Bad hair days

Cassy Lear (left) and Brown (right) hard at work.

Cassy Lear (left) and Brown (right) hard at work. Picture: Marty Camilleri.

A bad hair day took on a whole new meaning for Omeo based 75kg boxer Cassy Lear in her Victorian state title bout on Sunday (December 16) against Warrnambool based  Gabrielle Brown.

Your hair can lose you a fight, so be warned women boxers with lengthy tresses.

Both of these formidable women had travelled far and were working like trojans against each other in a close fight. Brown was the aggressor for much of the fight, keeping the pressure on a normally fierce Lear who for the first time ever seemed to be boxing on the back foot.

But still she was ahead on the cards. The result could have gone either way.

But then came the matter of hair, not one of the most likely determiners of winning or losing a fight you might think. But when it starts to come loose from the headguard, more than ten centimetres below the base of the neck or flying out the top, whipping around causing a potential hazard, then you are in trouble. You’re committing a foul. And in this case the referee Shane Bell decided that he needed to enforce the rule and deducted points from both fighters during the course of the fight, until it was literally down to the wire in the fourth round.

Then the warnings and the point deductions accumulated and resulted in a disqualification…for the winning fighter. Lear finished the fight that she lost at 20 points while Brown won the fight at 17 points.

At that stage of the fight neither woman could control what was going on with their hair and it was a lottery as to who would be the one to fall to the ref’s call. He admitted later that it could have been either one of them.

Lear said this week that she knew nothing about the rule and had had worse hair problems – ‘it was going everywhere’ –  in previous fights and never been warned before.

‘It was a bit rough, I thought. I felt monumentally ripped off actually. I didn’t think my hair was out that much actually,’ said Lear.

It was Lear’s 9th fight since she began in 2010 and Brown’s second outing.

‘It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be,’ said Lear, ‘But I knew I had it until then. It was just not fair, especially when no one told me about the rule.’

And the rule is, in fairness, pretty hard to find in the BA rule book, although it’s a well known regulation internationally, which is why you see women boxers so often enter the ring wearing a hair net or cloth to contain it. It’s not just a fashion statement. You can see Queen Underwood (below) is taking no chances.

USA Boxing's 60kg Olympic boxer Queen Underwood took no chances with her hair.

USA Boxing’s 60kg Olympic boxer Queen Underwood took no chances with her hair.

State champion Simone Bailey wasn’t prepared to take any risks either in her bout against Rosie Aaiva and decided to wear a shower cap. And it did the job well.

Caz Pruden, who probably has more and longer hair than any female boxer on the planet said she had never been pulled up by a ref. She goes the way of corn rows and tons of hairspray, a big plait down the back folded in on itself.

Whatever the method, get that hair under control. You don’t want to be feeling like Cassy Lear does right now!

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Answering the call

call coverIt seems only a moment ago that I was on the edge of my seat watching rare footage of women boxing.

As one of the early practitioners of the sport, I was always on the lookout for others; role models, examples, hints of how it was done. Anything at all.

I combed the slow internet, waiting for images to peel down my mono screen.

Sometimes there was a flash of someone somewhere on cable.

But it was, especially in Australia, virtually a hidden sport. Then some really extraordinary women started to break through into the light. We all know the most famous ones now, Lucia Rijker, Christy Martin, Laila Ali, Mia St John, many of them now still in the spotlight. And they have been joined by hundreds more, scores of champions and more future champions coming through.

It would be easy in that growing crowd to forget some of these early pioneers.

But we certainly shouldn’t forget Deidre Gogarty, the Irish woman boxer, former WIBF champion and now the author of My Call to the Ring.

Gogarty burst onto the scene fighting Martin on the Tyson vs Bruno Undercard and turned more than a few heads with her skills and toughness. Now she has returned a little to the limelight plugging her book.

It has been reviewed here by Cheekay Bradon at boxing.com.

It’s certainly a book I’d like to read.

I was struck most in this post by Gogarty’s quiet modest persona in the interview posted with greenjab.com. I was so moved to hear her tell of Katie Taylor, the Irish Olympic gold medallist, writing to her at the age of 11. Look how far things have come even since then!

I couldn’t help but be struck by the calm quiet manner of both women. So inspirational in the sport yet with their feet firmly on the ground.

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Better than Disneyland

Diana Prazak in Melbourne earlier this year

Australian world champion super featherweight Diana Prazak never imagined that foregoing a trip to Disneyland would change the course of her life.

But that it surely did. While she might have been standing in line for a wild ride, instead she sought out the tutelage of one of the best female fighters of all time, Lucia Rijker, for a single session in LA. But she ended up on a much more exciting journey than the ones on offer at the world famous fun park.

