Women boxers in Puerto Rico strive to break the barrier in the male-dominated sports arena

Stephanie Photo For MR
Stephanie Pineiro Aquino, a professional female boxer from Puerto Rico, fights a boxing match with Yamila Reynoso, from Argentina, on Feb. 11, 2022, at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez inBayamon, Puerto Rico. The boxing match “Choke Controversial” attracted 10,000 people in person, and many more viewed online. (Rika Kojima/Medill)

By Rika Kojima
Medill Reports

Boxing is one of the most popular sports in Puerto Rico. For some, it is not merely a sport but also a way of life. Puerto Rico has the highest number of world champions per capita in the world. There are also prominent female boxers. This video portrays some of their struggles and showcases the energy and ability of female boxers, featuring professional boxer Stephanie Pineiro Aquino.



Emilio Lozada: Well, boxing for me is the sport that saved my life. Thanks to boxing, I was not a delinquent; I did not fall in the streets. And for the country, it means something big, because it is the sport that has given more glory to the country. 

Gabriel Lamastus: Boxing is Puerto Rico’s national sport. It’s something that everybody has been involved in at some moment in their lives. And it’s life for a lot of us.

Naishka Rosa: It’s a reason to turn on the TV and watch ourselves in the television. Even Amanda (Serrano), there’s little girls watching Amanda, “Oh my God, I want to be her.” It’s inspirational. Even if it’s a less talented fighter, you still want to see yourself in your representation in the TV.

Stephanie Pineiro Aquino: Representing Puerto Rico for me is the greatest thing, I am very patriotic about it. I have always carried Puerto Rico in my heart wherever I go.  I feel proud of who I am, of where I was born, very proud of my people. I have a strong feeling about going out and representing my island and bringing a victory for my country. 

At first, they told me that this sport is not for girls. You are very pretty, go be a model or things like that. But after they saw my progress, and this is not really a sport just for men, but that women can also stand out and achieve great things. Nowadays I don’t get that kind of ridiculous comments.

Rosa: Not in this one. But I have gone to different gyms, and there’s kind of like, “You’re a girl, you’re not supposed to be here,” or you don’t get, like, they don’t talk to you straight, but usually primarily, like most of the people are so welcoming. But there’s always the old-school guys, the old-school trainers that don’t talk to you, they just talk to your trainer. So, you’re not, like, you’re not there. You’re, like, transparent.

Lamastus: I think it is a little bit more normal now for girls to be in the gym. But back in the day I have heard trainers and co-workers be like, “Oh, look at those shorts on those girls, doesn’t (look) appropriate,” or just criticizing girls without really having to criticize them.

Gustavo A. Olivieri: Last year, Amanda Serrano moved from featherweight 126 to lightweight 135, and she challenged the undisputed champion at lightweight, which is the Irish Katie Taylor. She’s an Olympic gold medalist, and she’s the undisputed lightweight champion in female boxing. They fought at the Madison Square Garden Arena in New York, which is considered the mecca of boxing. And it was the first time in women’s history, in boxing history, that two female fighters occupied the main event of a boxing show. It was the first time for Amanda and Katie to both receive purses of $1 million. Canelo Alvarez, the Mexican superstar – he’s considered boxing’s biggest superstar – he earns, per fight, a minimum of $30 million. Huge difference. Yes, huge difference between male and female.

Lamastus: It’s totally unfair. They should get paid what a guy gets paid. In female boxing, there’s not a lot of knockouts happening. There’s not that. If you look at the female records, there’s not that much knockouts. And the reason for that is because the fights are, the women’s ones are about two  minutes. They only fight like the guys that fight at three minutes. And that’s a big reason for that. They have less time. Title fights are 10 rounds.

Rosa: Get rich. 

Rika Kojima:Through boxing?

Rosa: Hell, yeah.

Kiria Tapia Rodriguez: Her dream is to be a world champion.

Yamila Reynoso: Yes, I have a dream, and I’m going after the world championship. 

Pineiro Aquino: What motivates me to go to the gym when I don’t really feel like it is the desire to progress and to continue raising women’s boxing and to continue to grow so that these young women who follow me can be inspired and to be able to continue opening doors for these girls.

The first thing that comes to my mind when I’m in that moment, I don’t think about anything, I only think about getting the victory. I am really in war mode. I’m doing my job. All the work that I practiced and worked on in camp. We practice so much in camp, the combinations and everything, that in the ring what my coach taught me really comes out on its own. It’s as if my muscles remember it. With so much practice that we’ve had in camp, it pretty much comes out by itself.

I think it’s something in our genetics. We, women from Puerto Rico, have a warrior in us. We work hard for everything we set out to do, and we keep going and going, and we work hard and hard until we achieve our goals.


Filmed in Puerto Rico in Feb 2023 with the support of Head Coach Gabriel Lamastus, Team La Perla.

Rika Kojima is a Medill graduate student in Social Justice specialzation. She loves making documentaries of underrepresented communities through social justice lens.  You can connect with her with Linkedin