Who Are the Greatest Female Boxers of All Time?
This Women’s History Month we are celebrating the best female boxers: five women who pioneered female boxing and demonstrated enormous courage in the face of adversity. These five women have all made boxing history, carving their names into the record books and inspiring new generations of fierce women to glove up.
Overcoming enormous barriers including sexism, racism, legal battles, and domestic violence, the legacies of these five famous female boxers show the world what it really means to fight like a girl and be victorious.
5 Famous Female Boxers
Boxing Record: (30-1-1)
At 4’ 11”, Barbara Buttrick was known as the “The Mighty Atom of the Ring." She was born in England in 1929, and at age 15, she spotted a story in the Sunday paper about Polly Burns, a female prizefighter in the early 1900s. Buttrick bought her first pair of boxing gloves and found a trainer in London where she worked as a shorthand typist by day and trained (to eventually become one of the best female boxers) at night.
“I was small, but I was mean,” Buttrick told The Miami Herald in a 1998 interview.
Buttrick began her boxing career in 1948, touring Europe as a bantamweight in the boxing booths of carnivals before coming to North America in 1952. Also known as “Battling Barbara,” she fought professionally in Canada and the U.S. before moving to Dallas, TX in 1957.
By the time Buttrick arrived in Texas, she had fought over 1,000 bouts with men, as well as 18 professional women’s fights. It was then in San Antonio that Battling Barbara truly made history, winning a world title bout against Phyllis Kugler, solidifying her position as one of the most famous female boxers of all time.
After moving to Miami Beach with her husband, she defeated Gloria Adams in what is believed to be the first female boxing match in Florida in 1959. She fought her last fight in 1960 while four months pregnant before retiring to raise her children and pivot careers to be a ringside photographer.
Buttrick was inducted into the International Boxing and Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1990, and she founded the Women’s International Boxing Federation in 1993. A stage play called Mighty Atoms inspired by Buttrick’s life premiered in the UK in 2017.
Marian Trimiar (“Lady Tyger”)
Image Credit: Women Boxing Archive Network
Boxing Record: (14-4), including 5 KOs
Bronx-born Marian Trimiar is the first woman to be granted a professional boxing license by the New York State Athletic Commission.
Trimiar, known as “Lady Tyger,” began boxing right out of high school at age 18 and was fighting in exhibition matches before it was legal for women to fight in sanctioned matches. She turned pro in Canada in 1975 but was limited by state restrictions on female boxing in the U.S. Trimiar applied for a boxing license in her home state of New York only to be denied.
“I slept, ate, ran boxing. It didn’t give me nothing back,” Trimiar told The Grueling Truth. “You don’t realize the prejudice out there. Of all the isms, and I know them all, sexism is the worst.”
After a long legal battle, the Lady Tyger was finally issued a boxing license by New York State in 1978 and went on to win the women’s world lightweight championship in 1979. A lifelong advocate, Trimiar went on a month-long hunger strike in 1987 for better working conditions and higher pay for female professional boxers.
Marian Trimiar was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2021, as one of the best female boxers of all time.
Boxing Record: (17-0), including 15 KOs
Kickboxing Record: (35-0-1), including 25 KOs
Lucia Rijker started training in judo at the age of 6, became part of the Dutch National Softball Team at age 7, and was named Netherlands Junior Fencing Champion at age 14. Rijker started training in kickboxing at 15 years old, knocking out the American Kickboxing Champion Lily Rodriguez and continuing to gain a 36-0 record with four world titles, ensuring her place as one of the most famous female boxers in history.
Rijker’s boxing career was equally impressive with 17 wins and 14 KOs, earning her the Women’s International Boxing Federation (WIDF) Welterweight title and legendary status.
Known as the “Most Dangerous Woman in the World” and the “Dutch Destroyer,” Rijker took a short hiatus from the ring to pursue several acting roles. These included an appearance in the 2004 Oscar-winning film Million Dollar Baby and an award-winning documentary in 2000 about her life called Shadow Boxers.
