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A Pioneer of Women's Boxing Looks Back on a Lifetime of Battles

Barbara "Mighty Atom of the Ring" Buttrick was called an "insult to womanhood" when she became one of world's first professional female boxers. The fearless 87-year-old reflects on her groundbreaking career.

In a black and white film from 1949, Barbara Buttrick—a diminutive 19-year-old who clocks in at four foot eleven inches—sits down in front of the camera and glares down its lens. "I think all this talk about girls not boxing is old fashioned," she says in a broad Yorkshire accent. "Girls aren't the delicate flowers they used to be. Anyhow, my boyfriend doesn't mind, so why should I?" Over the next decade and a half, Buttrick would go on to pioneer women's participation in professional boxing. She went from being jeered as an "insult to womanhood" by the British papers to the first female world champion. In 2010, the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame adding her to their honor roll next to Muhammad Ali. Buttrick was first introduced to boxing through sheer chance. As a kid growing up in the English villages of Cottingham and Hornsea, she tried to get a team of girls to play soccer (which she describes as "just as frowned upon as boxing"). After kicking around a ball on a muddy street one day, she ran into a friend's house and was told to clean her dirty shoes with some newspaper. Buttrick was intrigued by a picture of fairground boxer Polly Fairclough and said, "Just don't use that page—I want to read it!" Nicknamed the Mighty Atom of the Ring, Buttrick began fighting men and women in exhibition matches held for entertainment. As professional boxing opened up to the opposite gender, she turned pro in North America and battled women in competitive bouts, becoming the first woman to win a world title. She was only ever defeated once. Read more on Broadly