Claressa Shields has been clamoring for it for years, long before she partially switched to mixed martial arts. Shields rewrote the boxing history books with every boxing fight she took on and always pushed for the same, same hope: equality in women’s boxing.
Equal pay. Equality in promotion.
She was also seeking equality on another front that was directly linked to her two biggest causes: how long she and her fellow boxers are allowed to fight in the ring.
Currently, top tier fights featuring female fighters can be contested for up to 10 rounds of two minutes – one full minute shorter and two rounds shorter than fights of their male counterparts.
âI wish more people would realize that we didn’t put these rules in place – the men did,â Shields said in February. “So men need to change these rules so that every female boxing world champion can fight for three minutes and 12 rounds.”
There is a belief among female fighters that an extra minute per round could be a godsend for the sport, as it would provide more knockouts and potentially larger fan bases, resulting in additional income.
And at least one big promoter is interested in pushing for change.
Top Rank CEO Bob Arum told ESPN last month that he wanted to host women’s boxing matches with three-minute rounds, which he said would provide more excitement and opportunity for the sport.
âIf I could get three minute rounds,â Arum said. “I would sign a number of women.”
The growth opportunity for women’s boxing is considerable. Currently, Top Rank has one fighter on their promotional list – WBO junior lightweight title holder Mikaela Mayer.
Based on lists of fighters listed online, among top promotions Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing has been the most proactive signing the biggest names in women’s boxing today including Katie Taylor, Jessica McCaskill, Terri Harper. and Cecilia Braekhus. Matchroom has 13 women on the roster, behind only DiBella Entertainment who has 14. Golden Boy Promotions has six and Salita Promotions – who promotes Shields – has four. Like Top Rank, Mayweather Promotions has one. PBC does not have one.
Arum told ESPN last month that he wanted to start working to get everyone – promotions, organizations, and commissions – on board with the switch to three-minute rounds as long as both fighters in a fight agree. But as with everything in boxing, nothing is as easy as it sounds.
Three-minute rounds have taken place in women’s boxing before, but not very often.
Golden Boy Promotions hosted a three-minute women’s fight in Las Vegas in 2019: Seniesa Estrada v Marlen Esparza, in an interim WBA flyweight title fight which Estrada won by technical decision in the ninth round.
âBoth fighters accepted it. Both fighters accepted it and we supported him,â said Golden Boy Promotions matchmaker Robert Diaz. “In my personal life [opinion], I love it. Not all fights should last three minutes, but the world title fights should certainly last three minutes. “
He said he believed more women’s fights would end up ending in three-minute rounds, which his promotion tried to have this month. Diaz informally approached California State Athletic Commission executive director Andy Foster earlier this year about whether that commission would be open to a three-minute bout for the WBO junior flyweight title fight on Friday. between Estrada and Tenkai Tsunami.
Diaz told ESPN he was told that if both fighters agreed, the WBO would approve. Foster told him if that happened to officially submit a request. Diaz said Tsunami wasn’t interested – something Diaz said should be a decision for every fighter – so the idea never carried enough weight to be officially brought to Foster.
“If we received this request, I would take it to the commission,” Foster said. “And I could tell you that my recommendation would be that we allow three-minute rounds for women unless there is convincing medical evidence against it.”
Bob Bennett, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, said his state had no problem approving fights with three-minute rounds for female fighters because they had the same time for male and female MMA fights. .
MMA, and the UFC in particular, have produced female fighters who have garnered considerable attention and interest, starting with one of the sport’s most notable athletes who entered the mainstream, Ronda Rousey, and up to ‘to current champions, including Amanda Nunes, Valentina Shevchenko. and Rose Namajunas.
Female boxers seek out the same kinds of opportunities, and many believe that the higher possibility of a knockout with three-minute rounds could attract more interest and attention to their sport.
âIt would be a way to increase the popularity of the sport,â said Leonard Ellerbe, CEO of Mayweather Promotions. “To create more excitement. Two minute rounds pass [snaps fingers], you just warmed up.
“You talk about hitting people with body punches, slowly breaking them down to get to the last rounds, seventh, eighth rounds, and then you see a lot more action and a lot more devastating endings.”
Mauricio Sulaiman, the president of the WBC, told ESPN that his organization has no interest at this time in allowing three-minute bouts for women’s boxing.
This is a position his organization has held firmly for years, with Sulaiman saying it is only a security issue. When asked why it’s okay for male fighters to fight three-minute rounds, in this case, Sulaiman said he didn’t set the initial rules. He said research conducted by his organization indicates that women are at a greater risk of concussion than men.
In October 2019, the California State Athletic Commission hosted a meeting on gender equality in combat sports that covered a number of topics, including shorter sleeves. A document released in conjunction with this meeting highlighted several key arguments against the WBC’s position. There have been no studies specific to boxing or general combat sports that indicate a correlation between shorter rounds and fewer concussions.
âWe discussed these issues in depth and we faced the fighters themselves and gave our position,â Sulaiman said. “And unless there is clear medical research authorization to make changes, the WBC will not change from the two-minute rounds.”
Sulaiman hasn’t finished investigating, however. He told ESPN that the WBC contacted UCLA before the COVID-19 pandemic to develop a pilot proposal to conduct specific research on women’s boxing.
âThis is something that we are very aware of,â Sulaiman said. âSome fighters are really outspoken that they want to fight for three minutes and we don’t ignore that. We are looking into it.â
When looking at the four major sanctioning bodies, the WBC is apparently the only one in its approach to this topic. Daryl Peoples, the president of the IBF, told ESPN he had not explored the issue extensively with his medical team, but planned to do so. He said that unless there is clear medical evidence against it, he would support female fighters fighting three-minute rounds. WBO President Francisco “Paco” Valcarcel has said that if the committees approve and the fighters wish, the WBO will move forward with sanctioning these fights “in the United States”.
The WBA has sanctioned events like this in the past, and its chairman, Gilberto Mendoza Jr., has also said he belongs to fighters and commissions.
“If the boxing commission approves the fight and neither of the two opponents refuses, obviously we will approve the fight,” Mendoza said. “We are asking for written consent from both opponents that they agree to fight in three-minute rounds.
“Yes, we are flexible, and this is reflected in our new regulations.”
A change to this combat format would help both fighters and broadcast partners.
Showtime chairman Stephen Espinoza said his network, which broadcasts events hosted by Premier Boxing Champions (PBC), hosts two- or three-minute women’s fights – they’ve had Shields headlining in the past – and adding a minute to each round could end up attracting more fans.
There are, of course, other issues with the sport – the depth of the fighters in some divisions, and the pay gap for female fighters compared to their male counterparts among them. But if boxing can find a way to effect that change, it could be a catalyst for growth and a big step in the right direction.
âIn general, the fans like knockouts, TKOs, the action, and I think that’s one of the things,â Espinoza said. âIt’s really hard to stop an opponent, male or female, with two-minute rounds.
âOnce someone is in trouble you get the minute break and it’s hard. I think other than the strength differences and things like that, one of the reasons I think you see fewer stops and less popularity is because of The innings. “
ESPN’s Andres Ferrari contributed to this report.