Now on Olympic stage, women’s boxing had difficult beginning

With an overflow crowd buzzing, the bass bumping to “We Will Rock You” and a moment with far-reaching consequences just seconds away, 16-year-old Dallas Malloy took a deep breath and entered the boxing ring.

Time slowed and her aggressiveness took over as she pummeled 21-year-old Heather Poyner in three efficient rounds for a unanimous victory.

“It wasn’t close at all,” Malloy said of the bout, which took place on Oct. 30, 1993 in Lynnwood, Wash. “I pursued her for three rounds, and she got in punches, but I clearly landed more.”

Malloy had won the bout in nine dominating minutes; she had fought and won a much more lengthy battle before that. Malloy and Poyner became the first females to compete in a sanctioned amateur bout that night at Edmonds Community College in suburban Seattle. Malloy had battled USA Boxing for nine months to earn the right to fight.

Later this month, women’s boxing will have cleared its final hurdle when the first matches are fought at the London Olympics. Malloy’s career in the ring ended almost as soon as it began, but her legal challenge and crowning moment led USA Boxing to open the rings to women and paved the way for the first Olympic medals to be awarded in the sport.

Malloy became interested in boxing in 1992. She trained and sparred only with men. It was, after all, a man’s sport at the time.

“The guys would razz me, but because I stuck around and they didn’t faze me and they saw me coming back and doing the work, they accepted me,” Malloy said.

With her skills developing but no arena in which to fight, she turned to the legal system to take on USA Boxing, which had never sanctioned women’s fights. The American Civil Liberties Union enlisted attorney Suzanne Thomas to take on her case.

“When the ACLU contacted me, we honestly thought it would be a matter of educating folks,” Thomas said. “We thought it would be a quick matter of saying, ‘You don’t have the legal rights to disallow her simply because she’s female.’”

Malloy and Thomas quickly learned it would not be that simple.

With USA Boxing refusing to step aside without a struggle, the matter was taken to the courts. After months of preparation, a complaint was filed in March 1993. In early May, the request for a temporary injunction against USA Boxing was approved — a very fast decision for litigation, Thomas said — and the organization decided not to pursue the matter.

“Dallas was so thrilled,” Thomas said. “She was enthused about finally being able to bring her talents to competition after taking the initiative to make it what has turned into a worldwide event.”

Although the courts opened the door for Malloy, public perception was not as quick to embrace her — including an initially disapproving father and persistent questions about why she would even want to fight.

“To me, it was an annoyance more than anything,” said Malloy, who now resides in Los Angeles. “Why not ask me about my skills and the type of training I do?”

Malloy brushed the skepticism aside and remained focused on training for her first bout while being pulled in many directions — including appearances on “The Today Show” and “Dateline.”

The night of the fight — the college gym filled in anticipation of the moment — Malloy entered the ring with an American flag. She was the aggressor throughout.

“Seeing her beam when she took her mouth guard off and seeing her smiling ear-to-ear was an unforgettable moment,” Thomas said. “I hate boxing, so I was a little squeamish about attending, but I can remember the tingling sensation I had about how special it was to see this young lady who had given so much of her own efforts come out on top.

“The folks we had been dealing with at U.S. Boxing came up to me and said, ‘Those two ladies were two of the best boxers on our card today.’”

Malloy said she can still remember the raw emotions of hearing the announcer say she had won in a unanimous decision.

“All your senses are overloaded,” she said. “I knew I was doing well, but I didn’t know I was winning by that much.”

Malloy, who opened the doors for a sport that has finally made it to the Olympic stage, did not continue in the ring. She ended her boxing career shortly after the fight to pursue acting and began abusing alcohol and drugs. She is a working actress and is a successful bodybuilder and says she has been clean for more than 15 years.

“I just wanted to pursue other things,” Malloy said of her decision to quit fighting. “I live life without regrets.

“People don’t necessarily understand, but who cares? I get criticized by people who can’t even begin to know the situation. I will always love boxing.”