Isaac and Seth at the Roller Derby

Boxing Ring Card Girls

Ring-Card Girls. Three small words. But stand by for big arguments when they’re mentioned in conversation between men and women.

Adam Welsh is a British-based Human Resources Manager with a keen interest in many sports, including boxing. You may have seen him commenting here on The Glowing Edge.

He recently asked me what I thought about ring card girls (he’s asked lots of thoughtful and interesting questions), and as a result he not only sparked a number of offline conversations about the subject, but he also quickly responded when I invited him to write up his unique observations for posting here.

I’ve also posted my own thoughts down below…

You first, Adam. What do you think about ring card girls?

Most guys (including me) have the hots for those high-heeled, scantily-clad ladies who strut their stuff between rounds at pro boxing shows, holding aloft a card showing the number of the next stanza.

When it comes to keeping their customers satisfied, of course, promoters are influenced by a basic gender consideration: boxing crowds are predominantly male.

Male hormones and boring fights

Your average Joe Six-Pack expects three Bs when he attends a fight night: Boxing, Beer and Babes. And there’s no shortage of models, dancers and wannabes prepared to dress skimpily and duck through the ropes every three minutes.

People who watch boxing on television may not realize that a full bill of bouts contains many instantly forgettable fights.  To counter boredom, promoters use the card-girls to add spectacle and maintain interest. Yep, that’s how shallow many guys are.

The card-girls are such an established feature now that it would be hard to imagine a show without them.

Women, sexuality, and violence

But some women get annoyed and offended by a spectacle they consider sexist, degrading and juvenile.

“Typical male fantasy-gratification” was the reaction of a woman I know who stopped going to fight nights because the atmosphere created every three minutes made her feel uncomfortable.

Other women think it’s not appropriate for the brutality of the boxing ring to be glamourised in this way. They feel uneasy about the link between violence and sex appeal.

Boxing show or strip club?

One innovation that probably alienated many women in the 1990s was the regular “Miss Ringsider” contest at Budweiser-sponsored promotions in the Great Western Forum, CA. Wearing high-cut one-piece swimsuits, the girls lined up in the ring and paraded one by one to compete for cash prizes, decided by the fans’ votes.

Mind you, that was nothing compared to a promotion I attended in London about ten years ago, which had me asking “Is this a boxing show or a strip club?”

Two card girls wore the tiniest bikinis I’ve ever seen – three postage stamps held together with spaghetti-thin string – and the noise between rounds was deafening. Some of the comments directed at the girls were unrepeatable, and the atmosphere was unpleasant and embarrassing, especially for the small number of female fans present.

The promoter rightly received a warning from the British Boxing Board of Control.

Ring card girls at women‘s fights

In particular, the sight of card-girls during women’s bouts has been called “disrespectful” to the female fighters. An article in The Ring magazine a few years ago called for promoters to drop card-girls from women’s contests.

But do female boxers, locked in intense physical combat, take the slightest notice of the inter-round entertainment?

I’m not aware of any objections raised by women boxers (tell me if I’m wrong). You could argue, in fact, that the fleeting, superficial appearance of the glamour girls serves to highlight the integrity and authenticity of the female fighters.

Here to stay?

As long as the audiences at fight nights are predominantly male, ring-card girls are likely to remain a fixture.

No doubt the growing  number of women spectators will continue to roll their eyes at the immaturity of their men-folk. And discuss among themselves – if they can hear anything over the din – how the latest vision of loveliness to pose and pout around the ring could possibly be comfortable in that one-piece mini-dress which looks like it was painted on.

Ok, Lisa’s turn.

Adam, you nailed it in one: mostly the women boxers’ conversations revolve around how teeny the outfits are and how wobbly they must feel trying to navigate on a padded surface in their 13-inch lucite heels.

And in a rather odd turn-about, at one of my fights the promoter put in “ring card guys” — which sounded pretty damn good to me at first, but then I realized it was intended as a joke. They were goofy-dressed dudes who hammed up their caricatures of female ring card girls. I rolled my eyes and had absolutely no interest, although it’s possible the crowd got into it.

And no, I don’t (personally) mind too much that the whole Miss Stripper America thing goes on between rounds. I believe it’s there for the same reasons you already mentioned.

Catching the most fish

And I finally decided that all male-dominated sports (and other entertainments like movies, etc.) that include female eye candy in one form or another do so for one big fat reason above all.

