In a world of left jabs and right hooks, Carol Polis stands out as a giant at less than 5’ tall. You see, she was breaking a barrier for women in the world of professional boxing in 1973, when she was appointed the first woman professional boxing judge in the world.
This wasn’t Carol’s life-long dream. She was simply tagging along with her husband, Bob, who was a professional boxing referee. She hated the fights and thought they were cruel and barbaric. By giving Carol a 10-second lesson on judging to pass the time, Bob had no clue what he was creating.
She knew to watch for clean hits, effectiveness of the blows, no fouls or low blows, technical violations, and aggressiveness. After her first attempt at scoring fights, Commissioner Zack Clayton thought her scores were so accurate that he recommended Pennsylvania Gov. Milton Shapp appoint her a professional judge. A few weeks after her appointment, her first fight as judge was between Jimmy Young and Ernie “The Acorn” Shavers, who is considered one of the hardest punchers of all time.
As a mother of four, who also raised her grandson, Carol served as judge for 27 professional title fights and two non-title heavyweight fights featuring Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes. Her home is adorned with photos of her with Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier and Sly Stallone, to name a few.
It doesn’t take much to imagine how receptive the “boys club” of the 70s was to having Carol invade their turf. A given snide comment she heard was “she should be home baking.” What the commenter didn’t know is Carol used the breezeway as an escape from the kitchen. Advice she received that helped her push through was “Don’t worry about what the newspapers say about you. Just make sure your name is spelled correctly.”
To combat the attitudes of the time, she persevered because, “I was raised a lady and taught to do the right thing. I was always polite. I had to prove myself. And after a couple of years, they considered me one of the boys, which was an honor.” She studied the boxing guidelines for a year and a half to be certain she knew as much as possible. Carol attributes her impartiality to never having been a boxer, whereas so many of her male counterparts were partial to the weight classes they had fought in and thus favored.
When judging a Don King fight that was part of the U.S. Boxing Elimination Tournament in Annapolis, MD, the fight ended with a unanimous decision and the loser was determined for revenge. While Carol was swiftly exiting the arena after the loser claimed he was coming for the judges, she saw something furry flying through the air as she headed toward the safety of an exit. True to his word, the boxer went for the judges who were seated close to sports commentator Howard Cosell. Take a guess what the furry thing was…yes, Cosell’s toupee was airborne.
Two days later, the FBI was knocking on Carol’s door because anyone associated with Don King was being investigated. King’s tournament promotions soon come to an end.
Were there any mistakes along the way? “Sure,” says Carol. “A huge mistake was judging my second professional fight with my emotions. I allowed a cute former jockey from Hungary, who was just my size, to still be winning at the end when he had been knocked down a couple of times. I was raked over the coals for that call, but it was a definite learning experience.”
In addition to her infamy as the first woman professional boxing judge, Carol was featured on the national game shows “What’s My Line” and “To Tell the Truth.” In “Rocky V,” that debuted in 1990, Carol appears in the film ringside as one of the judges.
In 2012, Carol completed her book, The Lady is a Champ, which details all the controversy in the world of professional boxing that she witnessed firsthand over 40 years.
What would she change if she had it to do over? Carol is quick to explain, “Keep in mind it was a very different time. I was trying to be a good wife and mother. I knew that boxing was my husband’s love, so I felt I had to take a back seat, even when there were forces trying to bring me to the front as the first woman judge.”
Should she get a do-over, Carol knows exactly what she would do differently. “I’d be more assertive and take every request that came my way, instead of turning down opportunities to keep peace in my marriage.” Regardless of what she turned down, Carol came out a winner and is our very own giant living right here among us in Cape Coral.
Contact Carol Polis at 239-984-2120 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for speaking engagements in Southwest Florida.