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History-First International Women's Boxing Hall of Fame 2014 Inaugural Induction Ceremony-by Brian Ackley -WBAN Senior Editor

(JULY 11) As much as Thursday's induction of the inaugural class into the International Women's Boxing Hall of Fame was about the past, it was really more about the future of the sport.

An appearance by U.S. Olympic gold-medal winner Claressa Shields capped the induction of the firs-ever class of seven women at ceremonies in Ft. Lauderdale, as part of the festivities during the 2014 Women's National Golden Gloves championships.

"I had to go through a lot to make it to where I am, but to know there are women who paved the way, it makes me feel a lot better," Shields said. "I feel like I'm not by myself. They understand the struggle, how hard it is to be a female fighter and be recognized. They never had the chance to go to the Olympics, so this is going to give me a lot of motivation going into Rio in 2016."

Inductee Lucia Rijker, who attended the 2012 London Games which debuted women's boxing as a sanctioned sport, recalled the pride she felt watching the Olympic female fighters in person.

"I sat there and I felt as though they were my children," Rijker said during her induction speech. "I was so proud of the level of boxing. When I heard 17,000 people roar a female's name, that was a dream."

In addition to Rijker, who was 54-0 as both a professional kick boxer and boxer, the other inductees included Christy Martin Salters, Regina Hamlich, Bonnie Canino, Barbara Buttrick, Joann Hagen and Christy Halbert. A board of eight people involved in various aspects of the sport voted in the first-ever class which was announced on April 14.

"I moved here (to the United States) with a suitcase and a dream. I was seven years old as a child, and I watched TV, the Rumble in the Jungle,” she recalled. "I pointed at the TV and said that's what I'm going to do. And everyone laughed at me. I kept that dream. I started knocking on doors, and as you know, most trainers said no. I had to knock out guys, one after another, to prove that I could fight."  She said she only ever had one goal.

"To be the best female fighter in the world," she continued. "I always thought you need to be the best you can possibly be. It's not about knocking somebody down, it's about bringing out your full potential as an athlete. Whatever you do in life, do it good, do it 200 percent, and that will bring out your fullest potential, and that's what the sport did for me.”

Malissa Smith, author of the "History of Women's Boxing", introduced each of the inductees.

"Lucia Rijker's mark on the sport has been extraordinary,” Smith said. "Rijker took the 1990s boxing world by storm. She entered the fray and forever ended the notion that women couldn't box with the same level of competitive prowess as men."

Rijker was the star of the women's boxing documentary "Shadow Boxers,” and was the arch-rival Billie "The Blue Bear” to actress Hillary Swanks' portrayal of boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in the Oscar winning movie "Million Dollar Baby.” Rijker choreographed the movie's fight scenes.

"She remains pound for pound one of the best boxers ever in the squared circle, male or female," Smith added.

In 2005, Rijker was set to meet another of the Hall's inaugural class, Christy Martin, but was forced to pull out of the historic match up when her Achilles tendon ruptured week's before the scheduled bout.

"Thank you Christy Martin, thank you so much for being in this world of women's boxing,” Rijker added. "You were my drive. I needed a focus point. I wanted to fight you."

Martin's 1996 fight with Deirdre Gogarty is considered by many to be the sport's seminal moment. On the pay-per-view undercard of a Mike Tyson heavyweight fight against Frank Bruno (which turned out to be a short and uninspired affair), the women stole the show, slugging it out for six action-packed and bloody rounds.

"It was viewed by millions around the globe,” Smith noted. "Like the infamous shot heard round the world, many considered the bout to be the start of women's boxing as a popularly contested sport. She continues to inspire through her many personal appearances and generosity to young female fighters who are following in her footsteps."

Martin compiled a career mark of 49-7-3, but faced an even tougher fight out of the ring several years ago when she was attacked by her ex-husband and manager, who eventually was charged and convicted of attempted murder.

"She is a beacon who many woman find inspiration in from her personal story of triumph and perseverance," Smith added.

After recovering from her gunshot and stab wounds, remarkably, Martin returned to the ring in 2011 against Dakota Stone. Like so many of her opponents before, she knocked Stone down in the fourth rounds, but ended up losing the fight when it was stopped because of her broken right hand.

"Boxing is the greatest therapy I could have ever had,” she said. "It's a great honor to be here."

She also thanked another of the day's honorees, Bonnie Canino, for the work she does with amateur fighters including being the driving force behind and host of the women's national golden glove event.

"But most of all, I want to thank Bonnie for one thing, teaching me way back that I didn't want to get in the ring with a southpaw,” she laughed.

