Published: 14:58 | 2/9/20

Top Rank's Crystina Poncher talks to eir sport

Crystina Poncher is one the leading female sports broadcasters in the United States. She talks to us ahead of Saturday night's world title fight between Jamel Herring and Jonathan Oquendo Jr. which is live and exclusive on eir sport 1 from 12.30am.

A familiar face and voice to boxing fans worldwide, Crystina will be lead commentator on Saturday night's fight in Las Vegas. 

How did you get into sports broadcasting and was it always something that you wanted to do?

Very much so, I knew from 12 years old that I wanted to be involved in sports. I’ve been playing sports all my life and growing up in Southern California, we were blessed with teams like the Lakers and the Dodgers and some of the most prominent franchises in sport, and listening to their announcers like Chick Hearn and Vince Scully. So when I grew all of 5 feet 4, being a basketball player I knew having a career wouldn’t go much further than high school. So I decided to study broadcast journalism knowing I wanted to be involved in sport and got my Bachelors Degree and an internship while I was in college with a local Fox affiliate in Los Angeles, and that’s where it all started. I always knew I wanted to be a sports broadcaster since I was young, so I'm definitely living my dream for sure.

Boxing is a crazy sport, what is it that attracts you so much to it?

If you told me I would be involved in boxing back then, I’d have been “yeah right”. There were no women in boxing, they don’t call boxing and I didn’t see it when my family would have fight parties. But, from my first fight on, I was hooked. It was the only individual sport that I had paid attention to. I had always covered and watched team sports growing up  - other than tennis as my Mom had tennis on sometimes.  The fact boxing can change at any moment - yes, there is a designated length for a fight, but you don’t have four quarters or two halves, anything can happen at any time and all of those elements were really exciting to me. Also the fact that an underdog, particularly in the higher weight classes, can land a punch that will cause an upset. For someone who is very much a planner in my normal life, the unforeseen and the spontaneity of it all attracted me to the sport.  

Do you feel you are a trailblazer for females in the boxing industry?

In boxing more so than anywhere else as other sports have taken huge strides in putting women in different positions. I didn’t think about it in my early days, but as I began to shift from reporting and hosting to doing more commentary, and now in the last year doing more play by play and realising that I never saw anyone in that position before me other than Claudia Trejos. I didn’t watch her when I was younger, but in doing my history and being a student of the game and her being able to do it in English and Spanish, I thought OK, so maybe there is a chance and people will give me a shot - albeit years after she did it.  I think it was at that point where people were saying “there’s no other women calling boxing right now"….like really, nowhere anywhere.  I think that lead role on the broadcast really gave me the opportunity to do something special here - and not just for myself, but for the young girls watching with their Dad and their brothers or Grandpas to hear a woman’s voice and think that they could do something that they would never have heard or seen someone doing it.  With that I take great responsibility and I have accepted that role gladly.

Do you feel added pressure or do you feel now it’s a case that people accept you as a broadcaster rather than a female broadcaster?

I definitely feel pressure and I probably feel it more so than my male counterparts because I feel I'm probably being listened to more closely or judged a little bit more despite the fact that plenty of my male colleagues have never pulled on gloves and boxed professionally either. It’s just how it goes being a woman. You also have people who say “she’s good, she knows what she is talking about, but I don’t want to hear a woman’s voice in boxing”. It’s one of those that’s taken a while for people to adjust to, but I do think that the foundation I have in sport and now being in my tenth year has helped people understand that I am not an experiment, it’s not for the sake of equality.  I have put in the work, I have put in the time, and I have garnered a lot of respect not only from the fighters that I have covered over the years, but from networks and from colleagues to say “no, she has earned this shot”.  That has helped me a lot with fans because I am not somebody new. It’s not a case "oh she’s cute, let’s give her a shot", I have definitely put in the work and I think if you ask the fighters I have covered or those who I have worked with, they would agree. I think it’s the new people tuning in to some of these fights and thinking “what’s this woman doing here?” and don’t know me or my history maybe question it a little bit more.

The profile of women’s boxing has certainly risen in the past 24 months. Our own Katie Taylor has a huge profile here and has a crossover appeal.  She is a national hero and has been for some time.  You also have others such as Claressa Shields, Cecilia Braekhaus, Jessica McCaskill, and Mikaela Mayer all making positive headlines in recent times.  What do you think is the next step for women’s boxing?

