Professional women's boxing is to make its long-awaited debut on the BBC next month.
The corporation will broadcast the four-fight female card from Sheffield on October 7 under the auspices of Unified Promotions, launched last year by Susannah Schofield OBE, a British businesswoman and entrepreneur, one of the first female boxing promoters to be licensed by the British Boxing Board of Control.
The broadcaster will show the 'Women of Steel' fight night live on BBC iPlayer, with three short documentaries as shoulder programming. The BBC ended a 17-year hiatus in broadcasting live professional boxing in May when it screened a Welsh championship bout from Swansea, its first pan-UK live offering in the sport since 2005 – but this is the first time a non-amateur women's fight will have been screened.
The move has been welcomed by the British Boxing Board of Control. Telegraph Sport understands that if successful, the BBC could look at a series of shows next year on BBC3.
In the wake of the success of England's Lionesses winning the European Championship in July – the Wembley final drew a peak audience of 17.4million – Robert Smith, general secretary of the Boxing Board, said that boxing was benefitting from a spike in interest.
"The BBC showing boxing is fantastic," Smith said. "That they are showing this level of interest in women's boxing has to be applauded. We are very high up in the world in quality now and it is beginning to resonate.
"The catalyst was the London Olympic Games with women's boxing being included for the first time and it is now resonating from the profile with the likes of Katie Taylor, Natasha Jonas, Nicola Adams plus Savannah Marshall and Claressa Shields. As a sport we are now reaping the benefits a decade on. More and more women are being licensed and more young girls are being encouraged to take up the sport."
Schofield, the former commercial director at Royal Mail, and her CEO Richard Poxon, a veteran fight sports promoter, are intent on revolutionising boxing for women.
"We've had some incredible athletes emerge from the Olympics and elite amateurs, but then there's a major gap. We are going to create a gateway for women to thrive in this sport, where the focus is on them," she said. "We want to bring eyes to women's boxing, normalise it, and change perception. It has been nine months of discussion with the BBC and we are delighted that our boxers will be given the platform to showcase their excellence.
"The BBC hasn’t shown boxing for a very long time, so I feel very humbled and honoured to be able to put a pilot on for them and see where it goes. There are exciting times ahead. The BBC [showing fights] will help normalise women's boxing. We want to make sure that women get fairly paid and to make sure that we offer, as I say, a place of wellbeing and safeguarding for those sports, so to be able to normalise that on such a platform is exciting."
The 'Women of Steel' card will include Kristina O'Hara McCafferty, the 2018 Commonwealth Games 48kg silver medallist, and headlined by Lauren Parker facing tough Mexican Esmerelda Sagahon for the vacant IBO Inter-continental title.
It takes place a week before an historic 10-fight all women’s card in London, to be shown on Sky Sports and which was rescheduled due to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. "With our event breaking new ground and the 10-women fight card with arguably four of the leading women in the world on that card – Savannah, Claressa, Alycia Baumgardner and Michaela Mayer – we are celebrating a special time," Schofield added. "There is momentum now and the more eyeballs we can get on this sport, the more perception will shift.
"But away from the leading lights, it's important that people know the route young girls coming up have to take, and that the grassroots are supported, that they can be professional, make a name for themselves, and make a living. It's a process, and we are starting on that route now. They used to say that women couldn't sell tickets, but that is no longer true."