History of Women's Boxing: Laila Ali & Elizabeth Wilkinson
by Meg Caruana on Aug 02, 2021
The sport of boxing has evolved in many different ways over the past few centuries. Equipment has advanced, matches have quickened, and the intensity has picked up. While there have been material and technical changes in the game, there has also been large evolution in women's boxing. Once a novel concept (females using their bodies for something other than childbearing), women's boxing has become a phenom in its own right. At the same time, equality has not yet been achieved, with press and coverage still not gathering nearly as much attention as the ladies deserve. Yet, these girls demonstrate that they can fight. Buckle up as I take you on a bit of a journey- from the first champion to a more recent, prepare to be inspired to kick some ass today.
What do you do when your husband, a notorious criminal and champion boxer, is executed? Elizabeth Wilkinson opted to take his place. That's the word on the street, anyway. There is not too much information available on the woman who takes the title of the first female professional boxer in history. Upsetting? Yes. Surprising? No.
Lizzy was born in London in the early 1700s. Her boxing career began around the time of her second marriage to James Stokes, who owned a boxing amphitheatre at the time. Lizzy famously challenged Hannah Hyfield, with whom she had "words with" to instead sort out their quarrel in the ring. The only stipulations were that the women held "half a crown in each hand" to ensure no clawing would occur during the fight. Imagine boxing with a Visa in your hand! Lizzy's second fight went for 22 minutes and she reigned victoriously. It was after these two fights that Lizzy became a regular at the boxing rings of James Figg. Her notoriety amongst Londoners was far more significant than many male boxers at the time…. Again are we surprised?
Additionally, Lizzy fought clothed i.e. in a jacket, petticoat, drawers, stockings and shoes. Firstly, wow! that must have been hot (I complain about wearing a shirt at the gym). Secondly, this distinction established Lizzy as a serious boxer, as often prostitutes would fight one another topless. While being a prized fighter, Lizzy was also famous for her trash-talking (we love a woman who can serve good banter!) Often Lizzy and James would fight together, taking on male and female counterparts- talk about a dynamic duo. Yet, it was Lizzy who truly drew the crowds. Lizzie goes down in history as one of the first bad-ass female boxers out there.
Bumping us up a couple of centuries or two, we have Laila Ali, an undefeated female boxer. Laila fought from 1999-2007 and held super middleweight and light heavyweight titles. Much like Elizabeth Wilkinson, Laila had to fight to establish herself within the boxing field. Wilkinson often struggled with recognition in the ring next to her husband, while Laila was forced to prove herself as the daughter of Muhammad Ali (need I say more?). Our Queen Laila is a multi-faceted and multi-talented woman. Before her career as a boxer, she owned and operated her own nail salon.
Laila's first fight occurred on the night of the first male v. Female boxing match, bringing much attention and press to her battle. Laila went on to fight several notable opponents and remained undefeated. Yet, Laila's accomplishments are often undermined by those who attribute her success to her father's notoriety.
While Ali and Wilkinson's careers differ immensely, their legacies possess a similar sentiment. Both women have had to work to overcome judgment, hardship and barriers to equality.
Making their own mark out of the shadows of a father or a husband, these women prove that sometimes the best way to prove em' wrong is simply to show up and show out.