1. Lady Tyger trained seven days a week in the months leading up to her unofficial debut match at Washington Heights’ Audubon Ballroom in 1974. The fight wasn’t legal—not with two women in the ring—but she sparred anyway. When she trained, she boxed with whoever showed up at the gym. The men who challenged her would purposely go for her face, pounding until her eyes shined. They didn’t want the big-eyed girl from Harlem in their gym, but she kept coming back. Once, a tooth had cracked jagged from her gums. She spit it onto the mat, then heaved her fists at the square jaw in the ring.
2. The Tyger staged a month-long hunger strike in April 1987. Women’s boxing had been sanctioned by the State of New York years earlier thanks to her efforts in the courts and the ring. She’d been victorious in several of her matches, even deemed a world champion, but something about the way Don King talked about their bodies, about the way they hit each other, didn’t sit well. She lost thirty pounds as she starved on King’s assurances that he loved having women in the ring.
The newspapers picked up the story immediately: starving boxer hungry for women’s lib. Reporters were especially interested in the fact that Tyger hailed from the ghetto, that her head was shaved, that her brother, a Pentecostal minister, had died in 1983 during a self-inflicted prayer fast. The sensation of it all pushed the story above the fold, until the narrative lost its burnished edges and fermented into a quiet fight for equality, a subject too familiar to keep readers engaged. But Lady Tyger kept right on starving, and eventually her hunger dulled to a slow, gray ache. The reporters did not follow up at the end of the month.
3. On the walk to her 1979 world championship bout, Lady Tyger is followed by a clutch of neighborhood kids. The boys and girls have drawn up signs with plans to stage their own makeshift parade. The Tyger is on the prowl, they sing and holler. Their parents watch from the windows of their brownstones, waving handkerchiefs and sensing the change in the air, the charge of newness. This Lady Tyger with the future in her strut and their children dancing around her, parrying against the encroaching night: the street lamps are little moons pulled in her wake. This woman is our sister, our daughter, they think. She will fight the battles that need to be fought, and she will win.
When the Tyger turns the corner to walk the last blocks to the arena alone, the families do not return to their tables and couches, not right away. The parents stay at the windows looking out on the lamplit street, their sons and daughters, all the brightness in their faces. And the children stay down on the sidewalk, their small hands shut tight into fists to shadowbox with telephone polls and mailboxes, just like the Tyger used to do, just like they’ll teach their own children someday.