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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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The effect, she predicts, will be that the American public will come to expect bad boxing from women. With the real boxers out of the way, people will think that women's boxing is silly-looking and a waste of time.

Rijker's loss to St. John was less public than was Nichols'. Last fall, Nichols got a call from DiNapoli, her old manager, who told her he'd seen St. John on the cover of Playboy. Nichols obtained a copy from a friend. Remembering it now, she pounds her chest and says "it tore my soul" to see St. John on the cover, cupping her breasts with her boxing gloves, above the double-header caption "IBA Featherweight Champion" and "Mia St. John NUDE."

The spread features St. John taking a very thorough shower and engaging in that activity that takes place only on the pages of men's magazines: working out in the nude.

It wasn't the Playboy spread alone that was so difficult to deal with. It was the shower of publicity that came after Mia St. John posed with Nichols' title belt that was the problem. St. John was on Leno and morning news shows. Nichols and her son, then 10 years old, watched.

After all the training, the pulverizing of opponents, the indisputable knockouts, the convincing decision over Dee Dufoe in Chattanooga, somebody else -- somebody who never even fought a 10-round fight -- was getting the credit.

"Most people who know about women's boxing know that I'm the featherweight champ, but how many people is that?" she says. "Most people think that St. John's the featherweight champion because of Playboy."

It's been more than a year since Nichols has had a fight. Her record stands at eight wins, including four knockouts, and two draws. She says Top Rank's relationship with her is strained at best. Arum did not return calls to CL. Lately, according to the boxing press, Arum, like many other high-profile personalities around the ring, has been busy testifying in a federal case that has probed the ugly underbelly of both men's and women's boxing.

Playboy's position is that St. John's promoter represented her as the four-round world featherweight champion. There's only one problem with that title: There's no such thing. According to the IBA's own guidelines, a championship title is won by fighting 10 rounds that last two minutes each. St. John's "four-round" title, as the IBA has admitted, was only a promotional gimmick, part of the publicity swirl created for her by Arum, a man second only to Don King in terms of pugilistic spin-prowess. He has promoted George Foreman, Oscar De La Hoya and other greats.

Bill Farley, spokesman for Playboy, says the magazine has no plans to print a retraction and probably won't do anything at all unless he hears from Dean Chance, commissioner of the IBA. So far, he says, Chance hasn't informed him that St. John's title wasn't the real thing.

But Chance did tell the Chattanooga Times and Free Press in June "We called Mia the Queen of the 4s, but you can be assured that Playboy gave her money not because she was Queen of the 4s but because she's a beautiful woman."

Regardless of what the public may or may not think, Nichols is more than ready to climb back in the ring -- and she'd love to face off against St. John.

It's clear that she wants to fight as she spars with amateur boxer Andrew Foster at Kiker's gym. The two go at it, with Nichols advancing behind her right, then ducking Foster's left. She lands a jab that smacks like a whiplash, and she smiles.

Something she said during the interview echoes: "I love to fight. I do. I admit it. I love to hit. I like the way it feels when I connect and I know that I've landed one. There is no better feeling than that."

She has nothing bad to say about St. John. When asked if she would pose for Playboy, she leans across her front porch swing toward Dustin who has unknowingly adopted the very same stance as his mom, one leg down, one foot up, his arms wrapped around the bent knee. "I wouldn't now. But if you're asking me if I ever would have, well, I don't want to say that I wouldn't have. I've been in some tough financial situations, and I bet Mia got about $100,000 for those six pictures. It would be very tempting. I'm lucky that now I don't have to consider something like that, but I can't say that I wouldn't have done it."

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