Duncan Mackay

Vitali Klitschko says the mere thought it makes him want to throw up and Amir Khan can’t bring himself to watch it, saying women should stick to tennis.

But like it or lump it, women’s boxing is here to stay, as several hundred female fighters from 70 nations will demonstrate when their world championships begin at the Garfield Sobers Stadium in Barbados next week.

The biggest-ever female fight fest since women first swapped lip gloss for gumshields is a prelude to the sport’s Olympic debut in London two years hence. You’ve come a long way, million dollar babies. Not least in this country.

In Barbados England have three representatives, at flyweight (51kg), lightweight (60kg) and welterweight (69kg). They are, respectively, Nicola Adams, 27, from Leeds and Amanda Coulson and Savannah Marshall, both from Hartlepool. All are members of the seven-strong GB squad which has been assembled to vie for the three Olympic berths. Two other members of the unit, Sharon Holford and Chantelle Cameron, will compete at the non-Olympic weights of bantamweight(54kg) and light-welterweight(64kg) respectively. Although the hard-hitting Marshall boxes at welterweight in Barbados she is being groomed to move up to the Olympic middleweight category of 75kg for 2012.

Whatever the detractors might say - and Klitschko and Khan are by no means alone in their chauvinistic shunning of ladies who punch -  women’s boxing is now flourishing, so much so that, as insidethegames revealed earlier, a girls’ tournament is on the cards for the next Youth Olympics in China.

All of which is particularly good news for 28-year-old Coulson, one-time suffragette of sock who helped clobber the early prejudice in Britain and is now rewarded for her pioneering spirit with a deserved place in the Caribbean sun.

Adams, who won a silver medal in the last World Championships, two years ago, has returned from injury and like Coulson, boxed with distinction in recent overseas tournaments. She may well win another medal.

No doubt the star of the show will be the redoubtable Irish girl, Katie Taylor, at 24 a two-times world lightweight champion and women’s football international. But it could be that one of the battling Brits will steal her thunder.

The 19-year-old Marshall (pictured) may be a woman of few words - that’s why they call her "The Silent Assassin" - but her fists certainly do any necessary talking.

She has stopped or ko’d almost half her 28 opponents, losing  only twice on points, the last time a couple of months ago when she forfeited her European Union title  on a narrow points decision in Hungary, winning the silver medal.

It was a bout that could have gone either way but Marshall acknowledges it as fair result and vows to do better in Barbados.

At least, that’s what we think she told us, because she doesn’t say much at all, and when she does it is in an almost inaudible whisper.

They say about young ladies that it is the quiet ones who usually turn out to be the tigresses, and they certainly don’t come any quieter than six-footer Savannah.

It isn’t that she is either timid or taciturn. She’s simply painfully shy, preferring the gift of the jab to that of the gab, a rarity in boxing where the ability to jaw as well as war is an inherent part of the game.

So more often than not it left to fellow Hartlepudlian Coulson and the Headland Club coach Tim Coulter to speak up for her. Says Coulson,  three-times ABA and European silver medallist (who incidentally looks more a candidate for the catwalk than a ringwalk). "When I started 13 years there was a lot of negative feedback, they didn't want girls in the gym. But they got over that initial shock that a woman wants to box and accepted her like they had eventually accepted me. I already knew Savannah through our families. She has been boxing for six years and is a natural hard hitter with real ability.

"She’s a fantastic athlete who tried most sports as a youngster and will naturally grow into the 75kg division. Really she’s just a kid at the moment and the fact that she is so shy and laid back could be a positive thing because there’s less pressure of you take it all in your stride as she does. Some people could fall apart thinking about the Olympics all the time. But to think that there are two girls from Hartlepool in the world championships and who are potential Olympians, well, that’s just amazing."

Coach Coulter adds: "When Savannah she first came to the gym I wasn't a fan of female boxing and I thought we'd soon get rid of her. So the next time she came in I put her in sparring with one of the decent lads and what surprised me the most was the aggression on her. When I got a glimpse of her face when she was going in for the attack it was a bit of a shock.

"None of the lads have held back on her. When they come from other clubs they say, 'I'm not sparring with a lass, am I?' But by the end of the first round they're trying to take her head off. You forget it's a female when someone's punching you hard in the face."

Marshall won all 10 of her junior fights, was European gold medallist in her fifth senior contest and once knocked down a leading male amateur, Steve Hart, in a sparring session. "She hits like a lad," Hart recalls ruefully, adding: "She certainly changed my mind about women’s boxing."

Marshall blushes modestly as you painfully extract the information that the punch was a body shot, her speciality. Clearly she doesn’t like to boast about her accomplishments, believing her actions in the ring, where she boxes with a maturity beyond her years, speak louder than any words. If it happens, she will embrace stardom reluctantly, baulking at the suggestion that she could become one of Britain’s biggest names in the Olympics. "I don’t know about that," she murmurs at the magnificently equipped GB squad training hg at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield. "I don’t realty believe in the stuff people say. Whatever happens, happens. I’m still learning."

Marshall has put on hold a proposed Teeside University course in sports science, in which she has a BTEC national diploma, to concentrate on her boxing career. "I just live for boxing, there’s nothing else .I never did much of that going out and drinking so I don’t really miss it now."

For her, that was quite a mouthful. My hunch is that while we might not hear much more from this likely lass with fire in her fists. we’ll certainly will be hearing quite a lot more about her.

Hopefully, her silence will be golden.  

Alan Hubbard is an award-winning sports columnist for The Independent on Sunday, and a former sports editor of The Observer. He has covered 11 summer Olympics, scores of world title fights from Atlanta to Zaire and has always been an advocate of women’s boxing