The Claressa Shields-Christina Hammer middleweight unification fight at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall’s Adrian Phillips Ballroom on Saturday is being billed as the biggest women’s boxing event in history.
It’s only fitting the bout is being held in Atlantic City, considering the town’s background as a proving ground for female fighters.
The tradition dates back nearly 25 years. On June 22, 1996, Atlantic City’s first professional women’s fight took place. Welterweight Andrea DeShong earned a six-round unanimous decision over Stacey Prestage on the Hector Camacho-Roberto Duran undercard at the former Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort (now Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City).
Prior to that fight, the only women seen in an Atlantic City boxing ring were the ring-card girls.
“I remember there being some trepidation and some different mindsets regarding women’s boxing back in those days,” said Hard Rock Director of Entertainment Bernie Dillon, who worked for the Taj Mahal at the time. “In retrospect, we just felt it was the right time and the right thing to do. Women’s boxing was becoming more popular, and we thought (hosting) good fights could only help the sport.”
Five months later, Caesars Atlantic City introduced women’s boxing on its property. Welterweights Kathy Collins and Helga Risoy fought to a draw on the Trevor Berbick-Hasim Rahman undercard.
Shields-Hammer is believed to be the first women’s fight at Boardwalk Hall since March 1, 1997, when Collins and Dora Webber battled to a draw on the Camacho-Sugar Ray Leonard show.
Women’s boxing really owes a debt of gratitude to promoter Diane Fischer-Cristiano, however.
The Vineland native made history Jan. 10, 1998, by putting together the first all-women’s card at Tropicana Atlantic City.
The show featured an incredible six world title fights that were sanctioned by the former International Women’s Boxing Federation. A soldout crowd saw Collins, DeShong, twin sisters Cora and Dora Webber, Eva Jones Young and others wage thrilling fights.
Fischer-Cristiano, who is a member Atlantic City and New Jersey Boxing Halls of Fame, also gained acclaim by using men to carry the round cards around the ring for the bouts.
She still features at least one women’s bout on her cards. And she still uses men as the round-card carriers.
“You’ve got to give the fans what they want,” she said with a laugh.
That was among the highlights of a long and distinguished career as a promoter that began as a tribute to her father, Jack Trevethan. She first gained an interest in boxing by watching the “Gillette Friday Night Fights” with him while growing up in Vineland in the 1960s. The official name of her company is “Dee Lee Promotions, My Daddy’s Dream.”
Boxing also helped her deal with a tragedy. Fischer-Cristiano’s daughter died in 1982 at age 16 from a car accident.
Given her contributions to women’s boxing, it would have been nice if she had been given a ringside seat for Saturday’s fight.
However, Fischer-Cristiano, 72, will not be there. She is leaving this week for a cruise to Bermuda, a trip that will hopefully help her deal with her grief.
Her father died Dec. 13, 2018, at age 97.
She has another boxing show scheduled for May 18 at the Hockessin PAL in Delaware. Camacho’s son, Hector Camacho Jr., is slated for the main event for the card, which will also feature former amateur standout Ornella Sathoud.
As always, there will be a guy carrying the round cards.
David Weinberg’s Extra Points column appears Wednesdays and Sundays in The Press.