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They called it the Lujan Brawl: a six-round Saturday night main event that New Mexico boxing fans had been waiting for. The sports pages were touting it. Local TV stations gave it tons of hype. But it wasn’t a matchup of bulky heavyweights circling the ring. Instead, all eyes were on the flyweight square-off between MMA fighter Amanda “The Glitch” Lovato and Katherine “La Guera Pistola” Lindenmuth — a single mother throwing punches at a widow with three sons.

The two didn’t disappoint, giving the crowd a show with a flurry of upper cuts, hooks and crosses. In the end, two judges ruled the fight in Lindenmuth’s favor. A third judge thought Lovato fought well but ultimately couldn’t hold off the relentless pressure. Fans declared it one of the best bouts on the card that night. “They loved the energy,” Lindenmuth says with excitement. “It was what they came to see.”

Hundreds of miles away in Oklahoma City, Lisa Bauch was supervising a regional tournament of more than 275 amateur boxers, both men and women, from 30 franchises across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota competing for a shot at nationals. Nearly 30 bouts in three rings, all happening at the same time, with scheduled fights until midnight. The former owner of popular Minneapolis studio Uppercut sold that gym and established herself in the Golden Gloves arena to work with amateurs across the region.

Bauch saw an opportunity pro fighting wasn’t offering: inclusive amateur boxing for personal gain, particularly for women. “It’s all about the confidence it builds; you overcome so many fears,” she says. “You put together your game plan, and you have seconds to make that choice in the ring. Once you land a hit, it’s like, I can do this.

“When you put on the gloves and hear the sound they make when they hit, you can feel the adrenaline,” echoes Tamara Frapasella-Fortune, co-owner of Fortune Gym. Her 4,000-square-foot training complex is the largest in Los Angeles, where dozens of world champs train, including the legendary Mia St. John and UFC Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey. Frapasella-Fortune was a fitness model before taking on Kim Kardashian in a 2009 celebrity boxing match, then got totally hooked on it. “It’s like jumping out of an airplane,” she exclaims. “It’s thrilling.”

Roughly a third of U.S. boxers today are women; most are white, but a growing number are Black and Latina. And surprisingly, many are over 40. Bauch explains there are numerous misconceptions about women in boxing; she believes there are 10 times as many women stepping into the ring today who are better fighters than men because of their size and lower body strength. Plus she thinks they’re more coachable. “When you get talent in the ring, women are a joy to watch,” she notes. “They’re technically sound, and fans appreciate their talent more.”

Artful Living | Inside the Competitive World of Women’s Boxing

Illustration by Klawe Rzeczy

Women have been boxing since the 1700s, but not without a prolonged fight to try to knock them out of the ring permanently. Rounds of discrimination lasted well into the 20th century, with many countries legally banning women from the sport. Newspaper articles ostracizing public matches as “sexual” and “vulgar” circulated worldwide. 

Still, it didn’t stop them. Some women staged protests and hunger strikes in the 1960s for the right to box as more than a novelty. Records from the Women Boxing Archive Network show that amateur matches were sanctioned in Minnesota in the late 1970s. But it wasn’t until lawsuits were filed in the 1990s — two decades after Title IX was signed into law — that U.S. boxing associations finally admitted defeat and authorized the first fights between women.

Once the ban was lifted, amateurs like 16-year-old Dallas Malloy threw the first punches, winning her bout against Heather Poyner. The 1993 match drew more women to the ring. Suddenly, names like Laila Ali and Stephanie Jaramillo were adding excitement for fans — and hope for female pro boxers. 

Then in 1996, junior welterweight Christy Martin scored the first big women’s pay-per-view contract. Her bloody brawl with Irish fighter Deirdre Gogarty drew millions of viewers, not only because the pint-sized boxer had a record of 49 wins, 31 knockouts and three losses, but because the fight was strategically placed on the undercard of the Mike Tyson/Frank Bruno showdown, thanks to her legendary promoter Don King. This helped women’s boxing break through to a global audience. After eight years of sparring, Martin was suddenly an “overnight” sensation, making the rounds on late-night talk shows and becoming the first female boxer to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

Women’s pro boxing was having its moment in the spotlight. But it didn’t last long. “It was huge then,” notes Justin Fortune, co-owner of his eponymous L.A. gym and a former pro who fought Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight crown in 1995. “Christy and Laila Ali were headlining over guys.” But these pioneers were also the sport’s show ponies, representing the elite 1% of female boxers with access to the best promoters and prize purses. “Mia and Ronda were big because they had endorsements and marketing,” says Frapasella-Fortune pragmatically. “They had the right niche, the right look.”

