This is a very tough question to answer; but I have never really knowingly shirked a journalistic challenge, so please join me and see how my analysis leads to my list of the greatest female boxers in amateur boxing history.
In the summer Olympics of 1904, held in St Louis (USA) women’s boxing was seen merely as a demonstration and exhibition sport. At that time the Olympic Committee saw female boxing as a health risk and not as an official sport. It was not until 105 years later, in 2009, that the International Olympic Committee were minded to include women’s boxing in the London 2012 summer Olympic Games programme of sporting events. Women’s World amateur boxing championships came into existence in 2001 in Scranton (USA). I have concentrated in the main on their achievements at both Olympic and World championship level as a measure for my final rating standings, although sometimes other factors too come into play.
My top five women, in leading order, are as follows: Claressa Shields, Nicola Adams, Katie Taylor, Mary Kom and finally Ren Cancan. Where confidence exists, details of their amateur contests have been included. It has been a very tough call to rank these five outstanding boxers and even now, even in my own mind, I am not completely certain that I have got it quite right.
Let the debate now commence.
American middleweight sensation, Claressa Shields is my first choice. She won two Olympic gold medals (2012 and 2016) and two World championship gold medals in 2014 and 2016. Also at the Rio Olympics she became the first female recipient of the coveted Val Barker award for the “outstanding boxer of the tournament” in essence the best pound-for-pound boxer at those Olympics. She is also the first American boxer, male or female to win consecutive Olympic titles and the first American woman boxer to win titles at the Olympics and the Pan American Games.
Her only ring loss came in the 2012 World championships where she was outpointed by Britain’s own Savannah Marshall, the eventual gold medallist at that tournament. But Shields had earned an Olympic berth, which led subsequently to her gold medal success at London 2012. Shields’ record when being outpointed by Marshall was 26-1 at that stage of her career.
Marshall beat Shields by 14 points to 8 on that occasion and I suppose that everyone is entitled to have “a bad day at the office” at some point. Shields disputes Marshall’s decision over her to this day, but that small blip did not deter her in any way and her long winning streak and continuous success thereafter has convinced me she deserves my number one spot. She left the amateur code with 77 victories and one sole loss and a well earned reputation as the greatest female boxer the USA has produced.
In my second spot is Britain’s very own, Nicola Adams. Like Shields she is a dual Olympic champion (2012 and 2016) and without doubt England’s greatest ever amateur female boxer. The woman from Leeds also had a very good record at the World championships, winning a flyweight gold in 2016, silver at bantamweight in 2008 and silvers too at flyweight in 2010 and 2012. Her two flyweight Olympic gold medals have firmly cemented her place in our boxing folklore and she has the distinction which will never be erased in becoming in London in 2012 the first woman to win a gold medal in the Olympic ring. She also won five other gold medals at Commonwealth and European settings. Adams departed the amateur code with a ring record of 76 victories, 17 losses and one draw.
Her Olympic triumphs and her World championship performances have convinced me that she is a worthy runner up to Shields and fully deserves second spot in my list of the greatest female boxers.
Third place goes to that fantastic Irish lightweight, Katie Taylor from Bray in County Wicklow, Ireland, who is without doubt Ireland’s greatest ever female boxer. Like, Adams and Shields, she was Olympic champion (lightweight) at London 2012 and she also racked up five golden triumphs at that weight at World championships in 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014, a bronze was subsequently achieved in 2016. In Rio in 2016, she lost in the quarter-final by a split decision (2-1) which went in favour of rising Finnish prospect, Mira Potkonen. A disappointing end to her Olympic career as she had been widely tipped by many to retain her Olympic crown, it was just not to be in Brazil.
In 2010, she was named by AIBA as their world female boxer of the year. She also won 12 gold medals at various major European championships, what a record that is in itself.
She finally left the amateur code with 173 victories, 12 losses and one draw, and is widely recognised as the best and most outstanding Irish athlete of her generation.
Next we come to fourth spot which goes to India’s Mangte Chungneijang Mary Kom (born on March 1 1983), who is a member of the Upper House of the Indian Parliament. Kom is still in the hunt for a qualifying place in now what will be the Tokyo Olympics of 2021. She and her husband have three sons and they have also adopted a daughter.
Mary Kom is without any shadow of a doubt, India’s most successful female boxer. Her record is huge and stands as a true testimony to her greatness in the ring. She is the only boxer (male and female) to have won eight medals at World championships – six gold, one silver and one bronze. In those World championships she won her silver medal at the inaugural event in Scranton (USA) in 2001 and remarkably a bronze medal in 2019 at Ulan-Ude in Russia. Gold medals were achieved in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2018. Kom is the only female boxer to have won medals at the first six Worlds. She has also won a Commonwealth gold medal, seven golds and one silver and one bronze in various Asian championship settings.
If you like, the only events she may not have achieved the high expectations of others is in the London Olympics of 2012 and then failing to qualify for the Rio Games of 2016. However, in London she did win a bronze medal, being outpointed in her semi-final against eventual gold medallist, Nicola Adams (so no disgrace there then). Maybe that’ s why she is still trying to secure a qualifying slot at the Tokyo Olympics next year, in what would surely be her last Olympic “hurrah”.
Her monumental boxing career focused on three weight divisions namely pin weight, light-flyweight and latterly flyweight and in view of her huge successes, I do feel more than a tad mean in placing her fourth in my all-time list of women’s greats.
Unfortunately I have been unable to find any real accurate statistics which do justice to her long and impressive ring credentials.
In fifth place we find southpaw Ren Cancan from China. She started to box in 2002 and did very well for herself and her country. She is China’s most successful female boxer to date. She won three gold medals at World Championships, first in 2008 in a curious weight division called light-bantamweight, and then at flyweight both in 2010 and 2012. In addition she also won two gold medals and two silver medals at Asian major tournaments. She and Nicola Adams boxed six times, each winning three times, you can see how good she was and what star quality the Chinese boxer possessed. Cancan beat Adams twice in the flyweight finals of the 2010 and 2012 Worlds (May 2012) and went to London 2012 a few months later as the number one in the world and the favourite to become the first ever woman Olympic flyweight boxing champion. However, Adams had other ideas and lifted the gold medal with a final triumph over her Chinese opponent by 16 points to 7. In Rio in 2016, Adams repeated her 2012 triumph with an unanimous points success (3-0) over the Chinese this time in the Olympic flyweight semi-final. She went on of course to retain her Olympic crown.
Ren Cancan was a tremendous talent and a formidable opponent, Nicola Adams can assure you of that. As with Kom, I have been unable sadly to get a handle on a reliable ring record for Ren Cancan.
Five great female boxers who set the bench marks for those who will come after them. They certainly raised the profile of women’s boxing to new levels and for this we must be forever grateful, whatever particular pecking order our readers may put them in.