Posts Tagged ‘Claressa Shields

25
Oct
18

Shelly Vincent: Fighting For The Positive

Shelly “Shelito’s Way” Vincent is a force of nature. Sporting tattoos, colorful hair, and a personality to match, she has pushed the boundaries of gender norms in a sport that is unforgiving at best when it comes to female participation in the sport.

Standing all of five feet tall with a nearly perfect record of 23-1 save for her one loss to Heather “The Heat” Hardy (21-0), Vincent’s outsized personality and constant motion in the gym gives her the appearance of someone much larger.

I had the opportunity to spend much of the day with Vincent a couple of weeks ago in Cranston, Rhode Island as she was winding down training for what will be the biggest, toughest ring battle of her life as she squares off against Hardy.

Billed as Hardy-Vincent 2, the pair will open the show on HBO Boxing’s last regularly scheduled boxing broadcast – in itself a remarkable feat as their fight will be only the second bout featuring female boxers shown on HBO during its long history. A championship battle, they will fight for the WBO Female Featherweight title belt at Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on Saturday, October 27, 2018.

The pair last fought in an historical bout in Brooklyn in 2016. Later dubbed the female fight of the year, it was also the first bout contested by female boxers broadcast by Premier Boxing Champions. Coincidently, their fight was on the same day Claressa Shields won her second Olympic Gold medal, something not lost on either fighter as they continue to push for legitimacy in the sport.

For Vincent, however, the “road” to the fight itself had been hard fought—and in the best tradition of boxing’s outlandish rivalries, Vincent had been calling out Hardy for years on social media and in person at Hardy’s fights to not only take her on in the ring, but to help build up the profile of their eventual contest.

She’s also had to fight hard for the rematch something she said she’d been promised, but as it was not forthcoming, Vincent was not shy about pushing for it, even “crashing” one of Hardy’s MMA bouts to press her case for the rematch.

Hanging with Vincent and her trainer, the highly regarded Peter Manfredo Sr., who has been training Shelly and acting as her ring guide for the past several years—one got the sense that while Hardy is a nemesis of sorts, there was also a begrudging respect that had begun to form, not only as fighters, but as women pushing the boundaries of a sport that doesn’t really seem to want them in it.

Still, of the first fight, Vincent voiced a number of issues that she felt hamstrung both fighters—but more so, herself.

“We only had three weeks to get ready, which means we only sparred about—six times, if we sparred to the max.”  The shortened time frame made cutting weight that much harder, and with the need to sell tickets ever-present, a mainstay for women if they want any chance to fight on a card, the pressure was immense. Vincent also owned to a certain amount of chaos in her life at the time that made focusing difficult.

For this fight, she and Hardy have had plenty of time to have a “camp,” and while Vincent’s life has had its ups and downs since the first contest, she is quite alone now and able to stay focused for the work ahead of her.

“You’re going to get ten today,” Manfredo said, as Shelly nodded wrapping her hands with practiced competence,  “The is the last day for it, for so many rounds.”

Camp has been good, a mixture of highly focused work with Manfredo at the gym in Cranston, and a lot of work on her own at all hours at the Seven Beauties Gym in North Attleboro, Massachusetts.  “To tell you truth, I haven’t been focused on anything but training, I don’t care about the promotion, I don’t care about nothing this time, and usually I’m the opposite.”

“I just want to focus on winning,” she went on to say, “Because she’s not beating me. I mean, I know I won that [first] fight. I didn’t back up once, I was landing body shots, I was landing combinations. She hit me more than I’ve ever been hit, but she didn’t hurt me … and I hurt her a few times. I mean she was hitting me with pot shots.”

In speaking more about the upcoming bout I asked her what she thought of their promoter, Lou DiBella’s likening their upcoming battle to the famed Gatti-Ward fights.

“I remember those fights. And they’re laying up in their hospital beds next to each other after. But you know what, it’s not going to be Gatti-Ward no more, after this it’s going to be Vincent-Hardy. It’s going to be the girl thing, it doesn’t have to be Gatti-Ward – let it just be us. When you think about it … when I beat her, ‘cause I’m beating her, then when we have the trilogy, that’s the first visual to a female trilogy and we can be remembered with those great trilogies.”

