The third ‘man’ in the boxing ring is actually a woman…

Boxing Is Not An All Boys Club Anymore

I was competing at an elite level, nearly two decades ago, in what could arguably be described as a female dominated sport; figure skating. Ironically, it was an injury from skating that launched me into boxing, a sport that’s been considered to be an “all boys club” for generations. A lot has changed since then.

In addition to running a charitable organization and owning boxing gyms in Canada, Jennifer Huggins is an AIBA International Referee and Judge. Many of her assignments are to all male competitions, including the World Series of Boxing. [Photo Credit: Karim De La Plaine | Photo taken during the 2016 Men’s Elite Continental Olympic Qualifiers in Caracas, Venezuela]
In addition to running a charitable organization and owning boxing gyms in Canada, Jennifer Huggins is an AIBA International Referee and Judge. Many of her assignments are to all male competitions, including the World Series of Boxing. [Photo Credit: Karim De La Plaine | Photo taken during the 2016 Men’s Elite Continental Olympic Qualifiers in Caracas, Venezuela]

The things that drew me to boxing were, of course the physical demands, but also the technical precision, the strategy and the teamwork between trainer and fighter.  I was perhaps, young, naïve or blinded by my infatuation for the sport, but I managed to ignore the often pointed questions and comments about being a woman in boxing.  The world, in and out of boxing, has changed dramatically, since then.  I still get the questions and comments about being a woman in a traditional ‘boys club’, but now the tone is different.

My role in boxing has evolved and expanded over the years.  I started out as a boxer and I am now coach, judge, referee and entrepreneur.  I pride myself on living a diverse life and have enjoyed personal accomplishments in every venture.  I can say, without hesitation, that my successes in sport, business and my personal life, are a direct result of the training and experiences that have come from my involvement in boxing.

[Photo Credit: Virgil Barrow Photography]
[Photo Credit: Virgil Barrow Photography]

Female fights have been effectively outlawed for most of boxing’s history, although women have been participating in boxing almost since its inception.  Athletic commissions have refused to sanction fights, denied licenses to female fighters and most countries ban the sport outright.

I have recently been garnering some international attention due to my involvement in boxing.  It was pointed out to me that I had broken through some significant barriers in the sport, during a recent interview.

‘This is the first time in my career that being a female in this sport has been a notable positive.’

I surprised myself when I said those words to the interviewer.  I have to admit that I didn’t realize the significance of the events.  My intent was to focus on moving to the next level in a sport that I loved, not breaking down barriers.  Those words caused me to think about the incredible women that are pathfinders for other women, like myself,  not only in boxing, but in the world of sports in general.  There are two Canadian women in recent history who truly stand out for me, for their contributions to the ongoing evolution, if not revolution, in the boxing world.

Mary Spencer - First Canadian woman to compete in the Olympics for boxing. Mary represented Canada at 75kg in the London 2012 Olympic Games. [Photo Courtesy of The Globe and Mail]
Mary Spencer – First Canadian woman to compete in the Olympics for boxing. Mary represented Canada at 75kg in the London 2012 Olympic Games. [Photo Courtesy of The Globe and Mail]

These two incredible athletes are part of a long and growing list of women who have, and continue, to inspire me, as well as countless other men, women and children.

I am a coach and gym owner, international referee and judge, an executive director of a charitable organization – Fight to End Cancer – and a first-hand witness to the transformative power of boxing.  Being part of this sport is exhilarating, bordering on being addictive.

Mandy Bujold -  Only female boxer in history to win 2 Pan American Games titles. Mandy also represented Canada at 51kg in 2016 Rio Olympic Games. [Photo Courtesy of Virgil Barrow Photography | (left to right) Maya Canham, Mandy Bujold, Julia Switzer). Photo taken from the Exclusive Girls Teens Boxing Program -- Kingsway Boxing Club in Toronto. Mandy frequently invests back into the sport by mentoring youth as one of Canada’s most accomplished ambassadors of boxing]
Mandy Bujold –  Only female boxer in history to win 2 Pan American Games titles. Mandy also represented Canada at 51kg in 2016 Rio Olympic Games. [Photo Courtesy of Virgil Barrow Photography | (left to right) Maya Canham, Mandy Bujold, Julia Switzer). Photo taken from the Exclusive Girls Teens Boxing Program — Kingsway Boxing Club in Toronto. Mandy frequently invests back into the sport by mentoring youth as one of Canada’s most accomplished ambassadors of boxing]

I have seen the makeup of my gym members evolve, over the last number of years, with more and more women starting and sticking with boxing.  We even have a program specifically dedicated to teenage girls which has grown every season.  I see more and more female colleagues at the events I officiate as a referee, and though I still predominantly officiate male boxers, the shift can even be felt in the international scene.  Most countries now maximize the allowable quota for females at World and Olympic level competitions.

