14.06.04 – By Bernie McCoy: There is only one fight that will truly energize the sport of Women’s boxing. The surprise, and maybe it’s not a surprise at all, is that the bout is the same one, the only one, that would have energized the sport of Women’s boxing five years ago. Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker need to step into the ring with each other. They may not be at the height of their skills as both were five years ago and it can be validly debated that there may be more talented female fighters on the Women’s boxing scene today than Martin and Rijker but, these two names, these two fighters, remain the matchup that will attract interest like no other in the sport.
Stated simply, Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker, despite their longevity, maybe because of it, are still among the best know names in the sport, maybe the two best known; Martin in this country and Rijker in Europe. Each fighter retains a major portion of the boxing skills that propelled her to the top of the sport. Their rivalry, white hot at times, dormant at others, has lasted for almost a decade. There is a deep-seated animosity between the two fighters and that element always adds fuel to promotional fires. But, in truth, no additional promotional fires are necessary for Martin/Rijker. Even the casual boxing fan will immediately recognize this as the once and, still, biggest fight in the sport of Women’s boxing.
Both Martin and Rijker have been comparatively inactive in the recent past. Martin has had two fights in the past two and one-half years, neither of which will probably make her personal career highlight reel: a ten round win over Mia St. John in December ‘ 02 and a four round KO loss to Laila Ali in August ‘ 03. In the previous twelve years, Martin averaged four fights a year. Rijker, likewise, has had two fights in the past three years, decisions over Jane Couch in June ‘ 03 and Sunshine Fettkether last month. Previously, in just over four years, Rijker had 15 bouts, approximating Martin’s four fight per year average. Martin’s overall record is 45-3-2, Rijker’s 17-0 and, unlike some in the sport, both records are an absolute reflection of each fighter’s skill.
At the present time, both Rijker and Martin talk of fighting Laila Ali. Martin for redemption, Rijker as some sort of new career “goal”. Neither bout is, probably, well advised. Ali proved against Martin, what most boxing people, going back to Jack Johnson, know to be a truism: “a good big fighter will beat a good small fighter, every time”. Martin and Rijker have one fight in front of them and one fight only, and that fight is with each other. (Ali, likewise, has one fight in front of her and it certainly is not against some boxer coming off a one-sided loss, but that’s a whole different piece). And, in truth, if asked, I believe both Martin and Rijker would agree that it is a bout with one another that is really the missing piece in each career.
Is Martin/Rijker the same compelling bout that it would have been five years ago? In my opinion, at least in one aspect, the answer is no. Neither Martin or Rijker, in their recent bouts, have exhibited the pulverizing knockout power that each fighter was renowned for early in her career. Is this because as they have gotten older and each fighter has lost some of their punching power as their legs “have gone”? Is this because the opposition, in recent years, has gotten better and stronger and better able to withstand the big punches that once resulted in sensational Martin and Rijker KO wins? Its probably a combination of both factors. Age is certainly a factor, as it is for all great athletes and the quality of women boxers has never been higher. That said, Chrirsty Martin and Lucia Rijker coming together for ten rounds is still the most compelling matchup in the sport.
It’s probably compelling enough to propel HBO boxing programmers into the 21st century. The network continues to shun the sport of Women’s boxing for whatever reason; an archaic esthetic sense, a lack of knowledge of Women’s boxing and the current skill of the top fighters, a combination of the two. It’s irrelevant the reason; presented with the overriding drama of Martin/Rijker, even HBO would seem to have little choice but to make it a featured bout on one of their monthly programs. Put Sumya Anani in a co-feature with Mary Jo Sanders or Sunshine Fettkether or a rematch with Jane Couch and HBO would have, as it’s debut presentation of Women’s boxing, the female equivalent of the recent De La Hoya/Hopkins double bill. It would be a wonderful way for the network to initiate its long delayed coverage of the sport.
The Martin/Rijker matchup has been anticipated for over five years by those who have followed the sport of Women’s boxing. I once asked Martin if she thought if the bout had happened in the late nineties it would have significantly changed the sport. She replied, “I really don’t think so. Once it was over, what was next; five years ago you didn’t have the number of good female fighters you have today. Once Lucia and I were done, there was nothing next. Its different now”.
It didn’t happen five years ago for a number of reasons and maybe Martin’s right, it might be fortunate that the bout didn’t happen at a time when Rijker and Martin were among only three or four outstanding fighters in the sport. I’ve written that, at that point in the late ‘ 90s, if Martin had truly wanted the fight to happen, given her standing in the sport, the fight would have happened. Martin has stated that firm offers were made to Rijker and those offers refused. What was the situation? Who knows! Who cares! Both Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker are still around and they should climb into the ring with each other and HBO should televise it. Its a fight that could have energized the sport of Women’s boxing years ago. It can do the same now. It should happen, it should happen soon, it’s the only one.