There’s different levels, I think, for the women. I think it’s getting paid a little bit more and getting the advertising and sponsorships that will bring a little bit more attention. Networks and promoters need to be willing to take a chance to put them in those TV slots to get that exposure. As you say, in the last 24 months, there’s been a big resurgence and it's fantastic when you have better quality fighters fighting each other and organisations finally putting out pound-for-pound rankings.  Probably two years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to come up with a top ten or even know who those top ten were. So I think it’s partly the women doing their job in terms of promoting themselves on social media to bring in attention and garner sponsorships and then the networks and promoters being able to give them the opportunities to have the exposure that more of the men get. I think a lot of the women would like to fight the three minute rounds as opposed to two. That would make it a little bit more equal. But the money aspect at the moment - it’s not even close. Unification fights and travelling to other countries to fight for titles, that all helps.

What is your stand out moment in your broadcasting career so far?

It’s hard to pick one. A huge moment for me was maybe five years ago now. We streamed a media workout live with Manny Pacquiao from Times Square that I hosted. People were sending images of me up on the NASDAQ board in Times Square - I was like "WOW!" My face is in Times Square, that was an incredible personal career moment, because I never ever thought I would have that opportunity. A lot of my big moments were in that Pacquiao period because of the magnitude and the scope of star that he was. When he fought Brandon Rios in China, we all climbed up the Great Wall did an interview with Pacquiao up there, and I’m thinking “this is incredible”. Of course, there are big fights I have been able to cover: Pacquiao v Mayweather and those moments were huge being able to interview them both leading up to the fight.  And then getting the opportunity to do a whole card on play by play was another huge breakthrough and standout moment. The first time I did it was in my home town where I grew up. It was the only ever fight card we had done there and, to be able to do that in my backyard in the Hangar at Costa Mesa, that really stands out for me.  All of my family were there, it was very surreal. 

Most difficult moment?

I remember being in a locker room and I won’t name the fighter. I was doing a live interview with the trainer and the fighter and his team proceeded to pull down their pants to try to throw me off and distract me. They thought it was funny. This would never happen to one of my male counterparts, so I held it together for the interview and just walked out totally disgusted afterwards. 

What are your thoughts on the upcoming Jamel Herring v Jonathan Oquendo fight?

I am going to keep my fingers crossed that everything works out with testing as it’s the third time they have tried to make this fight after Jamel had COVID-19 for the original planned fight, and then retested positive for the rescheduled date. I do think it’s a good opportunity for Jamel.  He was in a tough fight with Lamont Roach and considering what happened late in that fight, where he got clipped with a big shot.  Oquendo has fought Roach before and lost to him, but I think it’s  a good opportunity for Jamel to get one fight under his belt in order to get ready after a long lay-off for a unification fight or the Carl Frampton fight, which is very likely.  Considering Carl’s level of opponent, I think this fight is just right for Jamel just now. That’s not to say that Oquendo doesn’t have a chance because he has fought the better opposition in his career and he has fought for a world title before. He is coming off the best performance of his career… 37 years old, and he last fought in November, so I am interested in what he is going to bring and maybe try to capitalise early on against Jamel, considering the three training camps he has been through at this point. Jamel is 34 and he’s been through a lot, he has literally been to war (he is ex-Marine Corps and served two tours in Iraq) and it does take its toll on you.

Have you advice for young girls out there hoping to make a career in sports broadcasting?

If you have aspirations to be a sports broadcaster, then I think you should try your hardest to get the education you need behind you first as there are some really great fundamentals you can learn on the basics of journalism - whether it be at university or a specialised school. I’d encourage an internship, that’s how I got my first opportunity and just study, ask questions, listen, practice, and believe if you really want to do something, even if it’s a sport that doesn’t have many women involved, then why can’t you be the first, why can't you be the one to make it happen? You have to put in the work and it’s very important to ask questions, don’t be scared or shy. That’s part of the internship, you have access. There are more opportunities at present in sports broadcasting in general and I hope that gives more confidence to these young girls who want to do that. 

Images: Top Rank

***Watch Jamel Herring v Jonathon Oquendo Jr. LIVE from Las Vegas this Saturday night from 12.30am on eir sport 1.

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