Only a year after ditching the tourist hotspot to train with a boxing legend,  she is set to fight the pound for pound queen of women’s boxing, the 12-time three weight division world champion Holly ‘The Preacher’s Daughter’ Holm. This will be Prazak’s greatest challenge to date and no matter the outcome is likely to put her in the women’s boxing history books.

Holm, the pride of New Mexico, is one of the most successful female boxers in modern times and has beaten some legendary fighters like Christy Martin, Anne Sophie Mathis, Myriam Lamare and Jane Couch. The fight is scheduled for December 7 and the two will contest the IBA/WBF light welterweight world title.

On that first trip to the United States in November last year, Prazak never imagined, after only two sessions, that she would end up being the exclusive protege of the best female boxer of all time. Prazak has been training under Rijker since late last year but has struggled to get fights. She was gearing up to face Frida Wallberg to unify the WBC, IBF and WIBA super featherweight championship of the world on November 16 in Lincoping. But Wallberg suddenly withdrew leaving Prazak with only one fight for the second part of 2012 against Victoria Cisneros on the Holm undercard.

But just like a Disney blockbuster, the plot thickened when Myriam Lamare, also in Rijker’s camp and scheduled to rematch Holm as the main event, withdrew from that fight with an injury. Prazak and Rijker decided to take a chance.

‘Diana’s willingness to learn and grow as a fighter and a human being inspire me to work with her,’ said Rijker.

‘I also worked for many years with Freddie Roach who taught me how to work with a fighter with Diana’s style.’

Rijker sometimes refers to Prazak as the Rocky Marciano of the female game. Strong, determined and with a killer power shot that can, and has, put many on the canvas. Her relentless determination saw her stop Canadian Lindsay Garbatt to take the WIBA super featherweight title from an underdog position.

Rijker believes she’s got what it takes to cause an upset against Holm too.

‘Only the strong survive here in America,’ she said, ‘and the fact she left all behind, house dog, man and most of her business and family shows her dedication to making her dream come true!’

Holm’s camp are understandably pleased that the Fire and Ice main event can go ahead with the pride of Albuquerque in the top spot.

“We’re fortunate to have a great fighter like Diana Prazak step-up to fight the best pound-for-pound women’s fighter in the world,’ said Holm’s promoter Lenny Fresquez. ‘Diana deserves a lot of credit for accepting that big challenge.”

For Prazak, this leg of a very unpredictable journey started last year when she was in Los Angeles with her Australian team after seeing her then stable mate Frank Laporto fight Austin Trout in Texas for a world title in November. While there she had managed to tee up a training session with Lucia Rijker.

She got so much out of that one session that she phoned and messaged the legendary fighter relentlessly until she could secure a second one, even if it meant missing out on the Disneyland excursion that the Aussie contingent had planned.

Sarah ‘Missy’ Howett, me, Diana Prazak and Luci Rijker after Prazak’s win.

Now, almost a year later, Prazak is Rijker’s first and only full-time fighter and the two are in New Mexico preparing to face the biggest challenge of Prazak’s career.

A lot is riding on her performance. She has had to justify leaving behind her partner, friends, family, pets and her IT business in Melbourne, Australia to put all her resources into her boxing career and getting as far as she can possibly go. After beating Lucia Larcinese in New York in January, under the guidance of world champion Melissa Hernandez, and defending her title in Australia against Fatuma Zarika in April with Rijker in her corner, this third fight is the most high profile and challenging of her career so far.

It has been a tough grind in LA. Prazak still works with her clients remotely, meaning she is often at her desk at night after hard training sessions during the day. But without sponsorship it’s the only way Prazak can fund her new life.

The reason for the sacrifices are, primarily, her trainer. She and Rijker have cemented their relationship and are in it for the long haul.

She said that Rijker was not just a great athlete but also a great communicator and training with her has been worth all the personal sacrifices.

‘She has impeccable timing,’ says Prazak. ‘She’s got to be the most technically perfect fighter male or female. She has the best technique. But not just that. She’s taken the time to learn about me and how to train me, so we can connect with each other. It means she knows not just what to teach me but how to teach me,’ Prazak said. ‘As a fighter she had amazing awareness…of the ring, her opponent and herself. I’d say that is the epitome of Lucia Rijker and I would say that has a lot to do with her spiritual practice.’

While not a Buddhist, Prazak has found some Buddhist chanting has also been helpful to her.

“When you go to a new country and all you have is you. No family or friends and you don’t have time to make friends because you’re always training it helps to have that,’ she said.

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Bella boxing babes and foxy card boys!

For those who missed the Melbourne launch of The Sweetest Thing, here is a clip of the highlights filmed by the very talented Mark Welker.

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The sweetest victory of all

How many of us thought we’d never see the day?

How many of us knew talented female boxers who were not getting any recognition? How many women walked away from boxing because there were no opportunities, no opponents, no championship medals or because it was illegal, denigrated, dismissed, disparaged, ridiculed? How many never even started because they were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t?

