York’s Lisa Garland finally got her 12 rounds.
Garland, a female boxer fighting for ring-time equality inside the ropes, took a 12-round unanimous decision from Lucretia Meachem last weekend in Tulsa, Okla., in the first women’s fight on record to go 12 rounds. Garland had a previous bout scheduled for the same length, but it was stopped early when she dropped Kerri Hill with an early round knockout.
Female boxers have long been denied the right to box 12, 3-minute rounds like their male counterparts. That’s beginning to change with Garland leading the charge.
“It’s starting to happen,” she said. “But it should be mandatory.”
Garland’s pioneering fights work in tandem with her studies at Winthrop University. She’s finishing up a bachelor’s degree, and focused primarily on espousing equal pay for women in the sport of boxing. The reason women haven’t been allowed to fight the same duration as men is simple.
“They don’t really take us seriously as athletes,” said Garland, before getting to the core of the matter. “If we fight as long, then they have to pay us as much.”
Oklahoma, where Garland picked up her 13th career win, is the latest state to allow women to box the same length fights as men. North Carolina, Tennessee, Florida, Utah and the District of Columbia have also sanctioned similar fights.
Garland’s continued push comes at a moment in history when equal pay for women is a topic gaining steam in the public consciousness. Garland plans to present her thesis to the Federal Boxing Commission during that group’s annual meeting this July in Tampa, Fla. The crux of the argument is that Garland, and other female boxers, are federally-registered employees because they agree contracts with state boxing commissions. A recent executive order from President Obama dictates that federal contract employees’ salaries should be made public. Garland wants the state boxing commissions – beholden to the federal commission – to release contracts with boxers so that the public can see the disparity between male and female boxers.
In addition to her own boxing career, Garland also promotes a couple of fighters that she trains at her gym in York. Providing for her 8-year-old son, on her own, has spurred her in the charge for equal ring-time and payment for female boxers. The classes she’s taken at Winthrop have enhanced her understanding of sports business and law and enabled her to craft her message in a way that’s less blunt than her gloved fists.
“I’m not trying to attack anybody,” she said. “I’m just trying to make things right and better for the sport.”
The verb “fight” might loosely be tossed around in other stories about agents of social change, but it’s very literal in Garland’s case. She showed up at the Herald on Monday afternoon looking every bit the part of a boxer two days removed from a fight. A purple shiner dashed diagonally below her left eye and the knuckle on her right pointer finger was raw pink. She gingerly entered the building and Sam McCullough, the first trainer she worked with, accompanied her with a rolling suitcase full of title belts.
McCullough, the 60-year-old who first met Garland at York Boxing Academy over 15 years ago, beamed with pride as he talked about his protege seated next to him.
“I’m real proud of her because I remember when she wasn’t this,” said McCullough, who was a Golden Gloves boxer out of New York City in the late 1970s. “I would have loved to have been a world champion, but my life didn’t lead me that way. I was led to these seeds to be planted. I had no idea it would be a female!”
Garland knows her boxing career is coming to a close, but she’s already constructing bridges into a future closely intertwined with the sport she loves. After presenting her feasibility study this summer, she’ll intern with the state sports commissions in Virginia and Delaware, as part of her Winthrop degree.
It’s hard to imagine a life without boxing for Garland, a native of New Jersey who will seemingly be fighting for something her entire life. Ahead of last weekend’s bout, Meachem made the mistake of riling up Garland over social media in true boxing fashion, spewing digital smack talk that she was going to beat Garland into the ground. The two were supposed to fight late last year in Salt Lake City, but that scrap fell through. Meachem cranked up the heat on Garland to make the matchup happen.
“It’s been a showdown on Facebook, personal texts, harassing texts from this girl,” said Garland, “about what she was gonna do to me and how well she was gonna do it.”
Garland said that after all of the talk, she “wanted to hurt this girl. I wanted to pull a George Foreman and beat on you and watch you suffer.”
Because of Meachem’s pre-fight junk-talking, Garland forgot about chasing the elusive 12th round, until about the 10th when it dawned on her. When the announcer blared before the 12th round “ladies and gentlemen, this is the championship round of boxing, the 12th and final round, the first time ever for women’s boxing,” Garland felt a warming sense of accomplishment, even with Meachem still standing across the ring.
“I started to cry a little bit and then I got up and finished the round and gave that girl a big old hug,” she said.
Garland is rare in espousing equal ring-time for female boxers with both her fists and her brains. It’s quite a progression from when she first arrived at York Boxing Academy years ago.
“I think there are some people that are amazed and shocked at how far she has come,” said McCullough. “I don’t think the guys in the gym gave her a chance, because she fought with the guys coming up. She’s got that go-ahead-and-get-’em kind of thing.”
Saturday night, Garland was still standing at the end of the 12th round at the Greenwood Cultural Center, a building constructed in Tulsa to honor deadly race riots during the 1920s. It was the perfect venue to host Garland’s historic match as she gradually shifts her fight for equality to a new arena.
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T