And that is to widen the net.

In other words, promoters and publishers and directors and so on are working hard to capture as many ticket-purchasers as they possibly can.

For men who aren’t rabid boxing fans, they offer a walking centerfold fantasy girl between every round in order to “sweeten the deal” and secure the purchase.

Here’s an alternative to Ring Card Girls…

I love women’s roller derby. We have an incredible team here called the Carolina Rollergirls.

If I weren’t boxing, I would definitely go out for this team. These women are incredibly tough, very skilled at their sport (which is fairly complex), and they know how to have a great time and put on a phenomenal show.

Just like in boxing, you can sit right up next to the track, but in derby, if there’s a spectacular wipeout — and there are plenty — you can revel in the thrill of possibly getting injured yourself as a tangle of helmeted women come flying at extremely high speed in your direction. Believe me, derby gets pretty involved.

They serve beer at the roller derby. A game lasts about an hour and a half. And between jams (about the equivalent of a boxing round) there’s plenty of action. The jammers are the superstars of the derby, and crowds love a great blocker, but absolutely everyone on the track (up to 5 per team) has a major role to play.

Commentators keep the crowd involved, especially by explaining some of the complexities of roller derby play and scoring. They also lighten the mood with funny comments about each of the players, their habits (bad and good), naming (roller derby names are way more fun than ring names), and tactics (dirty and fair).

The Carolina Rollergirls mascot, Evil Ed, is a (fully dressed) blood-splattered skating skeleton who also keeps things lively.

There are giveaways, raffles, charity events, music, antics, and any number of entertaining things that happen between bouts (halves) of the game, and after the game the players are frequently available to chat, sign autographs, and get to know the fans.

The audience is about equally split between male and female, and despite the sometimes serious and potentially damaging nature of the sport, it’s also incredibly family-friendly. That’s two of my boys at a Carolina Rollergirls game. (I didn’t let them get any closer to the track than that!)

I love boxing. Love it. But derby has figured out so many things that boxing has missed.

We may never see roller derby selling high-dollar tickets and winning a mass audience. But if that’s the case, maybe it’s better to be on the fringe.

Okay, everybody. Your turn to chime in!

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29 Responses to Boxing Ring Card Girls

  1. laura February 11, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    “Typical male fantasy-gratification” says it all about this blatant objectification of women. How pathetic that men get bored without this type of “stimulation.” The packaging of the women in the beer company’s Miss Ringsider competition is sexist and degrading – the suits are designed and branded to make the women look like consumable products. Shame on the sponsor and the promoters involved.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

      One of the things that’s interesting to me, Laura, is that there is no shortage of women lining up to strip down and be the “Miss Budweiser.” Or the “Round #2 Hot Babe.”

      And I agree that it makes women’s sexuality a consumable good, much like pornography sites and magazines do, and that does significant damage to women, men, and relationships.

      I’ve tried to make my life look different. I’m a boxer, not a stripper. I spend a lot of time taking care of and thinking about my body, but for different reasons. I don’t go to strip clubs and wouldn’t be happy if my husband did, either. Some days I wonder if that’s enough. Do you?

      I wish our culture didn’t use women’s sexuality so much to sell other things. That’s why I like roller derby, too — I can enjoy the antics of “Evil Ed” and enjoy the entire without the misuse of sexuality.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Laura. Hope to hear from you again.

  2. Girlboxing February 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    GREAT post, Lisa, as always! And yep, the Roller Derby alternative sounds just fine.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

      GB, you’ve been boxing longer than I have. And you’ve been studying and writing about women boxers in history. I’d be very curious to hear how things have changed over time in this area. Were there always ring card girls? How did we get to this point?

  3. Lance Bledsoe February 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm #

    “Widening the net” indeed. There’s definitely a distinction to be made between the true boxing connoisseur and the person just looking to be entertained. A true boxing fan probably doesn’t need (or want) anything distracting from the two artists practicing their craft, but for a casual observer, you better make it as entertaining as possible or they’ll take their eyeballs elsewhere.

    I suspect this same tension exists in many areas. I know as a classroom teacher, there’s near constant hand-wringing over making the course content more interesting and engaging, but these words are often just euphemisms for “entertaining”. I suppose it widens the net, but it also cheapens the final product.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 11, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

      “It widens the net, but it also cheapens the final product.”

      Amen to that.

