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 Boxing, a sport that has unsurprisingly been dominated by men, brings us some outstanding female role models.

Having only gotten into boxing at the age of 25 myself, it was only in the past few years that I became aware of some of the great names in boxing—and it took much longer to get acquainted with female boxers.

The first professional female boxer I heard about was Lucia Rijker, a Dutch celebrity. Though I lived in the Netherlands for much in my life, I didn’t learn about her until I came to the Philippines and started boxing myself.

I found Rijker’s story to be exceptionally inspirational and decided I wanted to learn about other remarkable women in boxing as well.

Whether fighter, female, both, or neither, chances are you stand to learn something from these boxing heroes. Before we get to know a few of these inspirational women though, let’s dip into a bit of boxing history.

A Brief History of Boxing

Boxing, as a sport, has a long history. Competitive amateur boxing goes all the way back to the 8th century BC when it was practiced by the Greeks. It became an Olympic event in 688 BC.

More recently, the first official boxing match it said to have taken place in 1681. Some sixty years later, an Englishman by the name of Jack Boughton—known by some as the father of boxing—published the first set of rules for the sport.

The first female boxing match came well over a hundred years after the sport became official, in 1876. The match between Nell Saunders and Rose Harland took place in New York City and is considered the first women’s boxing match to be held in the United States. Supposedly, the ladies competed for a silver butter dish.

Men’s boxing boomed at the start of the 20th century when a promoter discovered its business potential. Ironically, it was around the Great Depression that it became the big money sport it is today.

Joe Louis, the world heavyweight champion from 1937 to 1949 and considered to be one of the greatest boxers in history, set the precedent by making over $5 million dollars throughout his career. Now, we have Mayweather taking home $275 million in one night, but that’s a story for another time.

In 1939, the first heavyweight boxing match was televised but it wasn’t until the 50s that the first nationally televised female fight took place. In the 70s, a popular fighter by the name of Cathy Davis appeared on television and was also the first female boxer to grace the cover of Ring Magazine.

It was in the 90s that women’s boxing boomed and the sport has come a long way since then: just last year, HBO aired its first female boxing match featuring Cecilia Braekhus, whom we’ll get to know shortly.


The Best Female Boxers of all Time


Let’s start by going back to the Olympics: the first Olympic boxing event for women was held in 2012, and it was a British fighter by the name of Nicola Adams who was the first lady to take home boxing gold.


1. Nicola Adams: Overcoming Obstacles


Country: United Kingdom

Age: 36

Boxing record: 5-0 (3 wins by KO)


    • first woman to win an Olympic boxing title
  • 2012 and 2016 Olympic gold medalist in women’s flyweight division

Nicola Adams fought and won her first match at the age of 13 and at 19 she became the first female boxer to represent England. She’s also been named the most influential LGBT person in Britain but these are not the only things that make her an inspiration.

Adams has had her fair share of setbacks, dealing with injuries and the struggle to fund her boxing career. She worked as an extra on British soap operas and as a builder until the International Olympic Committee decided to back funding for women’s boxing in 2009.

In 2012, Adams defeated Mary Kom from India and Ren Cancan from China to claim the first-ever Olympic women’s boxing gold medal. Between 2012 and 2016, she took home six gold medals. As the reigning Olympic, World, and European Games flyweight champion, she signed with a promoter and started her career as a professional boxer in 2017.

Though she faced another series of personal and professional setbacks last year, with her mother battling cancer and her trainer diagnosed with an illness, Adams hasn’t given up the fight. After a short hiatus on account of her mother’s condition, she returned and dominated her two most recent bouts for a perfect record of five professional wins and continues to fight for her first full world title as a pro boxer.


“Women boxers prefer to focus on the win rather than the bravado. We’ve come a long way. In the ’90s, you only ever saw women parading in heels and a bikini holding a scorecard. Now we’re owning it; we should get some male models in Speedos to do the ring walk.”

—Nicola Adams

Having won the interim title in October, Nicola Adams will challenge the WBO World Flyweight champion for full honors in her sixth professional fight on March 8. Don’t miss it!


In the meantime, you can follow Nicola Adams on Instagram and Twitter @NicolaAdamsOBE.


