29.03.04 – By Bernie McCoy – Euripides, an ancient Greek playwright (think Neil Simon, 400 BC) of considerable note, is quoted: “a brave choice…is dangerous”. Lucia Rijker, once variously described as “the most dangerous woman on the planet”, has made a brave choice.
On April 24, at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Rijker will step into the ring with Layla McCarter in a bout, of yet to be determined length, underneath the Vitali Klitschko/Corrie Sanders heavyweight affair. Many in the boxing community view this bout to be another rung back up the ladder of Rijker’s return to the prominence she once commanded in the sport of Women’s boxing. These people may be somewhat lacking in their knowledge of the writings and philosophy of ancient Greek playwrights.
Lucia Rijker, of late, has been making a “studied” return to a sport in which she was once was one of the biggest names. Beginning in December ‘ 96, Rijker ran up a string of fourteen straight wins, thirteen by KO, many of the devastating variety, over a period of two and one-half years. Frustrated in getting a bout with the reigning “face” of the sport, Christy Martin, Rijker self-imposed a nearly two year hiatus from the sport. She returned to the ring in February ‘ 01, KOing, in four rounds, one Shakurah Witherspoon, generally regarded, throughout the sport, as an “opponent”. It was, then, over two years before Rijker once again entered the ring, winning an eight round decision over a tough veteran fighter, Englishwoman, Jane Couch, last June in Los Angeles. Now, the hiatus has been only ten months and the opposition is Layla McCarter.
Somewhere, in some dictionary, next to the phrase “professional female boxer” there must be a picture of Layla McCarter. She has been campaigning as a boxer for almost six years, has a record of 17-9-4 with 2 KOs. This good, but hardly intimidating, record is somewhat indicative of McCarter’s difficulty in transitioning from martial arts to boxing and losses, early in her boxing career, in bouts that, today, would be considered winnable. A more accurate barometer of McCarter’s current skill level was her bout last June with up-and-coming Claudia Valenciana, who had begun her career with four straight wins. The bout, on Fox TV from Las Vegas, was generally considered as a “next step” for Valenciana. Instead it turned into an education. McCarter deposited Valenciana on the deck twice over six rounds enroute to a decisive win (viewing the bout on TV, I was reminded of the Chinese proverb “when the student is ready, a teacher will arrive”). Four months later, McCarter, giving away considerable weight to a tough Lisa Holewyne, scored a virtual shutout against the bigger fighter over ten rounds in the state of Washington.
The choice of McCarter as opposition for Rijker seems, to me, to be somewhat risky. Rijker’s bout with Couch, ten months ago, indicated that the pace of two fights over nearly four years had left more than a bit of ring rust on Rijker’s former ring skills and punching power. It may be that Rijker’s “camp” feels that now is the time to find out where Rijker is in terms of that former skill and power level. If that is the case they have chosen an almost perfect benchmark in McCarter. If, however, the choice was made on the basis of McCarter’s nine losses and lack of punching power and that it is assumed that this bout represents and easy “W”, there will a a significant reawakening when Layla McCarter comes out of the other corner on April 24 in the Staples Center.
Layla McCarter is not Jane Couch. She possesses ring movement and a level of boxing skill that only a few in the sport currently have. She is perennially in good shape and fully capable of going full speed for six or eight rounds, whichever distance is determined. Rijker, once the most powerful puncher in the sport, was unable to land with her former “lights out” power against Couch. Rijker is, like most big punchers, a straight ahead fighter who seeks to get close and land big shots. Seldom, has the phrase “ring movement” been prominent in any description of Rijker’s ring strategy. However, Lucia does have the capability of changing any fight with one punch.
The bout, therefore, is a compelling matchup, the classic boxer against the power puncher. Rijker will stalk the elusive McCarter from the start, attempting to cut the ring and land the big punches that have left 14 previous opponents unable or unwilling to continue. McCarter will stick and move, trying to frustrate Rijker, who has never been overendowed with patience in the ring. As with any boxer in with a big hitter, McCarter needs to stay off the ropes and out of the corners, and wage her fight in the center of the ring.
Whatever, the motivation behind this matchup, Lucia Rijker is to be congratulated for taking a bout with a fighter with the skills of Layla McCarter. If she wins, Rijker can validly claim to be back near the top of the sport, once again a force to be reckoned with. Fights with Sumya Anani, Sunshine Fettkether, possibly even that long sought bout with Christy Martin. could be in the foreseeable future. A loss, though not career-destroying, would certainly be a sign that Lucia should probably consider what may lie beyond boxing. Certainly, a loss would be indicative of the fact the the “most dangerous woman on earth” cannot continue to campaign on a one-fight-a-year basis.
Sadly, one certainty about the Rijker/McCarter bout is that probably no one will have the opportunity to see it on TV. HBO is broadcasting the Klitschko/Sanders bout and it is likely that the network will continue their long-standing policy of considering female boxing unworthy of air time. Another potential “best fight of the night” will go missing from the HBO lineup.