LONDON — Nearly every seat was filled in London's ExCeL Centre. As the fighters pummeled each other in the ring, the fans would chant for their nations and gasp when a big blow landed.
It was an Olympic boxing match. Only, for the first time in history of the Summer Games, the boxers were women.
Queen Underwood, a 28-year-old lightweight from Seattle, became the first American woman to appear in an Olympic boxing match, losing to Great Britain's highly ranked Natasha Jones (21-13) at London's ExCeL arena on Sunday in a preliminary.
The atmosphere for the bout between rival nations was intense: Fans chanted, cheered, jeered, stomped their feet and reacted to every big blow. Jones had the home-turf advantage, and overcame a strong first round from Underwood to win the final two rounds emphatically.
History was made for women's boxing in the day's 12 matches, the first ever on an Olympic card. But Underwood wasn't content with being the answer to a trivia question. Her journey had been too arduous — her father served six years in prison for abusing Underwood and her older sister — to settle simply participating at the London Games.
"I gave away half my life for this. Being here doesn't feel like enough of a reward," she said.
"History doesn't mean anything to me. The gold medal meant more," said Underwood. "It's a big moment for up and coming boxers. But for me to set goals for myself, being a part of history wasn't enough. I don't look at being an Olympian as great. I see bringing home a medal as great."
The fighters walked out stone-faced to Lenny Kravitz's "Are You Gonna Go My Way?", the fans clapping with the beat while standing to greet Underwood and Jones. Chants of "NA-TASH-A," "TEAM G.B." and "U-S-A" ricocheted around the room.
[ Photos: Women's Boxing gears up for Olympics ]
The judges earned boos when Underwood was handed Round 1, 4-3, thanks to a flurry of blows in the middle of the round, three lefts connecting with Jones' head. Jones caught her square in the face on one hook, making Underwood's nose wobble like a limp chip.
Jones rallied in the second round, 4-2, sending the crowd in foot-stomping hysterics. "I knew I was only ahead by one point. She sat back a little bit, and tried to box me more, and I had to move forward," Underwood said. "I felt it wasn't working, going forward the way I was. So I just decided to go for her after that."
The third round saw good defense from Jones and an absurd 8-1 score from a Slovak judge that helped her to a 7-6 score. Underwood came out hard in the fourth round, but tired after an early flurry.
How did she feel about the effort in a tough draw?
"If I could curse, I would say the S-word," said Underwood. "I hope the people who supported me can look at my journey as a champion instead of the outcome of the win or lose."
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The U.S. has flyweight Marlen Esparza and middleweight Claressa Shields still to fight in London. Overall, 36 women boxers will compete in the event's first year. Russian flyweight Elena Savelyeva won the first-ever women's bout earlier in the day.
"It was pleasure to make history. I tried to show my pride, it was an amazing thing to do," said Savelyeva to Reuters.
"It's a normal thing in Russia, there is no discrimination against female boxers. There was no pressure."
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