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Adriana Bush, Fall 2013

Hairnets, breast cups and pink gloves: Being a female boxer in a male sport

Photo by Adriana Bush.

Photo by Adriana Bush.

It was the first time 17-year-old amateur boxer Jessica Ornelas-Corral put on makeup to hide her face.

The then 16-year-old was trying to cover up a black eye that she had gotten the previous day from sparring at the Community Youth Athletic Center in National City, CA.

“When I went to school I was embarrassed at first,” Corral said. “But then I became proud and my coaches told me I was a real boxer now.”

Black eyes, broken noses and skinned knuckles   the sport of boxing is far from glamorous.

But the sport continues to attract athletes of all sizes, ages and recently, genders.

Photo by Adriana Bush

Coach Jason Haines Sr. works the mitts with amateur boxer Jasmine Hernandez. Photo by Adriana Bush.

In 1993, the USA Boxing governing body lifted its ban on women boxing and it wasn’t until 2012 that women’s boxing made an Olympic debut.

Since women began participating in boxing, however, their male counterparts have not always accepted them into the sport.

“We don’t get the same respect as the men,” 23-year-old professional female boxer Amaris Quintana said. “I train hard and I do everything at their level or even better.”

Quintana turned professional at the age of 19 and she says the treatment from males was a lot worse when she first started boxing as a young teen 10 years ago.

“They pushed you more than they did the other guys to see if you could handle it,” Quintana said. “But it’s getting better little by little.”

When the fights inside the ring end, a different kind of fight outside the ring begins for female amateur and professional boxers who must battle the stereotypes that come with being a female boxer.

Amateur boxer Azalea Garcia anxiously waits to spar another female. Photo by Adriana Bush

Amateur boxer Azalea Garcia anxiously waits to spar another female. Photo by Adriana Bush

“I’ve been called a lesbian and some people think I box because I want the attention from guys,” Corral said. “I think it’s just hard for a lot of people to understand that a girl just really likes this sport.”

Hit the boys, fight the girls

Female boxers who are particularly athletic and strong are often paired with male sparring partners. But assigning partners can be difficult for coaches because male and female boxers have differing views when it comes to sparring the opposite sex.

Not only do coaches have to be strategic in the sparring partners they choose for their boxers, but they also must be matched based on weight, height and experience to ensure both sides are challenged.

“In sparring you need to be pushed,” Community Youth Athletic Center coach Jason Haines Sr. said. “You don’t want to dominate when you spar.”

Jasmine Hernandez, a 13-year-old boxer at CYAC, proved to Haines after a year of training that she could handle sparring with boys.

VIDEO: Amateur boxers Jasmine Hernandez and Guillermo Garcia describe what it’s like to spar boxers of the opposite gender.

In the end boys may be stronger, Haines says, but when girls have technique and knowledge, they balance out the physical strength.

Haines has been a coach at the CYAC for about 15 years and has noticed a big difference when it comes to training girls and boys.

“As far as the training aspect goes, girls are easier to coach than boys,” Haines said. “Girls are smarter, they listen better, take things in quicker and they are more patient.”

Despite picking the sport up faster than boys, girls typically don’t box for very long.

“Its hard to take them to the next level because there are not a lot of girls in the sport,” Haines said. “So they don’t get a lot of fights and they get frustrated and quit.”

Outnumbered and underestimated

There are about 3,000 new female amateur boxers who register every year, according to the USA Boxing governing body.

But when it comes to competing in tournaments and shows, much fewer women are represented. 

SLIDESHOW: Amateur boxer Azalea Garcia explains why it’s hard for females such as herself to compete in boxing tournaments

USA Boxing Referee and Judge Edwin Fontane remembers the first women’s fight he ever officiated just four years ago.

“It was awesome,” Fontane said. “The women were more intense and more particular on how they would throw their punches.”

Despite their abilities, Fontane says women boxers aren’t getting the recognition they deserve.

Women boxers are trained the same way male boxers are, however, they still find themselves putting in extra efforts.

“We work harder to prove that we have just as much or even more talent than the guys,” Quintana said.

SLIDESHOW: Amateur boxer Jessica Ornelas-Corral trains hard for a fight that she knows may never take place.

Boxing as an outlet for struggling teen girls

Not all girls who learn to box do so to compete on a amateur or professional level. Some young teens have discovered that the sport can be a fun way to lose weight and stay healthy.

Before she started boxing, a doctor told 14-year-old Patty Castro that unless she lost some weight she was on her way to developing diabetes.

Photo by Adriana Bush

Patty Castro does sit ups before doing bag drills. Photo by Adriana Bush

Castro was eating unhealthily, fighting in school and drinking. She decided to take up boxing a year ago after hearing about the CYAC, which offers free training and boxing equipment for San Diego kids and teens ages 7 to 19, from a friend.

“Its just so different now and I’m not so angry all the time,” Castro said. “I take my anger out on the bags, I lost weight and I talk more to people. Boxing changed everything.”

Since boxing, Castro decided that she wants to become a firefighter when she grows up because she knows if she can handle the physical and mental training from boxing she can handle the training it takes to be a firefighter.

Youth and Family Development Associate Cindy Price says boxing is a great outlet for girls in terms of releasing aggression.

“Girls tend to internalize the anger, compared to boys, which in time may turn into depression,” Price said. “Boxing is just a great way for girls to reduce stress and release any kind of anger or aggression from their past.”

For 15-year-old amateur boxer Azalea Garcia, boxing came into her life at the right time.

Garcia says she was always angry, stayed out late and didn’t listen to her parents.

Azalea spars another female. Photo by Adriana Bush

Amateur boxer Azalea Garcia gets ready for a second round of sparring. Photo by Adriana Bush.

“Ever since I joined the sport it kept me away from the bad people and it kept me doing good,” Garcia said.

Corral has been using the sport as a way to release the emotional pain she has been suffering since losing her oldest brother in a car accident two months ago.

“When my brother passed away I was really angry and hurt,” Corral said. “I even thought about going suicidal because that was my brother, but coming to the gym, running and focusing on my bag drills helped ease my pain.”

Although boxing is considered a male sport, Corral says boxing gives girls a sense of power that they may have never felt before.


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