The rhythm of our day together was to have included Vincent’s training and sparring, followed by an interview with Manfredo and then with Vincent herself, but as I was beginning to interview Manfredo, he received word that his father passed away. It was a terribly emotional moment and after he left, Vincent and I sat down to make sense of it all in a life, that for her has been filled with tragedy, abuse, self-destructive acts, and the hard work of redemption.

“Family gotta come first, that’s like my father for real … I know he cares about me, outside of the ring, you know.”

The last thing, Manfredo had said to me was, “Shelly is really focused for this fight, the most focused I’ve ever seen her.”

Sharing this with her, Vincent nodded, and said, “Wow, he said that, he’s my father for real.”

Her own father disappeared from her life early on, and over the last few years she has felt the strength to share the horrific abuse she suffered at the hands of her stepfather and the experience of being raped at the age of thirteen. That is not something one just gets over and looking back on it she said, “I always wished I had somebody to talk to and I could have expressed all that stuff, because I feel I could have been a different person. So I always said, if I ever — because I thought I was going to be dead, but if I wasn’t dead or whatever from drugs or alcohol, I wanted to be that person for as many kids as I could, so that’s really why I walk out with the kids, and I remember before a fight, why the fuck I’m doing this.”

This mantra of sorts has pushed her to activism and has led her to be a role model for young kids who might otherwise go down a destructive path. She herself has had stints in prison for drugs and fighting, and wonders at times how she ever survived it, but of everything she’s experienced in her life, she credits boxing for showing her a path towards recovery.

“I didn’t get into boxing to turn pro, to make no money, not even to fight. I got in it to channel my depression and anger, and everything I had built up inside of me because that was the only time I wasn’t depressed because I felt that I was fighting back. When I fight … that’s why I wear the straight jacket, because it’s to symbolize the way women are tied down in sports, and me trying to break free of my demons and finally fighting back.”

Vincent has not been shy about revealing her sexuality as a gay woman, nor being clear that her appearance is her way of expressing who she is—and while she feels strongly that being outside of the “norm” of how women should look has her hurt, she is adamant that her self-expression is an important symbol of fighting back.

That self-expression includes a myriad of tattoos on her body and around her neck. The tattoos mean everything to her and taken together are her life.

“The right side is the dark side, the middle is change your world, and the positive comes out on the the otherside … Everything has a meaning on me, it’s not just there to be there, it’s like telling a story, if I was to die or anything, you could tell, it’s like you would read a book.”

Her story includes her boxing heroes, Ali, Tyson and Marciano, her mother, girlfriends, her nieces and nephews, and around her neck, the story of coming to 10-0 and what it symbolized to her as a moment of breaking free.

Still, she fights through depression as an almost daily battle to be reckoned with – making the boxing itself the easiest part of her day. In focusing for this fight, she has worked hard to strip away things to their core even eschewing some of the heavy weight training she has done in the past to focus on speed, stamina, and a fighters acumen for knowing how to play out her upcoming ten rounds with Hardy in the ring.

Whatever else is happening in her life, even the suddenness of Manfredo’s father’s death; right now, the upcoming bout with Hardy remains her focus. She visualizes the WBO title belt around her waist, as well as a third battle to round out the trilogy—only this time in her backyard. She also understands that at 39 years of age she is fighting against time.

Vincent knows this is the fight of her life, and if there is such a thing as a sisterhood of the ring Vincent and Hardy have much to share, as survivors, as activists in the sport, and as individuals who have figured out the best way forward is to come at life on their own terms as fighters.

Will this be another fight of the year – yes absolutely, but win, lose, or draw, what we can be assured of is both Vincent and Hardy will leave it all in the ring.

 

08
Mar
18

Exclusive Q and A with Alicia Ashley ahead of WBC title fight

Alicia “Slick” Ashley (24-11-1), with a career that began with her NY Daily News Golden Gloves win in 1996, is set to fight Dina Thorslund, a 24-year-old, 10-0 fighter on March 10, 2018, at Struer Energi Park in Denmark. The pair will fight for the interim WBC World Super Bantamweight Championship, a title Ashley has won, lost, and defended in some memorable battles.

