Jo-Ann Hagen vs Barbara Buttrick (lost radio and television coverage of boxing match; 1954)
On 9th September 1954, professional boxers Jo-Ann Hagen and Barbara Buttrick competed in a boxing match at the Victoria Pavilion in Calgary. Occurring in front of around 1,200, Hagen claimed victory after eight rounds by decision, handing Buttrick her only ever professional loss. The encounter is significant for being the first women's boxing match to receive live radio coverage, and being the first to be televised nationally.
Heading into the bout, Jo-Ann Hagen was the reigning United States Women's Boxing champion. The Indianapolis resident had started training in the 1940s under Johnny Nate, following Nate's brother witnessing and becoming impressed at Hagen's ability to handle herself against an harasser at her work. Hagen competed primarily in exhibition matches, and occasionally wrestling contests. Back then, competing in matches proved difficult, as encounters had to booked in secret by Nate lest they be shut down by arena venues upon discovery. Meanwhile, Barbara Buttrick, residing in Hull, Yorkshire, had also begun boxing in the late-1940s, becoming interested in the sport after viewing a story about female prizefighter Polly Burns. With support from her coach and eventual husband Len Smith, Buttrick trained vigorously, but decided to move to the United States after British media deemed her "an insult to womanhood" among other derogatory statements, in addition to British officials refusing to recognise women's boxing. After fighting within American carnivals, Buttrick would eventually turn professional. She won eight consecutive matches, starting with a win over Pat Emerick, and also defeated the US Women's Bantamweight Champion. Like with Hagen, Buttrick also competed in wrestling, although she easily preferred boxing over it.
Despite Buttrick's status, it was clear she would be the underdog in this bout. Aside from having a 33 lb advantage, Hagen was also considerably taller than her Yorkshire foe, 5' 7" compared to Buttrick's 4' 11" frame. Nevertheless, Buttrick, nicknamed "The Mighty Atom of the Ring", utilised her agility and aggressive nature in an attempt to outmatch her bigger opponent. However, reports indicated that Hagen faced few concerns in this bout, securing a knockdown in the fourth round after landing a stomach blow. From there, Buttrick was unable to launch a counter-attack, and became breathless, requiring an oxygen tank in-between rounds to continue competing. Therefore, Hagen claimed victory after eight rounds via a unanimous decision. She was however full of praise for her opponent's resilience, stating "She's a real battler and I'm only sorry we both couldn't have won." This also proved to be Buttrick's only professional loss.
The match is historic from both radio and television standpoints. According to A History of Women's Boxing, it was the first women's bout to receive live radio coverage. Unlike with other promoters, Victoria Pavilion's were happy to showcase women's boxing, and were responsible for arrangements that enabled it to receive coast-to-coast commentary. Additionally, while the encounter was not the first to be televised, as a match featuring Jacqueline O'Neil was aired in the fall of 1951, various sources determine that the encounter became the inaugural nationwide broadcast. Following the match, Hagen built her profile still further, including facing Phyllis Kugler in an exhibition broadcast on The Steve Allen Show on 18th November 1956. She retired after losing to Kugler later that year, and would later join the US Marines. Meanwhile, Buttrick defeated Kugler in 1957 to claim the World Bantamweight Championship, the first world title award in women's boxing. Overall, she achieved a professional record of 30-1-1, and faced both women and men in more than 1,000 exhibition bouts. She retired in 1961 with her last fight occurring while she was four months pregnant. Nevertheless, she was still involved in boxing, firstly by becoming a ringside photographer, and later forming the Women's International Boxing Federation. She and Hagen were among the inaugural inductees into the International Women's Boxing Hall of Fame.
Ultimately, despite the significant nature of the bout, no footage or audio of it has publicly resurfaced. Regarding the television coverage, recordings were possible, but seldom occurred until videotape was perfected later in the 1950s. Radio coverage was more likely to have been recorded back then, but likewise the coverage remains missing.
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- Women’s Boxing Historical Database summarising the match and its television significance. Retrieved 26th Dec '22
- Women Boxing detailing the career of Hagen. Retrieved 26th Dec '22
- International Women's Boxing Hall of Fame announcing it inducted both boxers and noted their encounter was aired on radio. Retrieved 26th Dec '22
- Women Boxing detailing the career of Buttrick. Retrieved 26th Dec '22
- Kicking Off summarising Buttrick's career. Retrieved 26th Dec '22
- International Boxing Hall of Fame summarising Buttrick's career, including competing in over 1,000 exhibitions. Retrieved 26th Dec '22
- A History of Women's Boxing detailing Buttrick's career and noting her match with Hagen was the first to be broadcast on radio. Retrieved 26th Dec '22
- Web Archive article discussing how most early television is missing due to the lack of directly recording television. Retrieved 26th Dec '22