BOXING was never seen as a sport for women.
But since Nicola Adams turned her training sessions in Sheffield into female boxing’s first Olympic gold, times have changed.
Across the country, the number of women taking up boxing is growing.
Dennis Hobson’s gym in Gleadless Townend is no exception.
Here, on a dark, damp Tuesday evening, dozens of women sweat and toil in a steamy gym as a petite, pretty woman shouts commands across a boxing ring.
Bianca Johnson, just 19, has been coaching women’s boxing for only a few weeks but she’s been boxing semi-professionally since she was 10.
“One day I just woke up and thought, ‘I want to box’,” she remembers. “So I gave it a go and here I am.”
She trained hard in her spare time, eventually boxing for Yorkshire.
But she’s put her competitive gloves to one side for now as she concentrates on her coaching career and finishes her university degree.
Right now, as a coach, Bianca is in huge demand.
Since 29-year old Adams won the first gold for British women’s boxing, the number of women signing up for Bianca’s sessions has increased almost five-fold.
“It’s good for fitness but it’s also a good social event,” she says. “We measure women privately and offer them dietary advice so they can see their body shape changing.
“One of our women lost 7lbs in two weeks.”
Racquel Cowley, 23, has been attending Bianca’s classes for several weeks. She says: “It’s great coming here. It’s high adrenaline and really good for your fitness levels. It really tones you up too – I can really feel the difference.”
And while those less acquainted with boxing may view it as a brutal contact sport, it is, according to Bianca, highly technical.
“It’s a mental sport as much as a physical one, you have to really think about what you are doing.” says Bianca, from Intake.
“A proper boxing jab should be thrown from the right-hand side against your face and in line with your chin, and you just jab fast by extending your arm fully out and then snapping it back.
“You keep your left fist at the side of your temples to protect yourself.”
And while that may sound terrifying, Bianca insists you don’t have to be tough to get involved.
“I am a real girly girl, I love having my nails done, I wear heels when I go out and I really take care of myself, and many of the women who come here are like that – you wouldn’t recognise them if you saw them on a Saturday night.
“For the last few years boxing has been seen as a men’s sport but the girls are just as good as the boys – Nicola Adams proved that by winning her gold medal at the Olympics.”
Adams is an inspiration for Bianca.
“Nicola’s really nice and she’ll help you with anything,” she says. “She’s very skilled with an amazing style too and she’s strong for her size – she only weighs about eight stone.”
Adams’ ascension to sporting glory has raised the profile of women’s boxing enormously and planted it on the serious sporting map.
But it’s been a long time coming.
The first recorded women’s boxing match was in the 1720s and, while popular, the sport was banned for most of the 20th century because The British Boxing Board of Control believed premenstrual syndrome made women ‘too volatile for fighting’.
By 1998, however, hormonal hang-ups had dissipated when Jane Couch won a tribunal against the British Board of Control and was officially allowed to box.
It was a move that wasn’t welcomed by everyone.
“The British Medical Association described it as a ‘demented extension of equal opportunities.’
More than a decade later, in 2009, the sport was finally accepted by the International Olympic Committee and, this year, women’s boxing made its Olympic debut.
Now it’s more popular than ever, with as many as 40 per cent of the country’s boxing clubs offering classes for women – amounting to around 20,500 women boxing every week.
A survey by Sport England shows the number of registered female boxers in Britain rose from 70 in 2005 to more than 900 in 2009.
And according to the Amateur Boxing Association of England, the number of registered female boxers has quadrupled since the Olympics.
“I think that now, finally, people are looking at women’s boxing differently, which is a good thing,” says Bianca.