At 50 years of age, Ashley continues to fight with incredible strength, stamina, and durability. And while she has not fought since defeating Liliana Martinez (20-16-0), in March of 2017, it was not for lack of trying, having had bouts canceled in that period. With her fight against Thorslund who has an undefeated record against European fighters, Ashley hopes to capture the coveted WBC title once again.

Alicia “Slick” Ashley, Photo Credit: Tim Knox

In the midst of preparing for the fight, Ashley agreed to an exclusive Q and A for Girlboxing readers. This is what she had to say.

  1. You’ve got a fight coming up on Saturday, March 10, 2018 against Dina Thorslund, a 24-year-old, 10-0 fighter from Denmark for the vacant interim WBC World Female Super Bantamweight fight. What should we be looking for in that fight?

I think it will be an exciting fight. She’s an aggressive, straight forward puncher and I will continue to be elusive, slick and faster counter puncher.

  1. You’ll be fighting Dina Thorslund on her home turf. She’s also an orthodox fighter and speaking of you in an interview, her coach, Thomas Madsen, said, “Her strength is clearly her technique and ability to slip punches. Her weakness, among other things, is that she is incredibly open when she attacks herself. Dina must put pressure on Ashley from the outset. She must also avoid chasing Ashley and instead focus on cutting off the ring.”  What challenges does this pose in terms of your game plan for the bout?

It will be hard for her to change her fight style and to put pressure on me without chasing me. My movement is not linear. I don’t move in the same direction and I throw punches off my movement. She tends to be very flat-footed because she wants to punch hard so I think she will always be two steps behind me. I don’t believe my game plan will change, if I have to adjust in the ring, I will.

  1. At fifty, you are more than twice the age of your opponent–not necessarily anything new for you given that most of your opponents are much, much younger. Given that you turned pro in 1999 when Dina Thorsland was five years old, what keeps you fighting?

The reason I continue to fight is because I love this sport and I’m not getting any damage neither from my training nor my fights. I’ve been fighting girls half my age since I turned 42, so yes this is nothing new.

  1. You’ve been training hard and consistently over the last few years and have given renewed focus to your training having begun working with Luis Guzman in New York and the great retired women’s boxing champion Ada Velez in Ft. Lauderdale, who will be in your corner at Struer Energi Park, on March 10th.  How has this renewed focused added to your repertoire in the ring, and what do you feel it will give you in your fight against Dina?

I will have not only Ada Velez who also fought here in Denmark, but my old trainer Hector Roca in my corner. I gained a newfound love for the sport when I started training with both Luis and Ada because of the wealth of knowledge that both these past fighters have. If Dina’s camp watches my previous fights and expect the same fighter, they will be extremely surprised with what I bring to the ring now.

  1. In 2014, I interviewed you ahead of a title bout and had asked you about the state of women’s boxing in the United States. A lot has happened since then, including the rising of female Olympians and the likes of Claressa Shields appearing as the main event on ShoBox: The Next Generation. In your view is this enough, or is there still much, much further to go in terms of promotion, regular appearance on televised boxing shows, pay equity and the like?

There is still much to do to bring any type of equality to female fighters. I see the exact same thing happening in the US now that happened 10 years ago when Laila Ali was around. The American promoters only showcase one rising star as opposed to leveling the playing field by showcasing a female fight on every card. The boxing audience has a short memory and seeing one female fight every 6-8 months is not enough to sustain growth in our sport. This is why MMA have leaped frog Boxing in female equity and why we are losing a dearth of female boxers to that sport. 

  1. This is your first fight in nearly a year, but not for lack of trying having had bouts cancelled at the last moments twice during this period.  What in your view is the reason for the continued inconsistencies of female fight promotion in the United States–and the continued need for you to fight overseas?

