experience a spike in popularity following the debut of women’s boxing in the 2012 Olympics.
“Wait until people start seeing the level of talent going into the Olympics,” says Owen. “The amateurs are fantastic – I went to the National Golden Gloves last June in Fort Lauderdale, and just couldn’t believe it.
“It’s going to change everything.”
. . . .
Extraordinary Women of the Ring
by Mary Ann Owen
272 pages. $34.95 @ Amazon). Kirographaires Editions.