By Stephanie Kent
Why WBC’s Jill Diamond is “cautiously optimistic” about the future of female fighting
Sports Illustrated has April 30th’s match between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano down for fight of the year, but is that enough to fix the systemic problems in women’s boxing? Jill Diamond, the International Secretary of the World Boxing Council, isn’t convinced that one great fight can be the game changing moment the sport needs.
Diamond, a recent NY State Boxing Hall of Fame inductee, fell into the boxing (and then, in love with boxing) through her late husband. While working out at Kingsway Boxing Gym in New York City in 2005, she got to know many of the female fighters training there and noticed some problems that still plague the sport today: namely, that women boxers train and fight as hard as their male counterparts , but earn just a fraction of the compensation and recognition for their work. “Women are passionate about what they do because they aren’t really in it for the money,” she says.
Jill emailed the World Boxing Council with her observations, and received a response from their president, José Sulaimán.
At the time, Jill says, women’s boxing was far from thriving. There were women fighters (women have boxed dating back to the early eighteenth century in London), but there were hardly any women who were household names. And no wonder – in the early aughts, a female world champion could only earn an upwards of $3,000.
“Women’s boxing was around before it was sanctioned,” says Diamond. “But they weren’t taken seriously. Promoters weren’t interested. In Mexico, boxing is boxing. In the United States, we struggled to give the women a platform. I met a bunch of women, but had never heard of anyone besides Christy Martin,” says Diamond. “They weren’t on TV. No promoters. They don’t make the same money, they don’t get the same attention.”
José Sulaimán shared Jill’s concern and she says after her email, he agreed: “For him, talent – not gender – is what’s important.”
The WBC extended an invitation to Jill to attend their annual convention that year, where they committed to support women in boxing. They launched the Women’s Championship Committee, which hosted international conventions to help women network, set up awards programs and rankings lists, helped them improve their skills around the business of boxing.
Over her years of work with the WBC and the Women’s Championship Committee, Diamond has seen the full spectrum of the sport. “There have been wonderful women’s fights that have fallen off the radar, with athletes who are so talented but just had bad timing.”
In recent years, women’s boxing has grown. The inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympics has been internationally impactful in terms of driving interest to the sport; Equally as important, the games have grown the talent pool significantly, launching the careers of popular professional fighters like Mikaela Mayer and Claressa Shields in the United States. Streaming services like ESPN+ and DAZN are promoting the hell out of women’s fights, like last month’s showdown between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano as the first ever women’s fight to headline Madison Square Garden.
Despite the historic fight, Diamond says, “They proved it could be done, proved they’re worthy . But we’ve seen great fights that don’t get momentum. I’m hopeful but not yet convinced. Taylor and Serrano have proven that it can be done, but there are still fewer opportunities to break out from. If you don’t have the exposure, you won’t have the opportunity to make a living. Amanda Serrano is full time. The thing Katie and Amanda have in common is that they are married to boxing. They have virtually no life out of the sport. Not everyone can do that. It’s the system, not the women.”
Still, Taylor-Serrano might offer some keys to success for the next big fight between women boxers. In looking back at that night at Madison Square Garden, Diamond recognizes some needle-movers for future fights.
The storied venue was certainly a key element, but more importantly, Taylor-Serrano offered a fight where fight fans really didn’t know who would win. The era of Christy Martin or Laila Ali plowing through unworthy opponents is over and for women’s boxing to thrive, promoters will need to create competitive match ups. Better promotion and marketing is sorely needed, too. WBC, DAZN, Matchroom, and Jake Paul’s Most Valuable Promotions gave a master class in spreading the word about Taylor-Serano.
Also important, Diamond says, is getting more women, more often, on the undercards of big fights. “People aren’t talking enough about how Franchon’s was a damn good fight too. Do they need great fights or can they be really good compelling fights? Not every fight is the best of all time. I would like to see every card have at least two out of those eight fights as women. Let it not be the exception. Still,” she says, “it’s up to fans to show promoters that they can take those risks. If we can prove there’s a fanbase, there will be more women’s fights.”
“I do feel hopeful. History was made, momentum has been created… It’s fresh now, what’s the next moment? Will it trickle down?”