2. Lucia Rijker: Boxer, Buddhist

Country: Netherlands

Age: 51

Boxing record: 17-0 (14 wins by KO)


    • undefeated in boxing and kickboxing
    • women’s boxing and kickboxing world champion
  • WIBF Welterweight Title

Lucia Rijker, known internationally as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the World”, is one hell of a fierce Dutch lady and certainly one of the most inspirational women in boxing.


“I don’t wanna say I punch like a man. I punch like a coordinated athlete.”

—Lucia Rijker


Her boxing dream started at the age of 7 when she watched Mohammed Ali on TV and said to her parents, “That’s what I’m going to do!” They, of course, told her it wasn’t for girls. By then she was already training in judo and a the age of 15 she began kickboxing—both popular sports in the Netherlands. Still, she held onto her ultimate dream.

As a kickboxer, she built a record of 36 wins, 0 losses, and 25 knockouts. Eventually, she moved to the United States to become a boxer. In the struggle to survive, she says exercise was her therapy. Rijker worked hard to build her career, without much reward, and eventually found a trainer who truly believed in her.

At the peak of her career, she was scheduled to fight Christie Martin—a match she had been calling for since the 90s. The fight was set for June of 2005, with the ladies slotted to take the main event of an otherwise all-male fight card. Each woman was guaranteed $250,000, with the winner taking home $1 million. Only eleven days before the big fight night, however, Rijker ruptured her Achilles tendon and with it her dream to fight in Las Vegas died.

Despite such an abrupt end to a brilliant and promising career, which came at the same time as the loss of both parents, Rijker entered a bright future as much more than a fighter.

Though she never got to fight Christie Martin or Laila Ali—daughter of the great Muhammad Ali—Lucia Rijker is known by many as the world’s greatest female boxer and carries the nicknames “Lady Tyson” and “Lady Ali”. She is a celebrity in her home country of the Netherlands, has appeared in Hollywood films, and currently teaches personal transformation to help people around the world discover confidence from within.

Rijker is a practicing Buddhist. When asked in an interview how she can be a Buddhist and a fighter at the same time, she says: “I would not know how to do one without the other.”

She explains that there are many kinds of Buddhism, just as there are many kinds of martial arts. Rijker follows Nichiren Buddhism, which was practiced by some of the samurai, and speaks of the importance of building self-esteem separate from the confidence that comes from performance.

Rijker stresses the importance of battling your own negativity as a fighter and being grateful to have an opponent bring out your fullest potential. Fighters must learn to trust themselves, as well as have the ability to be vulnerable. “Fighters are extreme,” she says, “monks are extreme too.”


“An open heart inspires the mind to take courageous action toward self mastery.”

—Lucia Rijker

The Lucia Rijker story has been told in books and in films such as the 1999 film Shadow Boxers. You can follow Lucia on Twitter or on Instagram

3. Cecilia Braekhus: Staying at the Top

Country: Norway

Age: 37

Boxing Record: 35-0 (9 wins by KO)


    • undisputed women’s welterweight champion of the world since 2014;
    • first woman in any weight class to hold the WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO titles simultaneously;
  • three recognitions fro Guinness World Records:


      • the Longest Reigning Female Boxing Champion;
      • the Longest Reign as a Four-Belt Undisputed Boxing Champion;
    • and the Most Bouts Undefeated by a Female World Champion Boxer.

Cecilia Braekhus, born in Colombia and adopted by Norwegian parents at the age of 2, fell in love with kickboxing at the age of 14. She started boxing professionally in 2007 and won her first title two years later.

Before becoming a world-class boxer, however, she was made to feel like a criminal in her own country for practicing the sport she loved and had to circumvent the law in order to train.

Because professional boxing was banned in Norway, this inspirational boxer had to sneak out the fourth-floor window of her parents’ home and eventually leave her country in order to train and compete without being jailed. Years later, however, she would make history again by headlining the first boxing fight in Norway when the 33-year ban was lifted.

In 2017, Cecilia Braekhus successfully defended her world titles three times. She became the first BWAA Female Fighter of the Year and has continued to make history since.

HBO, which first started broadcasting boxing matches in 1973, aired its first ever female boxing bout on the 5th of May, 2018. In this groundbreaking fight, Cecilia Braekhus defended her title against Kali Reis.

Braekhus is now being coached by the legendary Lucia Rijker and continues to fight to hold onto her belts.

