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The naked truth about women's boxing

Never mind that Deborah Nichols was the champ in the ring, Mia St. John was Playboy's idea of a knockout.

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Her last bout was the one that brought her the featherweight title. In 1999, again in Chattanooga, Nichols went in the ring and wiped out Dee "Dynamite" Dufoe, a skilled fighter in her early 20s who had blazed a trail of fallen warriors before Nichols stopped her. Nichols took the title with a unanimous decision.

"It's strange if you think about it," she says, obviously having thought about it before. "Here I am, a world champion, and I'm still living paycheck to paycheck."

She's sure that's not the case with Mia St. John, and one certainly gets the impression from St. John's website that she's not living from paycheck to paycheck. St. John, like Nichols, comes from a kickboxing background. She grew up in a working-class family. Her mother was from Mexico. Her father moved the family around a lot, and St. John used fighting as her therapy, just as Nichols did. Their biggest difference, aside from St. John's dark softness as opposed to Nichols' golden-girl tautness, is that St. John has never fought more than four rounds. She's never gone the distance of an actual 10-round, championship fight. She has said in numerous interviews that her promoter, Bob Arum of Top Rank Boxing -- who is also Nichols' promoter -- has never allowed her to take on a real 10 rounder. St. John's record of 9-0 makes boxing purists wince.

When she showed up on the cover of Playboy with the "IBA Featherweight Champion" caption, it made them gag.

Tom Moraetes, Denise Moraetes' husband and trainer, takes a realist's view: "Mia was not on that cover for any title. She was on there because of her tits and her ass."

How does he know?

"Oh, please!" He screams with frustration. "Do you know who Lucia Rijker is?"

Lucia Rijker is a phenomenon. She's Nichols' idol, and she's in Denise Moraetes weight class. Many professional fighters -- both women and men -- believe Rijker's strength and ability border on the supernatural. A kickboxer from Amsterdam, she's like Jean Claude Van Damme with a dangerously seductive feminine side. She's like a Bond girl who can actually do all the stuff that Bond girls get stunt doubles to do. Something about her olive-skinned solemn face bent prayer-like above the collar of her jet-black robe brings Carlos Santana's "Black Magic Woman" to mind. When she became a professional boxer, ring-watchers immediately began craving a match between the white-clad, no-tummy-showing good-girl of boxing, Christy Martin, and Rijker. But it didn't materialize. Rijker's promoter, the ubiquitous Arum, severed relations with her and picked up the pink-sequined, four-round fighting Mia St. John.

"He dropped the baddest woman on the planet to go with this girl, Mia St. John, for her chest," says Tom Moraetes. "Doesn't that tell you everything you need to know?"

Moraetes organized the first USA Boxing Women's National Championships in 1997 in Augusta. That's where he met Denise. This weekend (August 9-12), Tom has his hands full again with the National Women's Golden Gloves Championships. He's chairman of the Augusta Boxing Club, the host of the event.

Moraetes believes women's boxing will get the respect it so desperately needs when it becomes an Olympic sport, and he's been lobbying USA Boxing, the boxing division of the U.S. Olympic Committee, to make that happen. But his efforts have no financial support. He recently proposed to hold the first Women's Amateur World Boxing Championship tournament in Augusta in 2001. He says such a tournament is critical in getting 70 countries -- the minimum number required for Olympic inclusion -- to sponsor women's national championships. USA Boxing responded by sending him a bid package that he calls "ridiculous."

"They want $25,000 cash just to apply," says Moraetes. "That's just to get on the board. And we're probably talking at $100,000 before the bid process is over. How can I raise that kind of money?"

Denise, who works full-time as a special education teacher in public schools, wasn't in Augusta helping with preparations. Instead, she was home in New York, mulling over the reality of women's boxing.

"Here I am, busting my, excuse my language, but really busting my ass, putting so much into the sport, teaching full-time. It's a tremendous amount of work for an end that I have no idea if I'm going to be able to achieve. And then you see something like Lucia Rijker getting dissed by her promoter and people like Mia St. John getting all this publicity and these famous boxers' daughters who really can't -- and I mean this -- can't fight a lick, getting these huge purses," Denise sighs heavily. "That, right there, in a nutshell is where the sport is at."

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