Well look at us now, baby. Sell-out crowds. Dangerous decibels of enthusiasm.

ImageThree Olympic champions with bright, shiny young faces! Beautiful, smiling, winning faces! These are three resounding responses to all those years of doubt and they have gone beyond merely boxing well and skilfully. This is a stupendous victory for every one of us who has laced on gloves and stepped through those ropes, risking so much more than defeat and injury. Who have shrugged off suggestions that we are too frail, too feeble, too vulnerable and generally incapable.

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Who would have thought the story would get so big. So much bigger than the one-woman show that boxing has often been cast as. OK so she might be good at it but the rest of you have no chance. These Olympic boxers were spectacular, pitching their substantial talents against each other, raising the bar higher and higher for those who will follow. Inspiring young female boxers the world over. The bouts were competitive, thoughtful, skilful and dynamic. These bright and entertaining personalities came through with distinction and exemplary sportsmanship. This IS a marketable sport. These women have more charisma than female tennis players. More guts, more power, more character! How can you not sell these extraordinary athletes, with their physical dexterity and their beautiful smiles!

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These three historic Olympic gold medallist – Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields – represent the culmination of a long battle by people like Lucia Rijker, Barbara Buttrick, Christy Halbert, Bonnie Canino, Jane Couch, Terri Moss, Bettan Andersson, Sue TL Fox of the website WBAN and many others who have always had faith that women can do it. They have kept that faith and channelled their considerable energy into the next generation. If we keep it up, women will own boxing. And that will be the sweetest victory of all!

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The movie version

The launch last week of The Sweetest Thing at the Bella Union in Melbourne turned out to be a fantastic event, a great crowd and a fulfilment of my dream to bring the world of the gym to the world of book lovers, giving people a live, 3D taste of what is inside the book.

And amazingly, everything went according to plan. Everyone played their parts to perfection, from ring card boy Nick Mann with his washboard stomach and his mullet wig, to Bianca Elmir and Emily Jans who boxed three skilful rounds and then answered questions with humour and eloquence. Ring master extraordinaire, Chris Flynn, roving ringside reporter Karen Pickering, did a stupendous job and music/sound by Louise Woodward was smooth and fitting, with the boxers saying they loved sparring to her original composition.

Soon I’ll have edited video highlights of the night for those who missed out. But in the meantime, Mark Welker, who was there filming the launch, also shot some training footage at Crosse Training Centre the weekend before when a group of girls came to spar. From that, he made this amazing book trailer. Enjoy!

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And it will be sweet!

The Sweetest Thing, published by Hunter in Australia will be launched next week.

The Australian launch of my book, The Sweetest Thing, is shaping up to be an event the Melbourne publishing world has likely never seen before.

Launches are traditionally events for friends and family and most people don’t see them anything more than a bit of author ego massage. People make speeches, often witty and entertaining ones, the author reads from the work and everyone buys a copy, gets it signed, has a few drinks and goes home.

Well, not this time.

This book launch is guaranteed to be different.

The audience is going to get a three dimensional look inside the book.

It will include stories of sex, violence, bruises, madness and bust ups and I can guarantee, punches will be thrown! And men’s bodies will be shamelessly objectified in the name of entertainment.

Welcome to my upside down world.

What I am most excited about, though is that I’ll be able to present the highest standard of female boxing you are likely to see in this country with three of the most talented women in Australia.

Bianca Elmir, a three time national champion and Oceania champion had gained Olympic selection and had one more hurdle to overcome at the AIBA women’s world championship in China, before her journey was derailed. Just as she was about to weigh in, an ASADA drug test that showed she was positive for diuretics meant had her kicked off the team and sent home. In her place, 19-year-old Kristy Harris stepped up a weight class from 48kgs to 51kgs and fought in Bianca’s place.

At the launch both of them will be sparring each other to show what world class women’s boxing looks like up close. Those who have never seen any kind of boxing will be captivated, shocked, maybe a little frightened but ultimately impressed and inspired by these you women.

And Bianca, an articulate and charismatic person, will take questions about her experiences and talk about how the drug test drama has affected her.

Also in the mix will be Emily Jans, who, as well as being a great boxer and kickboxer is also a vegan and a drummer. She won this year’s national championship at 64kgs in Hobart and is yet another female fighter who breaks the stereotypes…about both boxing AND being a woman.

So be prepared for an exciting launch where we turn gender on it’s head, with topless ring card boys to punctuate proceedings.

It will take place at Bella Union on July 17 at Trades Hall in Carlton at 6pm and will include words from Chris Flynn, Karen Pickering, myself and the female boxers as well as a slide show featuring some of the juiciest black eyes you’ll ever see.

The Sweetest Thing is published in Australia by Hunter


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