Million Dollar Maybe

Christina Swanson could be a champ again. Too bad few have the guts to face her.

But as purses got bigger, promoters got sleazier. It was still almost impossible to make a living as a female boxer. One promoter scammed Canino out of a $9,000 contract, she told New Times back then: "He claimed he didn't make any money off the fight... and I didn't get a red cent."

Then came the bizarre story of Bethany "Foxy Brown" Payne. The tall, sinewy pro was scheduled to fight Christy Martin in November 1996. Television announcers touted her stellar record: 15-1. But Martin knocked her out in minutes. A few weeks later, the media uncovered that Payne was a former stripper and prostitute who had never fought before. Notorious promoter Mezaughn Kemp had plucked her off a slummy Atlanta street and trained her for two weeks, he told the Miami Herald. Kemp explained he chose her because "that girl has some pretty legs."

The ordeal showed the sad state of the sport. Even with a newfound fan base, there weren't enough interested and talented athletes to fill a ring. It pissed off a lot of people. Miami boxing historian Enrique Encinosa told New Times: "Female boxing is basically bullshit... If you're a woman and you have beaten three crack whores, you can get big money on TV." At the time, a handful of pro women could make big money fighting on men's cards. (That rarely happens today.)

Christina Swanson is a good suburban girl. Just don't cross her.
C. Stiles
Christina Swanson is a good suburban girl. Just don't cross her.
Swanson has a part-time gig lifeguarding for City of Miami Beach Ocean Rescue.
C. Stiles
Swanson has a part-time gig lifeguarding for City of Miami Beach Ocean Rescue.

It got more corrupt. In January 1999, the Herald reported that Dania Beach boxer Lisa McFarland took a dive for $1,000 — more than she would have gotten for a win. "Second round, I fell," she said. "She threw a right, hit my jaw... there was no power whatsoever." McFarland just needed the money, she told the paper.

Today, professional U.S. female boxers earn $6,000 to $30,000 for title fights, just a fraction of what girls in the rest of the world make. Boxing is still the only Olympic sport in which women are not allowed to compete. In Europe and Asia, where the sport is televised weekly, women sometimes score $50,000 a bout. In Germany, the Philippines, and India, female fighters receive stipends, housing, and grants. The United States has no such program.

Says Canino: "We're still breaking through barriers."

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Swanson wakes at 6 a.m., sandwiched between her boyfriend and their jiggly bulldog, Rice. She slides out from under tan bedsheets the muggy morning of July 8. It's two days before the fight. The white walls of her bedroom are blank and scuffed; the floor is littered with clothes. There's little time for cleaning or decorating with a schedule like hers. There's hardly time to train.

She does a sleepy shuffle past a bathroom scale, set in the middle of the living room. It's a reminder: She's three pounds over her weight class. That means no eating today. "Some girls sit in the sauna or take a laxative," she says. "It's whatever you have to do."

In a windowless kitchen, she chugs a glass of water and throws Rice a few scraps. Then she heads outside to the parking lot of Forest Towers, a quiet west Hollywood rental community, and hops into her 2002 white Nissan Altima.

Around 8 a.m., she arrives at a Pompano Beach fire station for paramedic classes. As usual, she's one of the only women at the station. If it's a slow day today, she can slip out early, exercise, and register for the tournament. If it's busy, she'll have to rush to the hotel before the cut-off time.

A 911 call comes in. It's a 20-year-old girl reporting she crashed a car and needs help. Swanson hops into a rescue truck with the guys, and they arrive at the scene. The young lady is OK, but they take her to North Broward Medical Center to be safe.

Swanson is famished when another caller summons. This time, it's an elderly woman with Alzheimer's disease who has stabbed her caregiver with a fork. They rush to the nursing home. No serious injuries this time, either.

By 5 p.m., Swanson's stomach is starting to eat itself. She still hasn't registered or weighed in for the tournament. Nor has she gotten to exercise. Class ends, and she hightails it to the Hilton to sign in. About 90 women have arrived from all over the nation. The range in girls is vast: There are Army vets with linebacker shoulders and skinny waitresses with pigeon toes. The tournament begins tomorrow.

A blond reporter recognizes Swanson, sticks a tape recorder in her face, and calls her an underdog. "You might fight [Wolfe-Fenn]. Is that exciting?" she probes. "Do firefighters know you box? What do they think of that? And where does boxing fit in?"

Swanson is honest. She doesn't really know.

Later, back at her place, a paper clip-size crease has formed between her eyebrows. She drinks her dinner — a few gulps of mixed juices — from an old Gatorade bottle. She and Wilky are sprawled out on the couch like exhausted soldiers, quietly watching tattooed heavyweights pound each other on cable. Sweaty socks lie crumpled in a corner. On the coffee table, a purse with an image of pink boxing gloves reads, "Queen of the Ring."

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