While Martin was making a name for herself in the United States, Regina Hamlich became the boxing queen of Germany, and beyond, with her beauty and brawn, boxing and kickboxing from 1994-2007. Hamlich noted that upwards of 10 million television viewers in Germany watched her farewell fight, a bout that capped an exceptional 54-1 career.

"She single handedly put women's boxing on the map in Europe,” Smith noted. "She fought the best boxing had to offer."

Like all the other inductees, Hamlich recalled having to overcome tremendous skepticism at the start of her career.

"I'm very proud to be here, because it's historic,” she said. "We are, all together, the best example that dreams can come true if you believe in it. In the beginning, they really laugh about this little girl that liked to box. But women boxing is a very good sport if you do it well, if you do it with your heart. Believe in you."

Dr. Christy Halbert is considered to be one of the driving forces in USA Boxing that helped bring women into the Olympic boxing ring. A former boxer herself, the Olympic coach is the Director of the Boxing Resource Center in Tennessee, and was the first researcher to publish on the social experiences of women boxers in an article "Tough Enough and Woman Enough."

She noted that the Shields had an advantage to winning an Olympic gold medal that most in the room had not enjoyed.

"What's really interesting is that Claressa was born at a time when she never knew she couldn't box," Halbert said. "It's because of the work of these women, the pioneering spirit, that women are able to box today as amateurs and professionals. The boxers being honored today, I think we represent boxers everywhere who are lacing up gloves. All of us are pioneers. Every time we climb through the ropes, we are representing a little something bigger than ourselves. We are pushing that envelope together. Sometimes that can be lonely work, and I know we've all felt that from time to time. So an event like this is even more special because we're celebrating the work. I'm honored to be here."

Canino also found her way to the boxing ring via the kickboxing circuit, out of necessity, not necessarily choice.

"It was an easier way to get into the sport," Smith noted about kickboxing in the 1980s. "It was a new sport and they didn't have the prejudices that boxing had. She is a remarkable warm heart and spirit."

The south Florida native, who owns her own boxing gym, first got into the sport in 1979.

"I'm really honored, and I'm a little star struck,” she said of the inaugural class. "In a couple of weeks, it will probably set in."

Joann Hagen was inducted posthumously, and is regarded to be the only woman to ever defeat another of the day's inductees, Barbara Buttrick. Both fought in the 1940s and 50s, often in exhibition and barnstorming type events.

"She picked up boxing where she could, and where she couldn't, throwing herself into wrestling matches contesting as best she could, often just out of the reach of the law, and sometimes smack in the middle of it,” Smith recalled. "Literally, gates would be closed when they found out it was a woman contesting sport. She was a true pioneer of the sport with a graceful boxing style which she perfected against tremendous odds."

Joann once stumped a panel on the game show "What's My Line" and also had an appearance on "The Steve Allen Show."

Her fight against Buttrick occurred in September, 1954, in Alberta, Canada.

"The two fought with vigor, not to mention memorable skills that wowed the audience,” Smith said, "and, the coast-to-coast radio audience that listened, the first female bout to have ever been broadcast."

Her recognition plaque was accepted by niece Mary Cummins.
"If only Aunt Joann could be here. She would be very humbled and very honored to be with all of you that worked to bring this to fruition," she said.

The diminutive Buttrick eventually founded the Women's International Boxing Federation in the late 1980s.

"As you all know, my greatest fight was with the prejudices that were shown in the early days," she said. "Nowadays, what I enjoy to see is all these girls going into the Golden Gloves, and the fact they were accepted into the Olympics now. The gyms are full of little girls learning to box."

Smith said an admonishment to wipe off her muddy shoes one day led Buttrick to a boxing career. There was a story on a newspaper she was going to use to clean off the dirt that was about legendary female boxer, Polly Burns.

"Barbara was thunderstruck. It was boxing's gain that the Mighty Atom of the Ring chose to pursue a career in the squared circle,” Smith said. "She literally barnstormed the country, knocking down the barriers for women for contesting the sport in the ring."  Her official career record was 31-1.

The induction event and hall of fame was largely the brainchild of former professional boxer and WBAN creator Sue "Tiger Lilly" Fox.

"I remember when she started the website," Rijker said. "I'm so grateful. She really created a center for all the women worldwide to come together and know about each other. In those days, it was so hard to know about other women, but we could see 'hey, there are other women out there who work as hard as I do.' It really helped women's boxing. I'm really proud to be here. It's so important, for all the women who went before us, and also for all the women who will come after us."

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