The inconsistencies are easily explained by promoters not believing or supporting women in boxing. Every fight that I’ve done overseas is a main event and has television coverage. The US promoters keep insisting that females are not a draw and do not sell but in every other country it is proven that we can and do. This problem rests solely on the promotion teams. Some big name promoters insist that they support women boxing but have yet to prove it if they only show men on television.

  1. You keep up a “ridiculous” schedule–training fighters from 6:00 in the morning till late at night, not to mention special weekend clinics, and your own training which consists of daily workouts and the extra two to three hours a day you put in for “camp” ahead of your fights. You are also a role model to so many of the female fighters you work with as a coach, a mentor, and as a colleague.  Given your years in the sport, what can you tell us about where we go from here in a professional, and frankly amateur world, that doesn’t consider the work and efforts of female boxers on an equal footing.

As you can see in this day and time, it isn’t just female boxers who strive to be on equal footing. This is systematic in the US in many sports and workplaces. As female boxers we have to join the #TimesUp movement and stop short-changing ourselves especially with pay. Over 10 years ago, I received $10K for a title fight, the fact that promoters are still offering $10K for a title fight now is ridiculous. There isn’t even a consideration of inflation. Male fighters going for their first title earn easily 10 times that amount and they are usually the opponent. We must stand up for ourselves.

  1. Perhaps you truly will be fighting professionally at 80, but regardless, what do you say to the young women who come into the gym wanting to fight?

This sport is brutal and sometimes unforgiving but to truly get the most out of it, you have to develop a true love of this sport. It will give you strength and self-esteem but it can do everything to knock you down. If you can get back up and start over again then boxing will give you the utmost satisfaction. I commend anyone who boxes.

02
Jan
17

Women’s Boxing Circa 2017

Women’s Boxing Circa 2017

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Amanda Serrano defending title against Calixita Silgado, July 30, 2016. Photo Credit: Behind The Gloves

While women’s boxing has been around since “modern” boxing began in the 1720s, its place in American sports consciousness began with a trickle in the 1950s and grew to a steady flow by the late 1990s before petering back in the late 2000s.

Boxer Christy Martin’s bout against Irish fighter Deirdre Gogarty on the undercard of a Mike Tyson pay-per-view championship in 1996, put women’s boxing on the “map.” Not two weeks later Martin was on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine in her characteristic pink boxing attire, and for the likes of boxing impresarios Don King and Bob Arum, it was a race to find other female fighters to add to the undercard of boxing bouts.

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Such fighters as Lucia Rijker and Mia St. John, while not household names by any means, were becoming known in the boxing community—and even sported decent pay days that could be numbered in the thousands rather than the hundreds. At the same time, women’s boxing became a sanctioned amateur sport leading to the development of a national team in the late 1990s. The beginnings of international amateur competition began in 2001 coinciding with the legalization of the sport in countries across the world.

In the United States, the entry of Mohammad Ali’s daughter Leila Ali along with other boxing “daughters” such as Jacqui Frazier-Lyde, thrust the sport into the realm of popular culture including covers of TV Guide and a myriad of talk show appearances. With Leila Ali’s ascendency, however, other American female boxers of the period such as Ann Wolfe, Belinda Laracuente, and Layla McCarter, could not find traction on pay-per-view cards or on cable, despite excellent boxing skills (frankly much better than Ali’s) and by 2010, it was hard if not impossible to find female boxing on American television.

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At the same time, internationally at least, women’s boxing was in an ascendency in such places as Mexico, Argentina, South Korea, and Japan, not only with opportunities for decent fights, but reasonable paydays, and most importantly, fights which were broadcast on television—and continue to be to this day, with female bouts routinely marketed as the “main event.”

International amateur women’s boxing was also on the ascendency culminating in the inclusion of women’s boxing as an Olympic sport in the 2012 Games in London. For such European fighters as Ireland’s Katie Taylor and England’s Nicola Adams, winning gold medals became very important national achievements leading to endorsements and other opportunities, not the least of which was recognition of their place in history and as role models for younger women and girls. For America’s boxing phenomenon, Claressa Shields, who at 17 was the first American female to ever win a gold medal for boxing, the usual promise of Olympic gold endorsements never appeared, and any sense that the inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympics would perhaps enable a resurgence of the sport in the United States did not materialize. The other American female medalist who won a bronze in the 2012 Games, Marlen Esparza, had slightly better luck in winning endorsements, with adds for Coca Cola and Cover Girl, and a certain amount of traction in the Hispanic community, but otherwise, her Bronze had little effect on the sport as a whole.

