By Donald “Braveheart” Stewart
I have written about women’s boxing so often now that it should feel like the norm – and it does. But now and again I find myself back in history marveling at the struggles and the fortitude shown by some women in those dark early days when the idea of two women in the ring was still a novelty idea.
And so, I came across Kathy “Wildcat” Collins, 14-2-4, 3 KOs. And as I looked at length, I realized there was nothing that “normal” about this gal… After all it took a full twenty years after her last fight, before she announced she was retired!
That was in 2021, when the former IFBA, IWBF and WIBA world champion seemed bemused by the fact that she would have to announce it! There were plenty of her former opponents still fighting at that time or having taken time out of the ring, making comebacks! That at 50, people still imagined she might have a fighting chance at making it again in the ring, seems like some kind of compliment. Active, professionally between 1995 and 2001, by 2021, she was rightly, at that time, however, being inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.
That accolade reflected her time as a pioneer in the sport, when women’s boxing did not have the eyes, the audience or the respect it deserved. At the time she boxed, there were not a lot of options for her to gently ease into contention for a world title or make her career the buildup that some in the pro game get to do – men far more than women. Even now the lack of depth in women’s boxing is a cliché we hear all the time. It often makes the amateur pedigree feel like the heavily pressurized rehearsal for the main event.
For Collins, boxing was originally just a way to stay in shape. She had been a high school shot putter and grew up in Georgia after her parents divorced and she moved there with mom. But born in New York and with her father still there, at the tender age of 19, she returned. Having started to study to become a nurse, she got herself full on “bad eating habits” and ballooned in weight and size. Boxing seemed like a way to get in shape again.
Just one year before turning professional she was in a gym just wanting to fight. She was oblivious to the idea that wanting to do that was odd. It only took nine months before she was making history – as part of the first group of women to take part in the New York Golden Gloves. On the 7th of April 1995, at the Golden Gloves, she found herself up against Denise Lutrick. Collins was not to triumph but the lessons learned were quick to show themselves as she went into a professional ring soon after.
And so, with a minimal apprenticeship in the amateurs, it was the professional game she went straight towards, and with Frankie Globoschutz, the IWBF founder and commissioner as well as her trainer, manager and finally, her husband, the road seemed a little clearer than for most fighters.
Her professional debut was on the 28th of August 1995 in Westbury when she beat Laurie Bishoff, who was also debuting, on points over 4 2-minute rounds. She then went on to face Andrea DeShong, notable as the first woman to beat Christy Martin. The date – 20th of August, 1996 – one year later! The venue – Madison Square Gardens, Theater. The result – a Collins win by unanimous decision. This was notable as a cable television moment – Collins was exposed to the boxing public as it was televised, and people saw this young girl take on an experienced pro and beat her. Women’s professional boxing had now debuted in Madison Square Gardens, and you would have thought, on the up!
The notable fights were coming thick and fast. Next was seeing double as she faced Dora Webber not once but twice as neither could defeat the other and within 6 days, they fought those two times and drew on each occasion in 1997. It was part of a sequence of four draws from 1996 to 1997. Straight afterwards, in that unique way that boxing has, Webber then joined Collins’ training camps to become a mentor, sparring partner and help with camps that brought fame to Collins – fortune was a long way off in the women’s game…
Surely belts would follow…
And they eventually did.
On the 2nd of August 1997 at the Grand Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, Kathy won the International Female Boxers Association (IFBA) world welterweight title by stopping Christina Berry in the 2nd round – but Berry was only in her second professional fight. The International Women’s Boxing Federation (IWBF) junior welterweight title came round her waist at Atlantic City on the 24th of October 1997 when she knocked out veteran Helga Roisoy – but Roisoy had fought 19 times and lost 8. She then defended her IWBF junior welterweight title in Atlantic City on the 10th of January 1998 when she faced the familiar Andrea De Shong and won for a second and more convincing time on points.
1998 also saw her add the WIBF lightweight title when she returned to Atlantic City and on the 24th of May won another points decision over 10 rounds against Holland’s Marischa Sjauw.
Collins now held titles with the WIBF, IFBA and IWBF – the first to so do!
On the 11th of September things went wrong when she faced Leah Mellinger and lost in a Junior Welterweight title fight on a split decision in Atlantic City. Collins had already beaten Mellinger, but this time could not repeat the feat. It was the first time two belt holders had unified in the female fighting firmament. It was also a time when frailties were apparently exposed. Behind on points, Collins went to her stool after the fifth round and reportedly said she did not want to continue. Her corner played an absolute blinder – convinced her to continue and she went out and won the round. Unfortunately, it was not enough to win the fight and whilst some thought a split decision loss was not the right result, there were no fervent complaints from Collins and her team.
One more world title was to come to her as she took on Denise Moraetes in Tulsa on the 12th of May 2000, and won on a split decision to take the WIBA junior lightweight title.
Then came the date with destiny. Collins was one pioneer who was to face another – Christy Martin. 12th May 2001, in Madison Square Gardens, a majority decision would go the way of her opponent. Martin triumphed and straight afterwards, Collins struggled to get the fights she deserved. The truth which may have hurt hard was that Martin was simply the better boxer on the night.
Both Martin and Collins were making money out of the sport at the time and there is a suggestion, not least from Collins herself in an interview with Thomas Gerbasi on Boxingscene, that she was pricing herself out of fights.
And so, the phone went silent and Collins, aside from a couple of proposed fights – retired but never mentioned it publicly. One of the reasons that a proposed fight in 2004 never happened was because she fell pregnant. Once her daughter was born, healthy and two-years old, she went back into the gym to prepare for one last hurrah. And then… fell pregnant again… so you can understand why that announcement never quite got made – there were better announcements like the arrival of your kids to keep you occupied…
Kathy Collins was one of the fighters that brought the sport into the spotlight and did so without seeking favor. She was neither interested in the politics of boxing nor in the machinations that accompanied each fight. She went in, did her thing and came out to prepare for the next one. It was a no-nonsense style in and out of the ring which both served her and the sport really well – we are all the better for it as she paved a way to do it and others have, thankfully, followed. The boxing scene for women is so far, quite free of some of the malarkey of the men’s game and aside from the relatively unique reasons for stopping her return to the sport, there is, unfortunately little reason to suppose that this purity of their approach to the game shall keep going – the sport may eat itself once more when it comes to the women’s game, as it has with the men’s game. The history of the sport for women, however, is filled with people who had the purest of motives and proved they had rather than spoke their “truth” and acted like a douchebag…
Speaking at the time of her induction into the Hall of Fame, Collins remarked in one interview, with Thomas Gerbasi on Boxingscene, on her time in the ring, “It always feels good to get recognized for what you’ve done,” said Collins. “Now that I’m older, we’re talking 24 years after I won my first title, I do believe it’s important to leave a legacy. We get one life, one shot at this thing; make it mean something. I didn’t do boxing to leave a legacy, but I’m glad that I have and I’m glad that my kids will get to talk to their kids about it long after I’m gone. It’s a great thing. I always felt confident that I did the best that I could do when I fought. I gave my all. I never gave up, even when I wanted to sometimes. I hung in there and I always gave my best.”
It was not the only notable interview she has ever given. In his book, Boxing Interviews of a Lifetime, she told our very own “Bad” Brad, “I think all of boxing is for entertainment. With that said, I just want to give boxing fans the best Kathy Collins I can give them when I step into the ring.”
And she certainly did that.