Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer A Sweeter Science

By Chris Davis

MARCH 15, 1999:  It was St. Paddy’s Day 1996, and I settled into my usual booth at Brunie’s, a cozy German pub in Clarksville, Tennessee, just around the corner from the theatre where I was working at the time. My mission was to celebrate the day and toast my German-Irish heritage with lashings of spaetzle and a dozen or so goblets of bad judgment dyed green for the occasion.

I also planned to take in the Tyson/Bruno fight, which had been broadcast live on pay-per-view the night before. Tyson’s early third-round victory had already been declared a nonevent by the news media, but, loving the fisticuffs, I wanted an opportunity to eyeball the massacre and judge for myself. My curiosity was pricked, might I add, by the fight card’s promise of a women’s match. Like the other patrons of the bar, I was pretty unfamiliar with women’s professional boxing and we all joked about the comedic catfight we were about to witness — a light appetizer before the meat.

Jesus, were we all wrong. Orlando, Florida’s Tracy Martin went toe-to-toe with Ireland’s Diedre Gogarty in a brutal and passionate slugfest. There were no clutches, no fancy dancing; it was all about fists. Everyone was stunned, and in a bar packed with drunken St. Patrick’s Day revelers, the only sound you could hear was the shriek of the announcer, declaring prophetically, “This may be the best fight you see all night!” Martin, the heavy favorite, sent the scrappy Gogarty to the mat only once, but went on to win the decision, though her nose gushed blood and one eye was heavily bruised and swelling shut. The fight did more than just wow the gang at Brunie’s; for women’s boxing, it was like the shot heard round the world. Seen in over 30 countries, the Martin/Gogarty fight was the most widely viewed women’s boxing event in history. It made the decidedly lame Tyson/Bruno matchup seem that much lamer, and overnight women’s boxing was legitimized.

Staged fights between women have been around in various forms since at least the 1720s, though in almost every case the practice has existed more as a novelty than an actual sport. In the early part of this century, lady’s boxing was either a promotional pre-event teaser or an all-out freak show, as in the case of boxing promoter William Moore, who had his license temporarily revoked in 1912 for arranging bouts between his two daughters and a bear. It was not until the mid-Eighties that boxers such Lady Tyger Trimiar and Cathy “Cat” Davis began to earn the respect of the boxing community. Unfortunately, more attention was paid to publicity stunts like Trimiar’s month-long hunger strike than was ever paid to her pugilistic accomplishments.

On St. Paddy’s ’96, women’s boxing arrived with a bang, and shortly thereafter Christy Martin appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Now every major card includes at least one well-hyped women’s event. The sport, however, has failed to deliver on the excitement promised by Martin/Gogarty. The problem is simple. There are two kinds of women fighters: great ones and punching bags. And the former is sorely outnumbered. A recent expose in The Miami Herald shed light on the body-factories that provide shoddy training for hookers on the mend, ex-cons, and exotic dancers in need of a quick buck, sending them out to get slaughtered in the ring by more serious sluggers. When Christi Martin defended her title against Bethany “Foxy Brown” Pain (November ’96), Pain’s bio claimed an impressive 15-1 record. The truth is she was an ex-stripper-turned-prostitute who had never fought before in her life. She had, in fact, only begun her training three weeks before. But there she was in a title match, on a card that included Tyson/Holyfield. Pain was knocked out in minutes.

Though evenly matched bouts have proven to be few and far between, they do happen. Locally, we will have the opportunity to catch what could turn out to be a great fight when IWBF Intercontinental Lightweight champion Tracy Byrd defends her title against the formidable Nashville fistic Vicki Woods at Gold Strike Casino in Tunica on March 11th, in a bout deemed “If Looks Could Kill: the Ultimate Live Female Boxing Event.” Byrd is a Flint, Michigan, police officer and mother of one. Her father Joe Byrd was a professional boxer who went on to become the official trainer for America’s 1992 Olympic team. Her brother Chris won a silver medal in that year’s Olympics, and her other brothers Tim and Patrick are also boxers. She started sparring with her brothers when she was only 8 years old, and when she steps into the ring today, she means business.

Woods, a transplant from the world of kickboxing, proved no match for Byrd in a previous contest, but she is an experienced fighter who is strong, quick, and more than capable of going the distance. Nonetheless, Byrd is confident. “I’ve been working on getting my punches off quick,” she says, “I don’t just want it to be us pounding on each other because, well, we probably weigh in about the same, but she’s bigger boned than me. What I would really love is to knock her out with a body blow, you know, one good shot to the body — umph! And she’s sitting on the canvas sucking air. Yeah, that would be real nice.” Indeed, it would.

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