In fact, women’s professional boxing has remained virtually absent from the airways in the United States with very, very few exceptions over the past eight years—and in fact, with respect to national exposure, i.e., network television or nationally televised cable boxing programs (ESPN, et al), such instances can be counted on one hand between 2012 and 2016.

The exceptions have been certain local fight cards such as New York City-based promoter DiBella Entertainment’s Broadway Boxing series, which have promoted and televised female bouts on local cable television channels. The same was true of a few of boxing champion Holly Holm’s fights in her local New Mexico market.

Some women’s bouts are also available live from time to time on US or internationally based internet pay channels at anywhere from $10 to $50 a pop. Otherwise, the only other means of watching female bouts has been on YouTube and other video services, where promoters may upload fights days after the bout. Viewers have also come to rely on uploads from fans that record all or some portions of female bouts. The clips are uploaded to social media sites such as Twitter, Instagram and now Facebook Live, in addition to YouTube, Vimeo, et al. Additionally, it is possible to watch international female professional boxing bouts via satellite television. International amateur female boxing tournaments are also available on occasion for website viewing, and certainly women’s boxing in the 2012 and 2016 games were available on the NBC Sports website, albeit, after much searching.

Three of the handful of professional female bouts broadcast since the 2012 London Games included, boxing champion Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano’s six-round bout which was televised on a CBS Sports boxing program on May 29, 2015, boxer Maureen “The Real Million Dollar Baby” Shea’s pay-per-view title bout on a Shane Mosley fight card broadcast in August 29, 2015, and the last nationally broadcast women’s bout on NBCSN, which pitted two highly popular local North East fighters Heather “The Heat” Hardy and Shelley “Shelito’s Way” Vincent for the vacant WBC international female featherweight title on August 21, 2016. This latter fight was the first female bout to be broadcast under the new upstart Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) promotion arm that has brought boxing back to broadcast television on NBC and CBS, as well as broadcasting on cable television outlets including Spike TV, NBCSN, and ESPN.

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Heather Hardy (R) defeated Shelito Vincent by MD in their ten round slug fest on August 21, 2016. Photo Credit: Ed Diller, DiBella Entertainment

Four months on from the PBC broadcast, with a second Olympic cycle resulting in Claressa Shields winning her second back-to-back gold medal at the 2016 Rio Games – the first American boxer, male or female to have won that distinction – the status of women’s boxing in the United States is at a crossroads of sorts.

Since 2012, mixed-martial arts (MMA) have made significant inroads across platforms on cable, broadcast and internet-based telecasts. Moreover, this increase in visibility has come at the detriment of boxing—with more and more advertising dollars being thrown towards MMA contests. Of significance, however, has been the increasing popularity of women’s MMA (WMMA)—especially since UFC, the premier MMA league added female MMA fighters to their roster. Beginning on February 23, 2013 (UFC157), UFC began broadcasting WMMA bouts.

With the announcer declaring it a “gigantic cultural moment,” Ronda Rousey, a former bronze winning Olympian in Judo, and the Strikeforce* bantamweight WMMA champion, easily defeated her opponent Liz Carmouche with a classic “arm bar” move and in so doing, established a new first for women’s martial sports. Rousey went on to capture the imagination of country with her girl-next-door looks, winning ways, and eventual appearance in films such as The Expendables 3 and Furious 7. This catapult of a female warrior in gloves (albeit not boxing gloves) to include being only the second female fighter to ever appear on the cover of Ring Magazine (to much consternation by the boxing community), did not, however, have any particular visible effect on the fortunes of female boxing, per se,