  4. Adam Welsh February 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm #

    Lisa makes a key point in response to Laura about the number of women prepared to decorate the boxing ring in this way. Overall, the popularity of card-girls – and the itsy-bitsy costumes they wear – shows how mainstream “mentertainment” has become. In some cases, women accept and encourage the trend.

    One example: my job took me and a male colleague to Paris last year, where we worked with French colleagues on an executive search project. On the last night our counterparts (a man and a woman) took us to dinner and then to a club near the Arc de Triomphe. The venue was a lap-dance club with two lounges, one at ground-floor level and the other at downstairs level.

    It was the French woman who led the way to the lower-level lounge – she clearly knew the place well. “I think you’ll enjoy the view from here,” she laughed, as we gazed at the dancers overhead. Two circular glass stages were located close together, about 20 feet above, and there was a non-stop rota of strippers working the poles topless. The phrase “a room with a view” kept coming to mind.

    What interested me was that the French woman thought this was an absolutely normal way to conclude a work collaboration. Also, the audience wasn’t exclusively male, and the club was spacious and friendly.

  5. Alyssa February 14, 2012 at 8:40 pm #

    I salute them! They are awesome!

  6. Tabitha W. February 16, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    Believe me, it’s not just men who like to watch the card-girls! I love their confidence, and the way they add glamour and colour to a boxing bill. Most comments I’ve heard men pass about them have been juvenile-hilarious rather than offensive. And why am I not surprised that the bustiest girl won the Miss Ringsider vote? (The blonde could be Lisa Kudrow’s twin sister, I think!)

    By the way, if anyone’s interested, I’ve added a comment on the Holly Holm topic also. Thanks.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe February 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

      Nice to hear women weigh in on more than one side of the issue. 🙂 I think it serves to point out that “one size does NOT fit all.”

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment, y’all.

  7. Adam Welsh February 19, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Laura’s strongly-held views about the objectification of women remind me of a critique of bikini contests I heard on a radio phone-in a few months ago. The woman who complained described bikini contests as “the utlimate cattle market” for several reasons:
    1. The girls are number-tagged like animals.
    2. The MC’s microphone is like a cattle-prod, directing the girls so that judges and spectators get to view them from different perspectives.
    3. When the line-up of girls are required to turn their backs on the crowd, they lose their identity and become a mass display of “rump meat” for men to enjoy.

    It was a brilliant analysis. (But I still enjoy bikini contests!)

  8. niamh March 7, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    This is a discussion that can run and run. In Thailand there are no ring-girls for the MuayThai fights – that’s right, the whole spectacle runs off with an MC who announces the rounds. That’s in one of the toughest no-holds barred combat sports in the world. And that’s where I learnt my ring-craft so was only exposed to ring-girls when I moved back to Europe.
    Here in Ireland, they use them for all contact sports – once (infamously) it was 2 pole-dancers whose routine caused outrage more because the event was promoted as a family event than for any ideas of feminism. I was once co-promoter of a show where we used ring-boys – male models – and watching the audience reaction to that was interesting.
    Personally I think the whole idea of ring-girls is what helps to keep sports like boxing out of the mainstream, and off prime-time television. It’s out-dated but beloved by many fans so …

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe March 7, 2012 at 10:41 am #

      Hey there, my fight sister from across the pond! It’s always good to hear from you.

      The thought that ring-card girls are part of what’s keeping boxing from the mainstream is a fascinating one, except that I also see them routinely used in MMA fights, which are a huge mainstream event now, and are regularly broadcast on television.

      And that actually brings up another thought. Since MMA is typically more bloody (and there are ring — err, cage — card girls), I wonder whether people consider it in any way a “family” sport…

      Would you mind if your toddlers, ten-year-olds, or teens became fans? Or wanted to take up the sport?

      Would love to hear what anyone thinks.

    • sylvie January 4, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      I agree with you Niamh that the absence of Ring Card Girls in Thailand is not to the deficit of attention to the events for spectators at the fights, but I have to add that it is not entirely a neutral “we don’t require sexy” decision in that women are not permitted to touch (let alone enter) the ring in many professional stadiums in Thailand. It’s a lose/lose there. I have, indeed, seen more conservatively clad Ring Card Girls standing outside the ring (at a safe distance) on a few events here – they don’t parade, just kind of catwalk a short length of board, but the sentiment is similar. These are, however, more western-oriented productions.

