One of the most coveted prizes in Welsh amateur boxing is the so-called ‘Welsh vest,’ awarded annually to the best fighter, who then duly wears it with pride. One of the women boxers who covets it the most is Tamlyn Williams from the Sandfields estate in Port Talbot. It’s a sort of grail for her.
Boxing threw Tamlyn a lifeline when her teenage life was on the skids. She mixed with the wrong crowd who stole from houses, stole cars, stole from shops and stole from each other. At the age of 13, she was arrested for hitting a boy on the school bus and hitting him so hard he was hospitalised. Tamlyn eventually took up boxing, which helped her deal with the red mist of anger.
This gritty, revealing and well, punchy documentary – produced and directed by Steffan Morgan – underlined how bad things might have been for Tamlyn had she not stepped into the ring and given herself over to the discipline of the gym. Her brother Tysonne reckons she had to change, as she was dangerous and had a reputation in Port Talbot that it would be very unwise to mess with her. Indeed, Tysonne suggests, without the intervention, or compulsions of boxing his sister might not still be alive today.
Tamlyn was one of three boxers we got to know in the programme, and perhaps she was the one we got to understand the most, seeing her living alone, or at least alone but for the two dogs and the female corn snake and finding out both about her pulls of depression and the testing times when she looked after her sick mother who had a chronic lung condition. Tamlyn’s erstwhile training companion in Port Talbot’s Bulldogs Amateur Boxing Club, Nikkisha Green, works as a hairdresser in Morriston and her hard-hitting hobby comes as some surprise to the blue-rinse brigade at the salon.
Nikkita started boxing as a way of dealing with bullying about the way she looked but a love of the sport runs throughout her extended family. This brings its own pressures when they all attend a bout in Bristol, energetically egging her on. Her life seems to be in some contrast to 17-year-old Pippa Richards from the village of Dihewyd near Aberaeron. She was studying for 4 ‘A’ levels and donned the boxing gloves to prove just how much she could push herself without giving up, thus following her brother who had started fighting a couple of year earlier. As the only girl in the Penparcau club in Aberystwyth Pippa found it hard to find sparring partners who weren’t stronger or more powerful than herself, but despite a run of bloody noses in training she persevered.
We see her travelling over the border to the swish setting of the Cheltenham Pump Rooms where she loses a fight against local favourite Seren Bailey who rains down the punches and proves herself to be faster. One of the main themes of the programme was the dearth of young women fighting in Wales, leading someone like Pippa or Nikkita to train hard and diligently only to find that they have only a handful of competitive fights in a year, which therefore holds back any progression.
One of the best writers about boxing, A.J.Liebling, writing for the ‘New Yorker’ in the 1950s thought that television was strangling the sport by taking audiences from the boxing clubs and paydays from club fighters for, as he put it ‘Television gives so plausible an adumbration of the fight, for nothing, that it would be extravagant to pay your way in… men are becoming slaves of their shadows.’ Nowadays the big fights between name heavyweights fill stadia and command ginormous armchair audiences, while the amateur version of what Liebling called ‘the sweet science’ researched in clubs such as the ones at Port Talbot, Penparcau in Aberystwyth and Cwmgors has virtually gone underground, or at least become invisible.
‘Bocsio Merched’ gave the amateur sport its brief moment in the spotlight, showing how a trio of women has found something valuable in among the sweat, the skipping ropes and the sparring, between the relentless jabbing and the slippery feints. Tamlyn, Pippa and Nikkita have seemingly each found something strong within themselves, an inner steel perhaps and can very much stand tall as a consequence.
Bocsio Merched can be watched here.