Shireen Fabing first started boxing in 2012 and was showcased as a co-main event bout in the Fight To End Cancer. Since her inaugural fight, she has continued to compete as an amateur boxer in Canada. Shireen has been one of the most inspirational women boxing in Toronto, consistently training as an elite athlete competing at the Masters Class level (athletes over 40 years old) [Photo Credit: David Sweeney Photography | Shireen watches her teammates in the ring during a sparring session at Kingsway Boxing Club]
Shireen Fabing first started boxing in 2012 and was showcased as a co-main event bout in the Fight To End Cancer. Since her inaugural fight, she has continued to compete as an amateur boxer in Canada. Shireen has been one of the most inspirational women boxing in Toronto, consistently training as an elite athlete competing at the Masters Class level (athletes over 40 years old) [Photo Credit: David Sweeney Photography | Shireen watches her teammates in the ring during a sparring session at Kingsway Boxing Club]
The Fight to End Cancer is an annual event that raises funds to support cancer research. The event is centered around a card of five fights featuring white collar fighters with no previous boxing experience. The event has included a female bout since its inception. Next to the cause, including a female bout in the Fight To End Cancer, is one of the most important components of the event. Even with all of the changes that have happened over the last number of years, it is still a very common first reaction to hear someone say:

“Are these girls really going to fight… look how pretty they are?!”

Jane Watson and Dawn Ramsay-Brown -- Co-Main Event, Fight To End Cancer 2014 - Photo was taken after they fought [Photo Courtesy of Spencer Wynn]
Jane Watson and Dawn Ramsay-Brown — Co-Main Event, Fight To End Cancer 2014 – Photo was taken after they fought [Photo Courtesy of Spencer Wynn]

It’s so important to me to create that dialogue, because not only are these incredible women raising money to fight cancer, they are such instrumental pieces to the puzzle when it comes to making people recognize that boxing is a sport for everyone.

It is essential to include women in the event and every year the women’s fight is the fight of the night!  They are strong, tactical and very technically sound.  It is an amazing thing to see these beautiful, successful women dedicate themselves to the cause, the training and the sport as they continue to evolve the sport.  Taking and throwing punches isn’t a boys club anymore.

 Paige Cunningham with her coach, Virgil Barrow before her fight in the 2015 Fight To End Cancer Gala. [Photo Courtesy of Spencer Wynn Photography]
Paige Cunningham with her coach, Virgil Barrow before her fight in the 2015 Fight To End Cancer Gala. [Photo Courtesy of Spencer Wynn Photography]

Meet The Women Of The Fight To End Cancer

Each year, the Fight To End Cancer Gala features at least one female bout that proves to be the ‘Fight Of The Night’.

Join us on March 8th, as we celebrate International Women’s Day by reflecting on all of the hard work that our past, and present, female fighters have put into training to step into our ring and the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been raised (collectively between them), in support of cancer research at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.

(left to right) Heather MacDonald, Christina Vatsis, Dawn Millar and Alison Turnbull, along with their 6 teammates hope to raise over $250,000.00 this year alone. Learn how you can join them in their Fight To End Cancer. View FTEC2018 Fight Team.
(left to right) Heather MacDonald, Christina Vatsis, Dawn Millar and Alison Turnbull, along with their 6 teammates hope to raise over $250,000.00 this year alone. Learn how you can join them in their Fight To End Cancer. View FTEC2018 Fight Team.

 

 

 

 

Jennifer Huggins
About Jennifer Huggins 2 Articles
Jennifer Huggins owns and operates Kingsway Boxing Club in Toronto, Canada. As a 3-Star International Boxing Referee and Judge with AIBA International Boxing Association, she understands the sport from the inside out. In addition to coaching at her gym, Jennifer is the Founder and Executive Director of the Fight To End Cancer. She is heavily involved in the community, however still manages to find the time to travel the world performing with a World Class Magician.
Contact: Website