The Oxford University Amateur Boxing Club (OUABC) held its first all women’s event last Saturday night. The historic event gave the female members of the club the recognition they deserve in a sport where women are often underrepresented. The women’s club at OUABC boast Lydia Welham as their captain, the holder of the National Development Champion 2018 award, along with co-captain, Rachel Wheatley, last year’s Sportswoman of the Year. The club competed against other women from a variety of esteemed clubs from across the country.
The night started with a brilliant fight from the junior club members, girls still in primary school. They displayed an advanced skill set, brilliant footwork, a great deal of courage and determination and set the tone for the historic night ahead.
Ella Penny displayed the same power and grit she exhibited at Town vs Gown last year, but her attempts to fight off the ropes met with varying results. Eventually, her opponents jabs to the face saw a bloodied Penny call the fight to an end after an display of extreme determination.
Kaya Axelsson and Sofia Lindqvust’s inter-club match was one of the most tightly fought of the night. The opening was marked by Axelsson’s assertive drives forward, but Lindqvust remainded unphased. She held her ground and although pursuing very different styles, there was little to separate them as neither woman was backing down. In the final round, Axelsson picked up pace and started to throw harder shots, but did not throw Lindqvust off balance and she continued to demonstrate great power. Although split, the judges ultimately declared Axelsson winner.
Both Jessica Lee and Zoey Zhang exhibited their skills in the ring, but both of them fell short of victory. Zhang’s opponent’s combination punching laid bare a difference in hand speed. Lee remained remarkably collected in her fight, displayed deft footwork and picked up pace throughout, but was undone by a lack of consistency in her attacks and failure to drive forward.
Rachel Wheatley and Lydia Welham’s contests were distinguished by the intensity of the physical and psychological intensity displayed. Wheatley’s varied style of attack moved her opponent backward and kept them off balance, enabling her to exhibit her powerful combination punching. Welham’s opponent was particularly formidable, speedy and confident. But Welham was able to counter the offensive and absorbed her opponent’s best shots with little apparent effect. Thudding punches from Welham prompted heightened levels of roaring in the crowd. Despite showing signs of fatigue, she continued to throw and land punches with a combination of power and accuracy. Wheatley and Welham boxed exquisitely in a series of skirmishes that took on the feel of bullet chess: it was a showcase of expert-level work from two of the clubs top operators.
The OUABC was founded in 1897 and is the second oldest active boxing club in the country. That it has taken significantly more than a century for the club to hold its first all female event is, however, more of a reflection on the attitudes to the sport within Britain, rather than the club itself. The number of “male chauvinists in Britain” is what Alan Kean, professional boxing coach has argued has caused women’s boxing in this country to lag behind other nations.
Until 1996 Amateur Boxing Association of England banned female fighters. It wasn’t until two years later, Jane Couch, a bouncer from Blackpool, became the first legal British professional boxer. Significantly, the first Olympics women’s boxing was included in was London 2012. In this light, the OUABC can be seen as relatively progressive for allowing women to join in 2003.
The boxers at the OUABC are helping give women’s boxing the appreciation the sport deserves. Not only have they reached national headlines, but they have held their audience with their sportsmanship, their passion and a palpable desire to prove themselves. In an era when everyone is talking about equal rights and equal pay it is great to see the OUABC putting women on the cards and creating space for them to get the same recognition as men. It’s just a shame it had to take so long.