Neither the make-up artist nor ring card girl, Crystina Poncher eager to blaze a trail for women in broadcasting

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports
Crystina Poncher will call play-by-play for the Top Rank on ESPN card Saturday in Costa Mesa, California. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
Crystina Poncher will call play-by-play for the Top Rank on ESPN card Saturday in Costa Mesa, California. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

To those who closely follow boxing, Crystina Poncher has been a familiar face for nearly the last decade. She’s served as an interviewer in the ring and at news conferences for Top Rank.

She’s done color commentary on the broadcasts. And now, beginning with Saturday’s show in the shadow of where she went to high school in Costa Mesa, California, Poncher will make history by becoming only the second woman to do play-by-play on a major boxing broadcast.

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Claudia Trejos did play-by-play on boxing broadcasts in Spanish in 2010 on Univision, the only woman until now to hold the No. 1 seat.

Poncher will call eight or nine of the 11 fights Top Rank is putting on Saturday at The Hangar in Costa Mesa. The fights Poncher will call will be streamed live on ESPN+. Her partner and broadcast analyst will be former world champion Chris Algieri. The main and co-main of the card will be on ESPN, and Joe Tessitore will do those shows. Poncher will do most, if not all, of the rest of the fights, which will be on ESPN+.

Brad Jacobs, the chief operating officer of Top Rank, has been familiar with Poncher’s work for the last eight or nine years. He’s aware there is a dearth of women play-by-play voices on television across all sports, but he did not hire Poncher to make history or garner attention.

“Her being a woman had nothing to do with it whatsoever,” Jacobs said. “She is a talented broadcaster, she knows the sport, she knows the action and she has earned an opportunity. This isn’t something we gave her; this is something she’s worked for and earned on merit.”

Poncher, who began working for Top Rank in 2010 on a card headlined by Rafael Marquez against Juan Manuel Lopez, never dreamed of being a boxing broadcaster.

And as she’s traveled around the country doing shows, she’s met people who didn’t expect her to be a broadcaster, either.

She’s frequently faced sexism.

“I’ve had people assume I’m a ring card girl when I show up on site,” Poncher said. “I’d be like, ‘No, no offense to our beautiful Top Rank Knockouts who have so much else going on besides that, but no, I’m sorry, I’m not a ring card girl.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh, you work in the sport? What do you do?’ They never assume or guess that I’m a broadcaster.

“They think I’m a wife or a girlfriend, or a ring card girl or a stage manager. One person thought I was a make-up artist and told me, ‘Oh, the make-up room is this way.’ And I’d have to say, ‘No, I’m not here to do anybody’s make-up. I’m actually calling the fights.’ I’ve dealt with that a lot. I’ve had a lot of people ask me how I know boxing or when I got into sports. And I’ve always wondered, why does nobody ask my male colleagues how they know boxing or when they got into sports. Why is that a thing?”

“Her being a woman had nothing to do with it whatsoever. She is a talented broadcaster, she knows the sport, she knows the action and she has earned an opportunity. This isn’t something we gave her; this is something she’s worked for and earned on merit.” — Brad Jacobs, COO, Top Rank.

Poncher got into boxing by accident, and she wasn’t necessarily a fan at first. She graduated from the University of California at Long Beach with a major in journalism and a minor in communications. She was working for Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket as a sideline reporter on basketball games.

To make ends meet, she had a full-time job in the Fox Sports West business offices.

In 2010, Top Rank was looking to beef up its social media presence. They wanted someone who could interview the fighters at news conferences and put videos on social media. They reached out to Daniela Bolzmann, who was Poncher’s best friend since she was 6 years old.

Bolzmann told them she didn’t do on-camera reporting, but recommended Poncher.

The boxing crowd can be rough, and Poncher found that early on when she began to go on the air on Top Rank’s international feeds.

“Initially it was tough because boxing fans are just tougher than in other sports, I think, and they have higher expectations,” she said. “I was trained in broadcasting and I covered college hoops and I had covered the NFL and some high school football, but they wondered if I knew my stuff or why I was there. But I think what really helped me was that I was a sports reporter and I knew how to prepare and present myself on camera well. Although the subject matter was new and the athletes were new, the skillset required to do it was something I was comfortable with.”

Poncher said one of the things she hopes to prove is that women can do jobs that were once perceived to be the domain for men only and help other women in the process.

She is aware of the spotlight on her and called it a “huge motivating factor,” to help blaze a path for other women who are interested in a sports broadcasting career.

“I want to give hope to other women that this is a path that they could take and succeed in if they choose to do it,” she said. “I would be so proud and so thankful if the fact that I’m doing this encourages a little girl to try to go down this path and if it helps open door to so many qualified women who are out there.”

Crystina Poncher’s trail to boxing broadcasting is unique. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)
Crystina Poncher’s trail to boxing broadcasting is unique. (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

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