With an amateur record of 75-5-0, a professional career as the undisputed women’s welterweight champion for the past four years, and three recognitions from Guinness World Records, it’s no reason Braekhus is known as the First Lady of Boxing.


“Climbing to the top, that’s the easiest part. The hardest part is staying at the top.”

—Cecilia Braekhus


Caption: Cecilia Braekhus knows what it means to fight for the top

Alt Tag: The First Lady of Boxing, Cecilia Braekhus, poses gracefully with her six belts


Follow Cecilia Braekhus on Instagram @ceciliabraekhus and Twitter @1LadyCecilia.


4. Laila Ali: Making Her Own Name

Country: United States of America

Age: 41

Boxing Record: 24-0


    • WBC, WIBA, IWBF, and IBA female super middleweight titles
  • IWBF light heavyweight title.

Laila Ali was not an athlete. When she decided to fight, she had to start by losing 30 pounds.

Being the daughter of the legendary Muhammad Ali and the eighth of his nine children, it would be easy to imagine Laila living under her father’s shadow. However, as a female boxer, she made her own name. Laila Ali competed from 1999 to 2007 and retired with a perfect record

Laila says it wasn’t her father who inspired her to box: it was seeing women’s boxing on television for the first time. In fact, when Muhammad Ali find out his daughter had started training at a boxing gym, he tried to discourage her.

“I mean, they walked out of the ring with blood all over them and everything, and I was like, ‘That’s for me! I want to do that.'”

—Laila Ali

Now a retired 4-time world champion, Laila Ali is a television host and fitness expert. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @TheRealLailaAli.


5. Mary Kom: From Grit to Gold

Country: India

Age: 35


    • the only woman to become World Amateur Boxing champion for a record six times
  • the only woman boxer to have won a medal in each one of the seven world championships

Mary Kom was born to a poor family in rural Manipur, India. Having always been interested in sports and martial arts, Kom was inspired to become a boxer by Dingko Singh, who won Gold at the Asian Games in 1998.

The first challenge she faced on the road to boxing was convincing her parents that the sport was in fact not “too masculine for a young girl”. She began training regardless and was so dedicated to the sport that she would often practice until late at night when everyone else had left the gym.

Her career began in 2000 when she won the Best Boxer Award in Manipur and realized her potential in the sport. However, she continued to face many struggles.

Her troubles culminated in all of her belongings being stolen on a train. With her passport gone and her first international tournament coming up, she came to a point where she thought of ending her life.

The man who helped her through is now Kom’s husband. After getting married, Kom took a break from boxing. She now has three kids and is training for the 2020 Olympics.


“I had no support, no opportunity, no sponsors backing me for most of my career. (…) If I, being a mother of two, can win a medal, so can you all. Take me as an example and don’t give up.”

—Mary Kom

Follow Mary Kom, a truly inspirational woman, on Instagram @mcmary.kom and Twitter @MangteC


6. Amanda Serrano: Babysitter to Heavy Hitter

Country: Puerto Rico

Age: 30

Record: ‎35-1 (26 wins by KO)


  • only boxer to win recognized world titles in seven weight classes

You could call Amanda Serrano the “Manny Pacquiao” of women’s boxing. Or perhaps we should now call Pacquiao the “Amanda Serrano” of men’s boxing. Indeed, Pacquiao has titles in eight classes if minor and lineal titles are acknowledged but only four are major world titles. Serrano, on the other hand, has recognized world titles in seven weight classes.

Serrano’s beginnings in boxing were quite humble: she started babysitting her niece while her sister trained and eventually got a job babysitting other fighters’ kids at the same gym. It wasn’t until the age of 18 that Serrano herself took up boxing.

This inspirational boxer perfectly exemplifies what it means to turn fear of losing into success. It was when she lost her first fight that Serrano realized boxing was the sport for her and she has never lost a fight since.


“Losing sparked a fire in me. I’m naturally competitive, and I knew that I never wanted to experience the feeling of losing ever again.”

—Amanda Serrano

Amanda Serrano is certainly a boxer to watch in 2019. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @serranosisters.



Boxing isn’t a sport exclusively for men anymore. Female boxers are very talented, hard working and driven. They are driven to bring more exposure to female boxing and achieving just that.

These were the 6 best female boxers of all time. Do you agree with my list? Which other boxers do you think I should have added?