A term often used in the sports and entertainment industries to hype up a competition whose contestants are a mix of male and female.
The term has been used in movies since 1914, when D.W. Griffith produced a film by this name. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0003665/) This was redone again by Griffith in 1928 as one of the very first romantic comedies ever produced in film.
However, the term has been used much more in the world of sports, most famously in 1973.
Bobby Riggs was a famous tennis player in the 1950s, but he will forever be associated with his antics in the mid-70s. He defeated Margaret Court in a match on Mother's Day 1973, and immediately challenged the current women's champion Billie Jean King to a match that would be held September 20, 1973.
Riggs, who at 55 was old enough to be the 29-year-old King's father, insisted that he was the superior tennis player simply because he was male. The pre-game hype was drawn out in an endless series of press conferences and feature articles, with King suddenly becoming the poster child for the entire women's liberation movement. Riggs played up his angle as the evil oppressor, going so far as to wear a t-shirt reading "Men's Liberation" and bragging about his self-described chauvinism.
King handily defeated the huffing-and-puffing Riggs in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. The event was witnessed on television by more than 50 million people on television, ranking it near the Super Bowl and the Academy Awards in terms of popularity. King scored huge endorsement deals and made the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Her talent made her a household name, even though many men and women agreed that the match was a bit lopsided.
Riggs harbored no ill will against King, and the two remained friends until Riggs' death in 1995. Some speculate that the whole Battle of the Sexes match was orchestrated by Riggs to make a point that women are very skilled at tennis. Since the 1973 match, there has been no high-profile tennis match between the #1-ranked man and #1-ranked woman, which most see as a true "battle of the sexes."
On October 10, 1999, Margaret McGregor handily defeated Loi Chow in what was billed as the first sanctioned male-female boxing match in U.S. history.
Loi Chow, a trainer and a jockey by trade, stepped in to replace his student Hector Morales when Morales dropped out citing personal concerns. Morales would have been making his pro debut; Chow had been 0-2 in professional bouts with his last bout in 1996. McGregor, by contrast, had an extensive kickboxing and boxing background. Before the bout, she had a 3-0 record in pro matches against women.
The fight generated huge controversy but still went on as scheduled. A crowd of less than 3,000 filed into Seattle's Mercer Arena to watch McGregor pummel the pudgy-looking Chow for all four rounds. She won a unanimous decision, 40-36.
Boxing commentators and observers regarded the match as little more than a publicity stunt, particularly when the more talented Morales dropped out. It will go down as a footnote in modern boxing history.
Sources: http://www.geocities.com/Colosseum/Field/6251/malevfem.htm , http://espn.go.com/boxing/news/1999/1009/106430.html
On the lighter side of boxing, Fox's Celebrity Boxing II pit Joey Buttafuoco against WWE's Joanie Laurer ("Chyna"). In a huge upset, Buttafuoco won a majority decision against Laurer after dominating their three-round exhibition.
Seeking a publicity stunt all their own, the promoters of amateur fighting tournament "Cage Wars II" included a male-female bout among the 11 on the card. Amateur Muay Thai fighter Deborah "Sunshine" Fettkether, with a 4-1-1 record, was slated to fight construction worker and first-time fighter Randy Pittman. Pittman listed the extent of his experience as "fighting in bars."
The event was scheduled to take place on October 21, 1999, just 11 days after the aforementioned boxing battle, in Mesa, Arizona. Despite an appeal by Mesa mayor Wayne Brown to call off the fight, it went on as scheduled. Fettkether dispatched with Pittman 59 seconds into the first round, as Pittman had no idea what he was in for.
Sources: http://muscles_at_work.tripod.com/html/menvswomen02.html , http://espn.go.com/boxing/news/1999/1019/122880.html
The events of 1999 underscore the fact that in physical competition, some women can hold their own against men. Unfortunately, concerns about safety and professionalism have prevented well-known combatants from opposite sexes from facing off against each other. A bout between Mike Tyson and Christy Martin might be more credible as a boxing battle of the sexes, but even Don King wouldn't step up to promote it.
More generally, the term "Battle of the Sexes" has been applied to events everywhere from horse racing to ice hockey, and even to non-sports events such as academic pursuits. A simple Google search turns up references to the phrase "Battle of the Sexes" in every context imaginable.