The Story of Women’s Olympic Boxing

women boxing olympics

Women’s combat sports have become so popular nowadays that it’s easy to forget that the Olympics has only had women’s boxing since 2012 – only 13 years ago.

Many of the biggest stars in female boxing got their start in the first Olympics with women competing in boxing – Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor, to name a few.

Although women’s boxing has been officially recognized in the United States since the 1970s, its inclusion in the Olympics took much longer.

Women’s boxing is still not recognized in many places, but it has exploded in popularity since the 2012 Olympic games where it was first held.

Is Women’s Boxing in the Olympics?

Boxing has been part of the Summer Olympics since 1904 – but women weren’t included until 2012, more than a century later. The 2012 Summer Olympics was a trailblazing event, setting the stage for female boxers to make a name for themselves and prove that they deserved a chance to compete.

Now, women’s Olympic boxing is a part of every Summer games. Just like the men, each weight class competes for a chance at a gold, silver, or bronze medal. 

The Evolution of Women’s Boxing

The roots of women’s boxing trace all the way back to the late 1800s. However, it wasn’t viewed as a serious sport – it was often a sideshow event at circuses and fairs. It wasn’t until the 1970s that women’s boxing came to be viewed as a legitimate sport.

The Early Days of Women’s Boxing

The first woman to be licensed as a professional boxer in the United States was Cathy “Cat” Davis in 1975. Considered to be a pioneer, Davis began boxing in the 1960s, when there was still a heavy stigma against women competing in the sport for serious competition. Due to a lack of initial opportunities, much of her early competitions were held in underground events. She went on to become an advocate for women’s rights and gender equality in boxing, opening the door for future female boxers.

Davis would end her career with a 6-4-1 record, with bouts against other pioneers in women’s boxing like Jackie Tonawanda and Marian “Tyger” Trimiar.

How Did Women’s Boxing Become Popular?

Although Cathy Davis broke the barrier in 1975, women’s boxing didn’t begin to build popularity until the 1990’s with the help of trailblazers like Christy Martin and Laila Ali, the daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali.

Christy Martin was a dominant force in women’s boxing, amassing an impressive 49 wins and 7 losses over the course of her career. She was one of the first woman boxers to gain notoriety in the sport, paving the way for future female competitors.

A multi-time champion across several weight classes, Martin was consistently competing on major boxing cards and pay-per-view events, something that was previously considered impossible for a female fighter.

Meanwhile, Laila Ali became one of the most successful and popular women boxers. She lived up to her father’s legacy by going a perfect 24-0 in her boxing career. Growing up in a family of boxers, she began training in the sport at the age of 18. Like Martin, she won multiple world titles across different weight classes, noted for her heavy hands and aggressive boxing style.

Christy Martin and Laila Ali were two essential figures in the world of women’s boxing, helping raise the sport’s profile. They are both considered amongst the greatest women boxers of all time, inspiring a generation of girls to compete in boxing. While they helped the sport gain wider acceptance and popularity, women’s boxing still wasn’t included in the Olympics.

When Was Women’s Boxing Introduced in the Olympics?

While figures like Cathy Davis, Christy Martin, and Laila Ali paved the way for acceptance of women’s boxing in the United States, the route to acceptance on a global stage took much longer. It was not until 2012 that women’s boxing became an official part of the Olympic program.

The push for women’s boxing in the Olympics began in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Organizations like the Women’s Boxing Task Force and the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame were integral in lobbying for the inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympic games. They argued that the exclusion of women from competing in boxing was discriminatory.

One of the barriers for women’s Olympic boxing was the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is notoriously reluctant to add new events to the Olympic program.

Their concern had more to do with keeping the number of athletes in the game at a manageable level, rather than believing that women didn’t have a place in boxing. Still, there was a lack of support for women competing in boxing from many countries.

When the IOC announced in 2009 that women’s boxing would be included in the 2012 games, it was met with mixed reactions. Many were excited at the advent of women’s Olympic boxing, feeling that it would revolutionize how the general public viewed the sport. Detractors argued that boxing was too dangerous for women.

Despite the controversy, the 2012 Olympics featured women’s boxing for the first time. 36 female boxers from 23 different countries competed in 3 weight classes (flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight). After some initial criticism, the reception to the games was largely positive on the global stage. The path was paved for women’s Olympic boxing, and it continued to expand in future Olympic events.

