Lucia Rijker/Sumya Anani: Ready for A Close Up?
04.03.05 - By Bernie McCoy: What did "Million Dollar Baby" do for the sport of Women's boxing? It set the stage for what could be the biggest and most lucrative fight in the sport. The movie, first and foremost, established Lucia Rijker as the new "face" of Women's boxing. Before the movie "hit big" Rijker was primarily known in the boxing community as the kick boxer who made the most successful transition to the sport of boxing.. Beginning in December, ' 96, Rijker reeled off seventeen straight wins, fourteen by knockout, but even in the boxing world, she was probably best known as the fighter who could not or would not (depending on which camp you listened to) get a bout with Christy Martin, the aboriginal "face" of Women's boxing.
Article posted on 04.03.2005
Succeeding Martin at the top of the sport was Laila Ali, by far, the best and the brightest of the group of "famous daughters" who invaded the sport just prior to the turn of the century. Ali KO'd Martin in four one-sided rounds in August ' 03, firmly establishing Ali's succession to the top spot in the sport.
She maintained that lofty position until "Million Dollar Baby" hit the movie screens and Lucia Rijker emerged in the villainous role of "Billie the Blue Bear", who uses unbelievably foul tactics to bring down the heroine of the film, "Maggie Fitzgerald", played by Hillary Swank. Not only was Rijker the black-hearted malefactor in the movie, a role she played with stoic intensity, she also was a key figure behind the scenes, coaching Swank how to move like a fighter inside the ring. As a result, Lucia Rijker is, at this point in time, the best known female boxer in a sport that has long been starved for publicity with the general public.
The question now is: Which way does Lucia Rijker turn? Does she continue her career in the ring, the real ring, or seek fame and fortune in the entertainment world? If she chooses the former option, Rijker has the opportunity to be part of the most exciting and financially successful boxing match in the history of Women's boxing. Prior to "Million Dollar Baby", not only was the sport on the "back burner" of public awareness, but neither Lucia Rijker or Laila Ali, or for that matter, any other female boxer was viewed, by promoters, as having the ability to "carry" a big money boxing telecast. "Million Dollar Baby" changed that. Now, not only is the general public more aware of the sport than it has ever been, but newspapers and television stations, who prior to the movie, possibly knew that women boxed, but didn't know Women's boxing, are breathless in their desire to provide column inches and airtime to the sport and it's fighters.
Who does Rijker fight? The answer is the fighter most observers currently consider the best female fighter in the sport, Sumya Anani. Anani has been campaigning in the ring for over eight years, unfortunately, most of those years in undeserved obscurity, as far a the mainstream sports world is concerned. Anani has compiled a 25-1-1 record and that win total would be considerably higher but for the fact that, over the latter part of her career, many fighters avoided the opportunity of stepping into the ring with this hard hitting fighter. Early, Anani did get an opportunity to fight Christy Martin and, in her twelfth pro fight, Anani beat Martin in a bout that shocked Martin, who was fighting her fortieth bout, and also the entire boxing world. Anani is convinced that her win over Martin canceled out a Martin/Rijker match, "I screwed that up...I found out that (a) promoter was going to pay a million dollars between the two of them, but when 'some girl from Kansas' beat Martin, the backer quickly pulled out." Martin/Rijker never happened, a Martin/Anani rematch never happened and despite Anani's on-going efforts over the years, Rijker/Anani has never happened. "I offered to fight Rijker for expenses only and donate my purse to charity," notes Anani, "that would have put butts in the seats, then, and now, with the movie, it would be the biggest thing, ever, in Women's boxing." That sounds, as they say in "show biz", like big box office: the best known woman boxer, Lucia Rijker, against the best woman boxer, Sumya Anani.
Rijker has talked about fighting Laila Ali, but that bout has a distinct "been there, done that" aura to it. The Ali/Martin mismatch proved that the boxing adage, "a good big fighter can beat a good small fighter every time" is true and also applies to Women's boxing. Not surprisingly, Anani was not impressed, "How did that fight between the two biggest names in Women's boxing help the sport? The answer is it didn't, it's just fortunate it didn't do any irreparable harm." Also, in talking about an Ali bout, Rijker has said that she'll need to go up in weight, while Ali will have to come down in weight. That's a very unlikely scenario since Ali already has two competitive opponents at her "comfortable" weight, Ann Wolfe and Leatitia Robinson. Rijker, likewise, has a very competitive fighter awaiting at her comfortable weight, Sumya Anani.
And speaking of movies, could there be a better venue for Rijker/ Anani than Hollywood? The bout defines "event" boxing and Hollywood is all about events. Clint Eastwood and Hillary Swank would certainly be at ringside rooting for Rijker. And can Sylvester Stallone fail to recognize the "Rocky" quality of Anani's career (isn't there a Rocky VI on the drawing board)? If only the movie types who will now claim to have contributed to the success of "Million Dollar Baby" show up, the Staples Center will be full. How big could this bout be? It's probably big enough to move the Luddites at HBO to make it a main event on their schedule, it could and should be big enough to bring Don King and Bob Arum around for another look at the sport of Women's boxing.
Is Lucia Rijker ready for her "close up", up close and personal with the best female fighter currently in the ring? Rijker was an athlete and a boxer long before she was an actress playing a boxer. She has also excelled at the sport for over eight years and now she has the opportunity for center stage in the sport. Anani puts it this way, "Lucia, Clint has called ' It's a wrap', the time for acting is over. Let's you and I show people what real boxing, real good boxing is all about." Sounds to me like a bout that should get "green lighted" as soon as possible and if it does, and if it's promoted properly, it will set all kinds of box office records.
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