      In New York there is a promotion that runs events out of an the annex of a church and some complaints were aired regarding the attire of the Ring Card Girls for that event, so their short-shorts and fishnet stockings were traded in for the slightly more modest one-piece black mini-dress. Quaint, no?

      I’ve been in the ring when Ring Card Girls are circling and at first it gave me the giggles, simply because it’s such a production to get in and out of the ropes in high heels and oversized cards, requiring the aid of at least one male assistant. After a few fights the novelty faded and I failed to notice anymore. I practically fail to notice on fights I’m watching now, making the primary purpose of the ring card obsolete – “what round is it now?” But I kind of like that the UFC employs a small group of women with names and familiar faces and, I assume for some demographic of viewers out there, personalities in the way that they are distinguishable from one another. I don’t generally conflate them into one person. They’re “the face” of the UFC in some ways, the way the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are an enormous commercial enterprise to itself. That doesn’t mean it’s the best option – that in male spaces women are allowed so long as we’re doing lady things like wearing tight outfits and being “cute” – but it’s work that (some) women are choosing and so long as we don’t allow it to be at the expense of women being taken seriously as athletes, promoters, referees, judges or even audience members, more power to them.

      • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 4, 2013 at 10:23 am #

        Sylvie, Thanks SO much for dropping by and contributing to the conversation.

        For those of you who don’t know Sylvie, she’s currently living, training, and fighting (she gets between 2 and 4 fights each month) in Thailand, and documenting her experience over on http://8limbs.us/.

        You’ll especially love her video diary there — click over and get the latest information and insights (and some beautiful scenery) on her Muay Thai life…

        And yes, I’ll hit her up for an interview soon!

        • sylvie January 4, 2013 at 10:36 am #

          Wow, thanks for the shout out!
          I’m interested to hear more about this topic – I know a woman who is both a fighter (a very talented fighter) and a “Ring Girl” (a very well self-managed, aka talented “ring girl”). Seems like such an unexpected combination and yet, not so.

      • Adam Welsh January 9, 2013 at 4:22 pm #

        Sylvie’s not noticing the card-girls any more is reflected in this striking image of the intermission in a Kelli Cofer fight. But note the face of the female spectator in the front row. It looks like blue is her favourite colour…!
        http://www.pbase.com/alan/image/58804830

        The topic of the objectification of women raised by the card-girls came to mind recently when a former Miss World, Ireland’s Rosanna Davison, spoke about her decision to pose for “Playboy” last year. She said: “I agree it adds to the objectification of women. There are no two ways about it. Every other aspect of modern society, though, from advertising to reality shows, also fuels that. It seems one big cyclical objectification.” Rosanna Davison is a university graduate, by the way.

        One other angle on the things that women are expected to do to get ahead in male-dominated arenas. Laurene Landon, a star of the 1981 movie “All the Marbles” (a road movie based on women’s tag-team wrestling) gave an interview a few years ago about what went into its making. Robert Aldrich – whose last movie this was – doesn’t emerge with much credit from Ms Landon’s description of one scene involving mud.
        http://slam.canoe.ca/Slam/Wrestling/2006/03/07/1798725.html

  9. Hillari March 9, 2012 at 12:42 am #

    I’ve always liked roller derby, from the time I was a kid. My siblings and I would gather ’round the TV (back in the day when both boxing and roller derby were regularly shown on the tube) on Sunday evenings, and we’d yell for our favorite teams to win. As an adult, I tried out for a local roller derby league, but alas, I didn’t make it past the second set of auditions.

    As for ring card girls. . .I personally can do without them. They don’t add anything to the fights, and it’s especially annoying to see them parading around during women’s matches. Sometimes during exhibition matches done via the park district, little kids come out and march around with the signs. That’s cute. Some scantily clad wanna be model isnt.

  10. Adam Welsh March 19, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    @Niamh – I once saw an Andy Lee fight in Limerick, and I was wondering at what venue in Ireland the pole-dancer gimmick was introduced? It’s very wrong to do that when a bill is being promoted as family-friendly.

  11. Adam Welsh September 8, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

    A slight variation on the Budweiser “Miss Ringsider” contest came to my attention recently. On one occasion (at least) in the mid-90s the promoters filled the ring with 21 round-card girls, in order to preview the appearance of 14 of them in forthcoming semi-finals. (Sounds like a well-structured competition.) Then they got on with the business of parading and judging the 7 girls working that night’s promotion, two of whom progressed to the next stage. All 21 girls were dressed in those amazing one-piece suits (see clip below).

