Queen Underwood

After fighting for years to get into the Olympics, female boxers will at last enter the ring at the London Games. "We just broke down that last barrier, that [final] guy-only sport," says U.S. flyweight Marlen Esparza, 23. NBC analyst Laila Ali, who followed father Muhammad Ali, a 1960 gold medalist, into pro boxing, says she never competed as an amateur because women couldn't aspire to the Olympics. "I'm just happy to see it now," she says. "Eventually it'll just keep growing."

Women currently compete in only three weight classes at the Olympics and fight four 2-minute rounds while men have 10 classes and box three 3-minute rounds.

"Sometimes it's hard to tell if there's a woman or a man there in the ring, because the competition level has grown so much in the past couple of years," says U.S. lightweight entrant Queen Underwood, 28. Middleweight Claressa Shields is the youngest U.S. boxer in London — male or female — at age 17. "They know how big the stage is," Ali says, "and they're definitely feeling the pressure. But I hope they don't let it get to them and just go and do what they've been doing to get to this point." And that's showing the world that punching like a girl is no punch line.

Women's boxing begins Sunday at 8:30am/7:30c on CNBC. The gold-medal bouts will air Thursday, Aug. 9 at 5/4c on CNBC.

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