Her first loss, however, in UFC 193 on November 15, 2015, was to a female boxer turned MMA fighter, Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm. A highly experienced female boxing champion, Holm’s boxing career of (33-3-2, 9-KOs) while very impressive, never led to the kind of breakout name recognition or big dollar paydays that should have been her due, given her talents, and caliber of many of her opponents including bouts with such boxing royalty as Christy Martin and Mia St. John (albeit later in their careers), British boxing star Jane Couch who single-handedly created women’s boxing in England, and the truly fearsome French fighter, Anne Sophie Mathis. Ensconced in her hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, Holm enjoyed a loyal following and excellent local coverage, and while she was a known quantity in the boxing community; it was only with her forays into MMA that she was able to break through to a larger audience and a chance at bigger paydays and television exposure.

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The irony of a Rousy’s loss to a boxer was not lost on the boxing community (nor has the fact that Rousey’s recent loss in UFC207 was due to her inability to defend against her opponents unrelenting boxing “strikes”). A growing number of boxing writers who have also begun to champion the place of women in the sport with such features as Ring Magazine‘s monthly feature by Thomas Gerbasi.

November 2016 brought a flurry of attention to women’s boxing. Claressa Shields appearance on the November 19th Sergey Kovalev-Andre Ward fighting a four-rounder against former foe and USA National champion in the amateurs, Franchon Crews not only ended in a unanimous win on the cards, but the chance to see the fight live as a free streaming event. Shields has been quoted as saying, “It’s definitely a big deal, and it’s a big deal for women’s boxing, period …We really wanted a fight where we could put on a show.”

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Claressa Shields delivering a straight right to Franchon Crews in their four round professional debut on November 19, 2016. Photo Credit: AP Photo/John Locher

Boxing writers and Shields herself have asked if this will be the launch point for women’s boxing—and with Claressa Shields recent appearance on the cover of Ring Magazine in celebration of her remarkable back-to-back Olympic gold medal appearances, she is certainly an important figure to be reckoned with as 2017 looms—not to mention her 77-1 boxing record in the amateurs.

Ireland’s Katie Taylor also be turned professional in England in early December, and quickly racked up to back-to-back wins with the second one also broadcast live on Showtime’s streaming online service.

Additionally, in late November, Stephen Espinoza, Executive Vice President at Showtime stated they intended to include female boxing on the network in 2017—a first since 2009. Espinoza has been flirting with the idea of putting a female bout back on the air for the last couple of years—and has paid keen interest in the success of DiBella Entertainment’s local fight cards that have included such female fighters as Amanda Serrano, Heather Hardy, and Shelito Vincent.

In an interview with The Sweet Science, Espinoza is quoted as saying; “It’s been on our to-do list for a couple of years. It’s really at its capacity. But we made a decision we are going to prioritize it.”

The first event is slated to be a WBO women’s world super bantamweight championship with the remarkably talented Amanda “The Real Deal” Serrano (30-1-1) set to fight Yazmin Rivas (35-9-1) in what promises to be a hard fought bout between two technically proficient warriors.

AIBAs (the world international amateur boxing association) rules change just this past week may be the most far-reaching. All women’s amateur elite bouts will now be contested with in three rounds of three minutes each. The parity of the rounds and number of minutes per round is a first in the amateur world—and while elite men will still contest without helmets, there is further discussion of this otherwise controversial rules change that took effect before the Olympics in 2016.

With respect to the number of minutes per round—the normalization of the three-minute round will, in my estimation put pressure on the pros to accept this change, especially as amateurs with experience in the changed format turn professional. Given that in MMA men and women contest using the name number of rounds and same number of minutes per round, there will certainly be more impetus to push through three minute boxing rounds for women. Some states allow this already—such as New York State, but there has been reluctance to push for fights using three rounds based on the perception that women will want more money. Given the pay equity issues that already exist, there may be somewhat of a case to be made, however, with the push to three minutes, that last claim of women’s boxing being “less” than men’s because of the number of minutes in a round will be pushed aside once and for all.

Showtime’s potential entry into broadcasting female boxing along with signs that boxing sanctioning organizations are beginning to put resources into the sport led by the World Boxing Council which has now held two consecutive WBC conventions devoted solely to women’s boxing may help further propel the sport back into a more prominent place in the United States—and in place such as the United Kingdom.

