Claressa Shields, Photo Credit: Zachary Kadolph
Though not many boxing fans may be aware, women’s boxing debuted at the Olympic Games in 1904. Though only a demonstration match, the exhibition helped introduce the world to female competitors of all stripes.
Even so, female boxers would have to wait over a century for the Olympic Committee to announce women’s boxing would be on the docket at the 2012 London Olympics. Since then, international interest in the sport, with four major sanctioning bodies developing to regulate international standards.
These include the World Boxing Association, the World Boxing Council, the International Boxing Federation, and the World Boxing Organization. Despite the breadth of competitions, the Olympics are one of the most popular women’s boxing event. Though not on par with soccer and tennis competitions, women’s boxing is slowly gaining steam.
Typically, the Women’s World Cup commands the most international attention from sports fans who follow female athletes. The event has shown a quick turnaround, especially considering the English Football Association banned women from playing football until 1971.
In the last 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, female footballers from around the world competed in France, which drew in over 1 billion viewers, according to FIFA. Despite having fewer followers, boxing isn’t too far behind; in November 2020, a fight between Katie Taylor and Miriam Gutierrez drew in over two million viewers.
With female boxing competitions underway in the Tokyo Olympics now, let’s take a look back at the greatest Olympic competitors since the sport was recognized in 2009.
American Claressa Shields is one of the most celebrated boxers of her generation. Active since 2011, Shields has steadily built her acumen, sweeping up titles across three different weight classes. From 2017-18, she was the WBC and IBF super-middleweight champion.
In 2019-20, Shields was named the undisputed female middleweight champion. In March of this year, she was named the undisputed light middleweight champion. She accomplished this in the shortest number of professional matches in all of professional boxing.
Unsurprisingly, Shields has seen ample praise from The Ring, BoxRed, Lineal Boxing, and ESPN. Lineal Boxing and ESPN named her the best active female boxer, pound for pound in 2020. But Shields’ top accomplishments are related to the Olympics.
In 2012 and again in 2016, Shields represented the US at the Olympics and took home gold medals both times as a middleweight competitor. She’s the only boxer in US history to accomplish this feat consecutively.
Katie Taylor, Photo Credit: David Maher
As mentioned above, Katie Taylor of Ireland is one of the driving forces promoting women’s boxing to the world. She first gained notoriety back in 2019 for defeating Delfine Persoon, a knockout talent from Belgium.
The victory saw Taylor walk away with four titles simultaneously from the WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO. Only eight boxers in the history of the sport, male and female, have accomplished this feat.
Taylor represented her nation in the 2012 London Olympics, also serving as Ireland’s flag bearer. She took home a gold medal for her feats in the ring in the lightweight division. Her performance catapulted her to one of the most celebrated Irish athletes not only of her generation but of the century.
Nicola Adams, Photo Credit: Matthew Pover
Though retired as of 2019, Nicola Adams was one of the most exciting flyweights to watch during her professional career from 2017-2019. When she entered the 2012 London Olympics, she was still an amateur. Despite this, Adams went on to become the first female boxer ever to win an Olympic gold medal when she defeated Ren Cancan of China.
She repeated this feat once against at the 2016 Rio Olympics, nabbing another gold medal in the flyweight division as Claressa Shields did the same in the middleweight division. However, Adams’ gold medals were only part of her reign as flyweight champion.
In 2016, after nabbing gold in Rio, Adams became the champion of the Olympic, World, and European Games in the flyweight division. Adams’ performance had incredible effects outside the ring; she became the first openly gay competitor to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing and was an influential steward for African-Caribbean groups in the UK.