    Even I, a self-confessed fan of round-card girls, have to say this amounted to visual overload! But the intention was to keep guys coming back for more, no doubt.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsLqcjwk6Qs

  12. Mark November 6, 2012 at 8:15 am #

    Hi Lisa,

    I am currently writing an essay about gender perceptions in boxing and this article and the discussion that followed have been very helpful, thank you. I would be very appreciative if you could link me to The Ring Magazine article that called for promoters to drop card-girls from women’s contests as I think this would help to add some depth to my essay.

    Thank you

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe November 6, 2012 at 10:27 am #

      I don’t have that link, Mark, but I bet someone from Ring could help you. Here’s a link to the Staff page: http://ringtv.craveonline.com/staff

      Good luck with your essay, and send back a link to it when it’s finished if you like!

    • Adam Welsh November 24, 2012 at 8:14 am #

      Mark, Two things that might be of interest for your essay.
      1. Last year, as you may be aware, Katie Taylor led objections to a suggestion (not implemented) that women boxing at the London Olympics should wear skirts rather than shorts. The full story is here:
      http://www.standard.co.uk/sport/other-sports/no-need-to-sexualise-boxing-says-katie-taylor-7309173.html

      2. Since Lisa posted this topic I’ve been told that a fight-night in Kiev, Ukraine once featured card-girls who worked topless. (I’ve checked and it’s true.)

      Good luck with your essay.

  13. Erin January 16, 2013 at 8:11 pm #

    I wouldn’t mind ring card girls if they also had ring card guys at women’s boxing events. Want to get more female attendees to the women’s events? Have a bunch of hot, 6-pack abs, guys wearing jeans low on their hips. Yum.

    We actually talked about this once at my gym. I made the same comment as above, and all the guys were horrified. They don’t want to watch scantily clad guys at the boxing events. Just like they’d be horrified by scantily clad dudes at Hooters.

    It makes me curious. Do guys just think women are asexual? Are they not targeting the female audience? I love looking at attractive, topless men. You’d think if they really wanted to widen the net to both men and women, they would have a ring card guy AND a ring card girl.

    • Lisa Creech Bledsoe January 17, 2013 at 9:49 am #

      I’m not opposed to a little man-candy either, Erin. 🙂

      And I think you asked an interesting question: “Do guys just think women are asexual?”

      My guess is that guys simply don’t think all that often about what a woman finds sexy… Unless they’re trying to get her in the sack, of course. 🙂

  14. Adam Welsh March 17, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    You know that something is mainstream when it becomes a regular feature in the self-proclaimed “Bible of Boxing”, right? THE RING magazine devotes 4 pages every issue to its (scantily-clad) “Card Girl of the Month”.

    And right now the magazine’s website is running an online poll to elect its Ring Girl of 2013, which will be decided in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome on April 8, at the NCAA Final Four Championship match.

    Online readers get to narrow the field in stages: first they rank their top 16 card-girls in order from a list of 19. After tonight the 16 will be presented in order of readers votes and a daily match-up will be posted, starting with #1 vs #16, to produce quarter-finalists, and so on, all the way to the final in Atlanta.

    There have been many comments and suggestions in this thread about what it must be like to work as a round-card girl. Well, here’s the inside track from a Kentucky model named Whitney Green, who features on The Ring’s website and is a contestant in the current poll:
    “It’s almost like being in a beauty pageant, so I just put on a smile, stay classy and try not to show too much of my behind when stepping through the ropes”.

    http://ringtv.craveonline.com/blog/177433-ring-girl-madness

  15. PJ January 2, 2015 at 6:14 am #

    Oh look, more feminist hypocrisy… completely ignoring the men dressed in nothing but boxer shorts. Oh but they’re guys, so that doesn’t count, right?

  16. Kathy P. August 27, 2017 at 1:56 am #

    I find the ring girls to be a disgrace and disrespectful to women. But as long as you have a society that values money over integrity and is obsessed with sex as much as ours, this disgusting practice will continue. I am glad I don’t have any children that have chosen boxing as a sport or profession, so I don’t have to be subjected to this obhorrent practice on a frequent basis. If I did, I definitely would be taking a proactive stance on ending it asap. I really can’t believe that more women who’s husbands and sons are boxers, or whobix themselves, don’t do more to try to end this outdated practice.

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