Time will tell whether this actually happens, but as always, I remain hopeful!

 

*Strikeforce was an MMA and kickboxing league operating out of California from 1985-2013. WMMA practitioners such as Mischa Tate and Ronda Rousey were important champions and helped prove the case for televising female MMA bouts. They were particularly popular draws on Showtime. Strikeforce was bought out in 2011 by Dana White and its roster eventually folded into UFC.

 

 

15
Nov
15

Thoughts on Rousey v Holm

Thoughts on Rousey v Holm

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The kick seen ’round the world: Women’s Boxing champion Holly Holm (l) took down Ronda Rousey in the second round of their UFC Women’s Bantamweight championship in the co-main event of UFC193. Photo credit: Paul Crock/AFP/Getty Images

By now, the kick seen ’round the world has played out across countless twitter posts, Instagram photos, newspaper headlines, YouTube replays, and conversations, casual and otherwise at gyms, across breakfast tables, on subway platforms, and in every other place one can think of where people stop to shoot the breeze.

Even my sixteen year old daughter and her pals were full of opinions this morning, to a person, cheering on Holly Holm for her stupendous and stunning win over Ronda Rousey, to capture the UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship title in the co-main event of UFC193. A bit of schadenfreude aside, for what has been interpreted as arrogance on the part of Rousey towards the boxing world, male and female, Holm’s picture perfect performance, quick hands, and focus, have brought into sharp relief, Holm’s superior multi-dimensional skills, ring savvy, focus and insistence, that if boxing couldn’t bring her the attention, opportunity and exposure she needs, then switching to MMA would.

That Rousey has garnered the attention she has received since bursting on the scene at Strikeforce, and becoming the first female to crack Dana White’s all male Ultimate Fighting Championship bastion, has been nothing short of phenomenal. She has garnered well-deserved accolades and a cross-over recognition into the wider public consciousness of a female martial sports practitioner that hasn’t been seen since the hey day of Laila Ali’s forays into the boxing ring.  One could argue that what Rousey has achieved is all the more stunning since she did not bring the name recognition of a famous father into the Octogan with her. What she did bring was a bronze Olympic medal in Judo, talent, gumption, and the kind of golden-girl good looks that get recognized, but that shouldn’t take away from her do-or-die performances in the ring and what that has meant to popular culture and the perception of what fighting females are capable of–very much on equal footing with their male counterparts.

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Holly Holm (l) with a left strike to Ronda Roussey during their UFC Championship bout. Photo credit: Quinn Rooney/Getty Photos

UFC193 is also notable for having had two-main events–both of which were female bouts.  A very, very long way from the kind of offerings UFC had on tap for its fans a mere two years ago.

But it is to Holly Holm and the women she represents we must really speak to: the female boxers who work hard day in and day out for peanuts, but who ply their trade anyway for love of the sport and the sense of accomplishment that comes with climbing into the ring. Holm came into her battle with Rousey not only with a 9-0 MMA record (now 10-0), but a 33-2-3 (9-KOs) boxing career behind her with a string of championship wins, and a veritable alphabet soup of titles to include WBC, WBF, WBA, IBA, NABF, WIBA, and IFBA (and maybe a title or two, I haven’t found).  She’s also fought, arguably, some of the best in the business to include such fighters as Chevelle Hallback, Jane Crouch, Belinda Laracuente, Mary Jo Saunders, Myriam Lamare, Anne-Sophe Mathis (who KO’d Holm in 2011 only to lose to her six months later) and Diana Prazak.

What is galling is that none of those battles, ten-round championship bouts all, with arguably the pound-for-pound greats in the sport, ever made it to Showtime or HBO or ESPN or were ever really known outside the tiny world of female boxing — and in Holly’s case, the local New Mexico sports community and their fans.

