Barbara Buttrick – Pioneer Female Boxer
NATIVES By “Michelle Genz” /April 12, 1998 – The Miami Herald – It’s nearly impossible to imagine former women’s boxing champion Barbara Buttrick with a bloody nose, harder still to imagine the diminutive English-accented 68-year-old bookkeeper bloodying someone else’s. But as “The Mighty Atom of the Ring,” she not only bloodied but broke three noses (including her ex-husband’s, who sparred with her) and scored 12 knockouts, without ever being knocked out herself. Her career record: 30-1-1. “I had a hard left jab,” she says. “I could punch hard from my side, was the reason I could stand up to the bigger girls. They weren’t so keen to come rushing in.”
But the toughest fight of all was getting anyone – besides her opponents – to take her seriously. Buttrick grew up in Yorkshire, England, an only child who was tiny for her age – she boxed as a 4-foot-11, 98-pound flyweight.
“I was small, but I was mean,” she says. One day, when she came home with muddy shoes, her mother handed her the Sunday Dispatch to wipe them with. Barbara, then 15, noticed a story about Polly Burns, prizefighter of the early 1900’s. [Related article on Burns]
It struck a nerve; she bought boxing gloves and a book called The Noble Art of Self-Defense. She found a trainer in London and got a day job as a typist. Every evening, she went to the gym for three hours of bag-punching, rope-skipping and sparring with her 118-pound coach, Len Smith, whom she eventually married. Finding competitors proved difficult because British officials refused to recognize female boxers.
Eventually, Buttrick fought in boxing booths, portable rings that passed through villages, inviting anyone to fight. Sports writers found her quick and skillful, her endurance formidable: in France,. She fought 15 two-round exhibitions in a single day. In 1952, Buttrick and Smith headed for America, where she won eight bouts in a row and knocked out the U.S. female bantamweight champion.
In 1957, she moved to Dallas. She and opponent Phyllis Kugler won the state’s first boxing licenses for women, and a world title bout was held in San Antonio. Buttrick won a unanimous decision, making her the first women’s world boxing champion. By then, she had fought more than 1,000 exhibitions with men and 18 professional women’s fights, only one of which she lost—outweighed by 33 pounds and stricken with the flu.
Buttrick and Smith moved to Miami Beach, training at the 5th Street Gym. In 1959, she fought what is believed to be Florida’s first female boxing match, defeating Gloria Adams at the North Miami Armory. After her last fight in 1960 – four months pregnant with her first child – she quit to raise two children and become a ringside photographer. In 1990, she was elected to the International Boxing and Wrestling Hall of Fame. In 1993, she founded the Women’s International Boxing Federation. “Reprinted with permission of The Miami Herald.Disclaimer, all credit and property of photos are from Amazons in Action magazine, Copyright©1979, Swish Publications LTD, 47 Great Guildford St. London SE1 ©Short video clip copyrighted by Shadowboxer -Courtesy permission
Related Links to Buttrick:
Archived Letter Written by Barbara Buttrick in 1974