On top of Rijker’s extraordinary career in the ring, she speaks four languages fluently and hosts lectures and seminars about reaching one’s full potential, with a focus on staying in peak physical condition.
Lucia Rijker was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2020.
Christy Martin (Christy Salters)
Boxing Record: (49-7-3), including 31 KOs
Christy Martin began her fighting career winning three consecutive titles in ‘Toughwoman’ contests. She launched her professional boxing career with a six-round draw against Angela Buchanan in 1989, winning the rematch one month later with a KO in round two. Christy went on to win 19 consecutive matches.
Christy, nicknamed the “Coal Miner's Daughter,” started training with boxing coach and husband James Martin in 1991. After the couple moved to Florida, Christy became the first woman to sign with Don King, and debuted in Las Vegas, NV in 1994. Two years later she rose to fame as the lightweight women’s champion of the world, earning her a place on the Sports Illustrated cover and an immediate pay increase from $15,000 to $150,000 per fight, guaranteeing her place in history as one of the best female boxers ever.
Christy’s stardom continued until her first KO loss to Laila Ali in 2003, followed by a string of more losses and festering personal turmoil that would soon come to a head.
“Boxing was the best therapy I could find,” Salters told Sports Illustrated in 2016. “That’s where I felt the safest.”
In 2010, Christy was stabbed repeatedly and shot by her husband James Martin after years of abuse. The gunshot missed her heart by only 4 inches. Against all odds, Christy miraculously survived. James was convicted of attempted 2nd-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
After everything she had gone through, Christy wasn’t ready to give up boxing yet, and 193 days after almost losing her life she re-entered the ring only to have her trainer stop the fight when it was clear her hand was broken. She subsequently suffered a stroke, officially ending her career in 2012. She had to fight another long road to recovery, eventually taking up work as a substitute teacher and aiding military veterans in finding employment.
Christy spoke on Capitol Hill in support of the Protecting Domestic Violence and Stalking Victims Act in 2013. “If that’s why I had to go through what I did, to help save other people,” she says, “that’s O.K. with me. I made it, and so many people do not.”
Christy was the first female boxer to be inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in 2016, and she was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2020 as one of the most famous female boxers in history.
Image Credit: WBUR
Boxing Record: (24-0), including 21 KOs
Inspired by watching a Christy Martin televised match, Laila Ali began boxing at age 18 despite initial resistance from her famous father, Muhammad Ali. Her father was concerned for his daughter’s safety, but she knocked out her opponent April Fowler in round one of her first match in 1999. She went on to seal her superstar status with 9 wins in a row.
In 2003, Ali got the chance to fight her inspiration Christy Martin and won with a KO in the 4th round. Laila Ali has held the WBC, WIBA, IWBF, and IBA female super middleweight titles, as well as the IWBF light heavyweight title. She retired from the ring in 2007 and is considered by many to be the greatest female boxer of all time.
Laila Ali became an accomplished television personality and co-authored an autobiography Reach!: Finding Strength, Spirit, and Personal Power. She was inducted into the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame in 2015.
Legends in the Making - Who Is Currently The Best Female Boxer?
These are only five of the countless women who have obliterated barriers and paved the way for others, fighters, and females, to achieve their dreams. The world of women’s boxing has exploded with talent that may have otherwise gone unrecognized.
Now we get to watch the extraordinary achievements of female fighters like 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist Claressa Shields, the only boxer, male or female, to hold all four major world titles simultaneously in two weight classes, and the undefeated Katie Taylor who has won five consecutive gold medals in the Women's World Championships, six times at the European Championships, and five times at the European Union Championships, and the seven-division world titleholder Amanda Serrano who made the Guinness World Record for the most boxing championships won in different weight classes by a woman.
The list goes on, thanks to those who fought for a woman’s rightful place in the ring.