Women are a regular feature on most boxing cards today, but it wasn’t long ago that female boxers could not get a license to fight in the UK.
From these shores, in the last year alone, we have seen Savannah Marshall crowned undisputed super middleweight champion, Chantelle Cameron travelled to Ireland to beat Katie Taylor and defend her undisputed super lightweight titles and Natasha Jonas became a two-weight world champion.
None of this would have been possible, however, if it weren’t for Jane Couch, the UK’s first licensed female boxer, who was given an MBE in 2007.
The British Boxing Board of Control had initially refused her a license, citing that pre-menstrual syndrome made women too unstable to box, but Couch, along with her lawyers Diana Rose and Sarah Lesley, claimed sexual discrimination and had the decision overturned.
She is the author of an acclaimed book, The Final Round and a film is being made about Couch’s life, but when asked whether this movie could inspire even more young women to become involved in boxing, she made a surprising admission to talkSPORT.
“I think if they watch my film, they won’t want to get into [boxing]. Mine was a bit of a horror story,” Couch explained.
From the outside, this is hard to understand, as Couch won a number of world titles across two-weight classes, taking on fighters such as combat sports legend Holly Holm, and she got to travel the world while doing so.
But, there is more to Couch’s story than meets the eye.
While getting a license to fight in the UK marked a legal victory, attitudes towards women’s boxing still left a lot to be desired.
“It was very difficult,” Couch added. “I mean, it weren’t so bad with your family and friends because they was used to you doing it.
“But, when you first go on to a professional show in the UK, and they’d never seen it, they question your sexuality and your mental state.
“It was quite daunting, really. But, someone’s got to be the first and unfortunately, it was me and I probably wouldn’t change that.”
Not only that, but the money was not there for female fighters when Couch was coming through and she received just £58 on her professional debut.
Even for world title fights, Couch revealed she would be earning somewhere between £1000 to £5000 max and that was only when she did actually get paid.
Couch is an extremely mentally resilient person and she had to be to survive in boxing at the time during her 39-fight career, winning 28 and losing 11, but when the dust settled at the end of her journey, she realised the sport had taken its toll on her mental health.
“I boxed for 26 years, it had been my life, so I just found retirement quite hard,” Couch admitted.
“You do go through it after boxing and there’s nothing for boxers. Now, there’s a charity set up called ‘Ringside Rest and Care’, which I support them as much as I can.
“And I think everybody should support them, because there’s not many boxers who make money. So, at the end of boxing once it’s all over, and the phone stops ringing, what do you do?
“I’m lucky enough that I came through it and I’ve got good people around me now. But, at the time, you think that that boxing’s is all that there is, you think that’s your family and your life, and it isn’t.
“So I just think, all the charities like the ‘Ringside Rest and Care’, which is getting bigger, they need supporting by every fighter, because a very small percentage of fighters make it and make money out of boxing.”
Nowadays, Couch has a love-hate relationship with boxing and while she keeps up with some of the female fighters, such as Marshall and Jonas, for the most part she tries to avoid it.
“I watch some things. The odd social media stuff, but I try not to because, it’s quite easy to get sucked back into it.
“When you’ve been through what I’ve been through and dealt with the people I’ve dealt with in boxing, it’s just something that is best to stay away from if you can.
“I love boxing, I’ll always love it, but the politics and some of the people in it can be a problem.”
With that being said, Couch still has a lot of pride looking back at the way she paved for women’s boxing, even if there is still a long way to go.
“I definitely [look back] with pride, because I know that there’s still a lot of boxing people that don’t really agree with with women’s boxing.
“And I just look at it with pride now because all the managers and trainers that wouldn’t help me have now all got a female boxer in their camp and it’s suddenly okay to box.
“I just love it because the women are just sticking it down their throats and they’ve got no choice but to take women on because it’s getting more and more popular.
“It’s just very two-faced the boxing world. Like I said, when I was about, a lot of these same people who are managing and training women now absolutely hated it and just gave me the worst time ever for wanting to box and now they’ve got a female boxer.”