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If Not Now, When?
By Bernie McCoy
May 29, 2003

The Luddites were a conservative sect in England, in the early nineteenth century, led by a self-styled "General" Ned Ludd (think Newt Gingrich in a waist-coat) and his Army of Redressers who sought to stop the progress envisioned by the proponents of the Industrial Revolution. The Luddite movement failed. Home Box Office is a cable television sect, formed in the latter half of the twentieth century, led by a series of self styled "programming geniuses" who seem to have sought to forestall the progress of Women's boxing, envisioned by those athletes, promoters and fans who earnestly seek to gain recognition for that sport. The HBO movement has succeeded beyond the wildest dreams of  General Ned Ludd.

HBO has been televising boxing for thirty years, three decades; Richard Milhous Nixon was President of the United States when HBO began its coverage. During that thirty year period, HBO has never, not once, in those 360 months of broadcasting the sport of boxing, seen fit to televise a Women's bout. This is not to say that HBO has completely ignored the sport. As part of its Pay-Per-View arm, HBO has shown several Women's bouts as part of  their coverage of championship cards. However, on the premium cable channel, the next Women's boxing bout on HBO will be the first.

On June 21 HBO plans to telecast the Lennox Lewis/Kirk Johnson heavyweight championship fight. HBO thought so much of the "marquee value" of this matchup, that Mike Tyson was originally scheduled to fight on the same card to provide added  "sizzle" to the night of boxing. When Tyson, as is his wont, dropped off the card, HBO added a bout between Vitali Klitschko and Cedric Boswell, two in the long list of "other fighters" in the heavyweight division; considerably less attractive than Lewis, Tyson, newly arrived Roy Jones Jr., David Tua and possibly Chris Byrd.

The June 21 card will also feature a Women's bout between Laila Ali and Valerie Mahfood, a return of their November matchup, where the fight was a one-sided eighth round TKO win for Ali. Also being planned is a bout between Lucia Rijker and Jane Couch. This fight was originally scheduled for June 8 in Amsterdam,  but is now, apparently, "on track" for June 21. This was a result of a "musical chairs" gambol orchestrated by Mia St John when she backed out of her bout with Rijker.

The Rijker/Couch bout is an intriguing matchup from several standpoints. Rijker, once considered the hardest hitting woman in the ring, has been largely inactive for almost four years, fighting only four rounds in that period. Couch, an Englishwoman, has overcome many obstacles, including a number of archiac statutes in her native land, to pursue a career in her chosen sport. Both women are fighters who know how to box, neither takes a back step, and both have the skills to showcase the sport of Women's boxing to its fullest. In addition, there is the added enigma surrounding Rijker's return to the ring and a matchup with a quality fighter. Is she is close to being the fighter she was when she was laying waste to 14 opponents during the late nineties (13 knockouts)? If she is anywhere close to that devastating puncher, she will immediately reestablish herself as one of the major attractions in the sport. On the other hand, Couch presents a solid test to benchmark how almost four years of inactivity have effected the former "baddest woman on the planet".

Rijker is, likewise, no stranger to HBO. The PPV channel covered Lucia's bout with a very rugged Andrea DeShong in Las Vegas in 1997. Rijker brought an end to the bout in the third round with a thunderous right hook to the ribs of DeShong, who, screaming in pain, turned her back to Rijker, essentially signaling her night was over. George Foreman, covering the bout on HBO, exclaimed, over the air, "Wow, we should have had a woman with us (at the broadcast table) to let us know how it feels to get hit as hard as that". Yes, HBO knows Lucia. In fact HBO is on record as saying that had the Christy Martin/Rijker match ever been made, the cable network would have been there to cover it.  The Rijker/Martin "train" has probably "left the station". But, Rijker is still around and now it looks like she'll be back in the ring on June 21, and she's in with a very compelling fighter.

Its not Rijker/Martin, but if the Rijker/Couch bout makes it to the Staples Center in late June (and with Rijker and her history of "showing up, or not" that's always problematical) it could be the best bout of the night. Its an eight round bout, probably less since these two fighters will have no trouble finding the other in the ring. Thus, in terms of airtime, HBO is looking at an additional half hour, if that".   Additionally, it's doubtful that the two heavyweight bouts will go the distance.  It can be fairly argued, then,  that a Rijker/Couch bout will provide a much more attractive alternative to the "fill" programming that inevitably pervades when the scheduled bouts end early.

The Luddites gave into the inevitable Industrial Revolution after only two years. HBO has, inconceivably, held out against Women's boxing for thirty years. Its time for the cable channel, an acknowledged leader in the boxing world, to step up and cover quality Women fighters. Lucia Rijker and Jane Couch are quality fighters. Its a great opportunity for HBO. Additionally, its time. Its way past time. If not now, when? Bernie McCoy


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