Women’s Boxing Weight Classes

Like men’s boxing, women’s boxing is divided into weight classes. Currently, there are six weight classes in women’s boxing, which are:

  1. Flyweight: Up to 112 lbs (51 kg)
  2. Featherweight: Over 112 lbs (51 kg) up to 119 lbs (54 kg)
  3. Lightweight: Over 119 lbs (54 kg) up to 132 lbs (60 kg)
  4. Welterweight: Over 132 lbs (60 kg) up to 152 lbs (69 kg)
  5. Middleweight: Over 152 lbs (69 kg) up to 165 lbs (75 kg)
  6. Heavyweight: Over 165 lbs (75 kg)

However, in Women’s Olympic Boxing, there are less weight classes.

In the 2012 and 2016 Women’s Olympic Boxing Tournaments, the weight classes were:

  1. Flyweight (112.4 lbs/51 kg)
  2. Lightweight (132.3 lbs/60 kg)
  3. Middleweight (165.3 lbs/75 kg)

The 2020 Women’s Olympic Boxing Tournament expanded the weight classes:

  1. Flyweight (106-112 lbs/48-51 kg)
  2. Featherweight (119-126 lbs/54-57 kg)
  3. Lightweight (126-132 lbs/57-60 kg)
  4. Welterweight (141-153 lbs/64-69 kg)
  5. Middleweight (152-165 lbs/69-75 kg)

2012 Women’s Olympic Boxing Tournament Results

Ireland’s Katie Taylor wins Olympic gold | London 2012 Olympics

The 2012 Women’s Olympic boxing tournament was a historic event, being the inaugural boxing tournament for women in the Olympic games. It took place in London, England from August 5-9, 2012.

Nicola Adams of the United Kingdom became the first woman in history to win a gold medal in Olympic boxing when she defeated China’s Ren Cancan in the finals. 

Ireland’s Katie Taylor, who is widely considered to be one of the greatest women boxers of all time, won the lightweight gold medal. Coming into the games as a multi-time world champion, she defeated Russia’s Sofya Ochigava in the finals.

Claressa Shields, who is currently one of the most popular female boxers on the planet, won the gold medal at middleweight. She was the first American to win a gold medal in boxing since 2004, doing so at only 17 years old. She defeated Russia’s Nadezda Torlopova in the finals.

Weight ClassGold MedalistCountrySilver MedalistCountryBronze MedalistCountry
FlyweightNicola AdamsGreat BritainRen CancanChinaMarlen Esparza, Chungneijan Marrykom HmangteUnited States, India
LightweightKatie TaylorIrelandSofya OchigavaRussiaMavzuna Chorieva, Adriana AraujoTajikistan, Brazil
MiddleweightClaressa ShieldsUnited StatesNadezda TorlopovaRussiaMarina Volnova, Li JinziKazakhstan, China

2016 Women’s Olympic Boxing Tournament Results

Claressa Shields Vs. Nouchka Fontijn 2016 Rio Final

The second-ever Olympics that included women’s boxing, the 2016 games continued to build the popularity that women’s boxing had gained from the 2012 Olympics. The 2016 Women’s Olympic boxing tournament took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, from August 12-21, 2016.

Nicola Adams successfully defended her Olympic gold medal from 2012, becoming the first woman boxer to win back-to-back gold medals at the Olympics. She defeated France’s Sarah Ourahmoune in the finals.

Estelle Mossely became the first woman from France to win a gold medal in women’s Olympic boxing when she defeated China’s Yin Junhua in the lightweight division finals.

In the middleweight division, Claressa Shields won her second gold medal. She was the first American to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals since 1904. She defeated the Netherlands’ Nouchka Fontijin in the finals.

Weight ClassGold MedalistCountrySilver MedalistCountryBronze MedalistCountry
FlyweightNicola AdamsGreat BritainSarah OurahmouneFranceRen Cancan, Ingrid ValenciaChina, Columbia
LightweightEstelle MosselyFranceYin JunuaChinaMira Potkonen, Anastasia BelyakovaFinland, Russia
MiddleweightClaressa ShieldsUnited StatesNouchka FontijnNetherlandsDariga Shakimova, Li QianKazakhstan, China

2020 Women’s Olympic Boxing Tournament Results

Busenaz Surmeneli wins 1st ever Women’s Welter Olympic Gold | Tokyo Replays

The 2020 women’s Olympic boxing tournament took place in Tokyo, Japan from July 24 to August 8, 2021, after being postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the largest women’s Olympic boxing tournament to date, featuring 100 female boxers from 37 different countries across five weight classes.

