Things didn't look so good for the female boxer from Texas: Ann Wolfe had challenged Vonda Ward to a fight for the International Boxing Association World Championship, but as the 34 year-old climbed into the ring at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum the odds seemed clearly stacked against her. Not only was she was almost nine inches (22 centimeters) shorter than her undefeated opponent; but, in the weeks before the fight, Wolfe had to quickly gain 11 pounds (five kilograms) lest she not qualify for Ward's weight class.
The 5,000 fans in the stadium became witnesses to an unprecedented spectacle. As soon as the opening bell had rung, Wolfe unleashed three left jabs on Ward and landed an explosive right on her chin. Sixty-eight seconds into the first round, before she could even land a punch, Vonda Ward fell to the mat. It was the most impressive knockout in the history of women's boxing.
Ann Wolfe doesn't float through the ring like a butterfly. And she doesn't sting like a bee. It's the elemental force of her punches that instills fear and terror. Wolfe beats her victims relentlessly, mercilessly. And usually, the referee needs to end the proceedings: Only 8 of her 23 matches ended in a judges' decision -- the rest have all be knockouts or TKOs. Over the course of her short career, the boxer, who has adopted the nickname "Brown Sugar", has won four titles in four different weight classes.
Wolfe has trouble finding opponents, though. Even Laila Ali, daughter of the legendary Muhammed Ali and the best-paid female boxer in the world, has rejected the offer to fight Wolfe for a $500,000 purse. "She doesn't want to fight me, because she knows that I'd kill her," growled the challenger. "When there aren't any more women who want to take me on, then I have to take on a man."
Ann takes on Bo
And, thus, on December 2, boxing will have its first "battle of the sexes". The bout will run for eight rounds and will be aired nationwide in the United States. Wolfe's opponent will be the 36 year-old, cruiser-weight Bo Skipper.
"I've never hit a girl before, but now that's going to change," said Skipper. "I don't have any problem with hurting Ann. I just hope that after the fight she doesn't have to drink soup through a straw." Skipper doesn't think about the possibility of losing, because, he claims, "Men are just physically superior."
Wolfe, for her part, seems amused by the testosterone-saturated theatrics of her opponent. There is no readily discernible physical advantage: Skipper's frame resembles Wolfe's. And Wolfe's self-confidence is impenetrable. "I've sparred hundreds of rounds with tough guys, and every day I send one of them to the ground," she attests. "There's not a woman on the planet who can dish it out harder than me."
The bluster reminds one of September 1973. That was when the 29 year-old Billie Jean King, the world's number-one women's tennis player, took on Bobby Riggs, 26 years her senior. "The best women's tennis player wouldn't stand a chance against a half-demented man," boasted Riggs, the one-time Wimbledon champion. He felt assured of victory and as a display of machismo, he entered the arena in a rickshaw pulled by women. His exit was much less grand: He sulked to the showers after Billie Jean King shot him down in three sets 6:4, 6:3, 6:3.
Still, not everyone is looking forward to the impending boxing face-off - "Ann vs. The Man" it has been billed. In April amateur female boxer Becky Zerlentes died after getting knocked out in Denver, even though she was wearing protective head gear. Wolfe won't be wearing any such protection. Experts fear that a serious injury would be a catastrophe for the sport of boxing. Dr. Michael Schwartz, President of the American Association of Ringside Physicians, advised Wolfe not to enter the ring against Skipper.
After considering the matter, though, the sporting commission of Mississippi dismissed any misgivings. Chairman John Lewis, a former boxer, visited one of Wolfe's training sessions and came away convinced of her fitness. "I don't worry about her safety," Lewis said after the visit. "Ann is damn tough."