“Today, pro boxing is in a bit of a slump,” Fortune admits. “There are a lot of good fighters in America, but it hasn’t really taken off like 30 years ago. Until there’s someone exciting, like a mean heavyweight, it won’t make a comeback for men or women.”

Not much has changed in the pro boxing arena in recent decades for a few reasons: no money, no major fighters and the rise of MMA — mixed martial arts, where women get the same amount of ring time as men, get placed at the top of the bill and get a shot at earning some real money (more than the $30,000 female boxers typically pocket a year).

But it’s a different story in amateur boxing. A 2021 Harris Poll revealed boxing has moved up the ranks to become America’s fourth most popular sport, attracting more than 26 million new fans since 2010 (when it didn’t even crack the top 10). Analysts attribute this to Gen Zers, who like the short rounds and the nonstop action that could lead to a knockout at any minute.

Artful Living | Inside the Competitive World of Women’s Boxing

Then there’s the impact of the #MeToo Movement. Beginning in 2006, countless women came forward with stories about the lecherous, violent behavior they’d endured for decades. Suddenly, assault survivors and activists began fighting back. It wasn’t long after that gyms started seeing more women lacing up their gloves.

“Boxing teaches women to protect themselves,” says Bauch. She hopes to see more women of color take up the sport, particularly in Native American communities, where women are vanishing at alarming rates. Because of the growing violence against them and the lack of help from tribal or municipal law enforcement, many Indigenous women are now turning to the ring to safeguard themselves. Bauch has been encouraging several South Dakota gyms training Native women to participate in Golden Gloves tournaments. “None of the girls made it to Oklahoma City,” she notes. “But 2023 will be different. There was an Indigenous group with USA Boxing last year, but it lapsed. When they bring it back, we’ll do a show in Minnesota.”

But there are still obstacles. “It’s mind-blowing how many people want to keep amateur boxing the way it is,” Bauch explains. “It’s an uphill battle. Let’s open it up to everyone and improve the sport so it’s not so scary to women. When women train next to men, men have more respect for them. Women can complement male fighters if men simply open their minds.”

Bauch fought her way into the Golden Gloves arena and is on the hunt for a successor who will eventually take her place in management and keep pushing for gender balance in boxing. “We’re so much more accepted now as coaches, trainers and franchise owners,” she says. “There’s a crack in the wall. It won’t come down, but it’s definitely better than it used to be.” She’ll wait until the Golden Gloves 100th anniversary event in Philadelphia later this year to decide if she’ll stick with it.

But “once boxing is in your blood, you’re finished,” says Fortune. His wife agrees. Today, Frapasella-Fortune trains 10 to 12 clients a day, including model and socialite Blac Chyna. She also chases her 5-year-old twins around the gym and challenges opponents with her brawn and her brain as a chess boxer — bobbing and weaving in the ring for a round, then moving pawns and queens around the board for the win.

Meanwhile in New Mexico, Katherine Lindenmuth commutes three times a week after working a full shift to train at Rosales Karate and Kickboxing Academy. She’s adding a master’s in criminal justice to her sports marketing degree, studying every day and keeping her three boys focused on their schoolwork. She’d love it if they were interested in boxing, but they like their video games, iPhones and TV — “all the things I don’t have time for,” she laughs.

It’s been just the four of them since her husband, Jim, died eight years ago; she calls them her little team. “It’s not perfect every day, but we work to accomplish a lot,” Lindenmuth says. There’s no extra money for a manager or promoter, so she does all her own marketing. She has a 2–0 record, so maybe with more training and more fights under her belt she’ll get noticed by a good promoter. If she’s lucky, she could be that 1% that makes it to the top of the sport. But even if she’s not, she can already see the effect her presence has in the arena, in the gym and in the community. So she’ll keep fighting — for her boys. For Jim, who she believes is watching. And for women like herself.

“The gym is full of little girls now,” Lindenmuth explains. “It’s amazing the energy you feel from them. They tell me, ‘I want to fight just like you.’ So I want to be tough for them since they’re getting in there, getting dirty and working hard.” Inspired and hungry after her showstopping bout, she lands her final thoughts like a knockout punch: “We’re breaking down barriers. We’re here to give everything we have.” 

Read this article as it appears in the magazine.

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