In the flyweight division, Stoyka Kravesta became the first Bulgarian woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing. She defeated Buse Naz Cakiroglu of Turkey in the finals.

Sena Irie became the first Japanese woman to win an Olympic gold medal in boxing when she defeated Nesthy Petecio of the Philippines in the finals. Irie was also the first Olympic gold medalist for women’s boxing in the featherweight division.

In the lightweight division, Kellie Harrington won the gold medal for Ireland after defeating Beatriz Ferreira of Brazil in the finals. It was the third consecutive women’s lightweight gold medal in boxing for Ireland.

Busenaz Surmeneli of Turkey became the first woman from that country to win a gold medal in women’s Olympic boxing when she defeated Gu Hong of China in the final. She was also the first woman to win a gold medal in the welterweight division.

In the middleweight division, Lauren Price of the United Kingdom defeated Li Qian of China in the finals to win the gold medal.

Weight ClassGold MedalistCountrySilver MedalistCountryBronze MedalistCountry
FlyweightStoyka KrastevaBulgariaBuse Naz CakirogluTurkeyTsukimi Namiki, Huang HsiaowenJapan, Chinese Taipei
FeatherweightSena IrieJapanNesthy PetecioPhilippinesKarriss Artingstall, Irma TestaGreat Britain, Italy
LightweightKellie HarringtonIrelandBeatriz FerreiraBrazilSudaporn Seesondee, Mira PotkonenThailand, Finland
WelterweightBusenaz SurmeneliTurkeyGu HongChinaLovlina Borgohain, Oshae JonesIndia, USA
MiddleweightLauren PriceGreat BritainLi QianChinaZenfira Magomedalieva, Nouchka FontijinROC, Netherlands

Women’s Olympic Boxing 2024 Preview

The 2024 women’s Olympic boxing tournament will take place in Paris, France from July 26 to Sunday, August 11, 2024. Following the footsteps of the 2020 games, the women’s events are being expanded from five to six. It will be the first Olympic games with a women’s bantamweight division.

The new weight classes for the 2024 women’s Olympic boxing tournament will be:

  • Flyweight: 110 lbs (50 kg)
  • Bantamweight: 119 lbs (54 kg)
  • Featherweight: 126 lbs (57 kg)
  • Lightweight: 132 lbs (60 kg)
  • Welterweight: 146 lbs (66 kg)
  • Middleweight: 165 lbs (75 kg)

The 2024 Olympic Boxing tournament will be the first Olympic games in history to have an equal distribution of boxers between men and women. It will feature the most women boxers in Olympic history, with 124 competitors.


How has the inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympics impacted the sport?

The inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympic games has promoted gender equality in a sport that has been traditionally dominated by men. It has also created wider acceptance of women’s boxing and allowed female boxers to showcase their skills on a global stage. 

How do the rules for women’s boxing in the Olympics differ from the rules for men’s boxing?

The rules for women’s boxing in the Olympics are largely the same as the rules for men’s boxing, with a few notable exceptions. Women’s bouts are fought over three rounds of three minutes each, compared to men’s bouts which are found over three rounds of three minutes or four rounds of two minutes. Women are also required to wear a protective chest guard during their bouts.

Who are the most successful female boxers in women’s Olympic boxing?

The most successful female boxers in women’s Olympic boxing include inaugural gold medalists Nicola Adams of the United Kingdom, Claressa Shields of the United States, and Katie Taylor of Ireland. Adams and Shields won multiple gold medals, and all three women have had dominating careers in professional boxing.

Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor are widely considered two of the best woman boxers of all time and both are still active today.

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Timothy Schoonmaker
Timothy Schoonmaker
I was an amateur boxer in high school when I competed in the prelims of the New York Golden Gloves amateur division. Later in life, I began training BJJ. My friends at the academy introduced me to Muay Thai, and I train all 3 martial arts today. I am currently a purple belt in BJJ, hoping to advance to brown soon!