In fact, none of these fights were more than tiny ripples nationally, although blessedly Sue Fox’s WBAN was there to sing their praises if for no one else than folks like me who actually care about the sport and the women who put so much of themselves into pursing a professional career. And goodness knows while to a person, each of those fighters would deserve consideration at the International Boxing Hall of Fame, with the exception of consideration by the fledgling International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame (full disclosure, I am on the board), they will be forgotten, never mind having never really been known.

Still, those fights were sellouts, with screaming, cheering fans who LOVED  those battles and coined them as the “fight of the night.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 6.08.54 PMMore galling was to see Ronda Rousey’s face on the cover of boxing’s venerable Ring Magazine. Okay, okay, yep, I “get” it, she’s a true million-dollar-baby, but come on … she is NOT a boxer, and if the point was to honor the notion of female athletes in the ring, why not Holly Holm with an extraordinary record of achievement in the sport. But then again, perhaps I answered my own question, when it comes to women in boxing, there is utter silence, and not even Christy Martin cracked that code during her sensational career.

In the run up to the fight, Alicia Ashley, a champion many times over, who at 48, beat Bernard Hopkins by a month to become the oldest boxing champion in the world, said the following:  “I feel it’s insulting to traditional female boxers that Ring Magazine chose for its historic cover a female that’s not a boxer. I think a montage of iconic female fighters to reflect the evolution of women in the sport would’ve celebrated women more than creating controversy. The fact that female MMA fighters are more accepted than female boxers is a testament that the more exposure given, the more common place it becomes. The fact that Holly Holm and other females of her caliber are crossing over into MMA with increasing regularity because they are more [likely] to be showcased, which translates into increased pay or sponsorship can only be attributed to the lack of support women are getting from promoters. The sport of women’s boxing will not advance if promoters insist on using one female to reinvigorate it. It certainly didn’t happen with Christy Martin or Laila Ali and it won’t with Ronda Rousey if she is the only female shown twice a year.”

Perhaps the Holly Holm win, coupled with the achievements of female boxers in USA Boxing’s elite program coming into the second Olympic cycle, will bring promoters and sports television producers to their senses about the opportunities for the great female boxing battles to come. And perhaps too,  Oscar De La Hoya, who promised to put women on his fight cards at last year’s historic WBC women’s boxing conference will finally come through–though I tend to doubt it since his idea of promoting female boxing was to sponsor Ronda Rousey.  Hmmm.

Oh and did I mention that Claressa Shields, will have the opportunity to compete for the chance to win a second gold medal for the USA in Rio in 2016–another greatest story, largely untold (and no Wheaties box, surprised?).

Meanwhile, women’s boxing does have an extraordinary champion to cheer for in Holly Holm, and in what can only be described as a true female boxer’s style, she felt only gratitude at having been given that chance to prove her metal.

All I can say is this: Female boxers … this 60-something girl boxer salutes you!

Holly Holm’s tearful, humble acknowledgement of her win:

02
Nov
15

Melissa St. Vil – Ready to Rumble

Melissa St. Vil – Ready to Rumble

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Boxer Melissa St. Vill by the “wall” at Brooklyn’s world famous Gleason’s Gym. Photo credit: Malissa Smith

Melissa St. Vil is a boxer with plans.

Her first plan is to win the UBF World Female Super Featherweight title on November 12th at Martin’s Valley Mansion in Cockeysville, MD. With her 6-1-3 record, she’ll be fighting the more experienced Jennifer Salinas (17-3-0, 4-KOs), in her backyard, but that doesn’t seem to worry St. Vil. With just seven fights to her credit, she defeated Sarah Kuhn to win the International Women’s Boxing Federation (IWBF) World Welterweight title in August of 2013. And while St. Vil has only had two fights since them (in 2014), she feels confident that she has what it takes to win.

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The Royal Six boxers, Ronica Jeffrey (l) and Melissa St. Vil at the recent Breast Cancer event at Gleason’s Gym. Photo Credit: Malissa Smith

As a member of The Royal Six, a group of New York based female boxing champions (Alicia Ashley, Ronica Jeffrey, Sonya Lamonakis, Keisher “Fire” Mcleod, and Alicia Napoleon), she is actively engaged in promoting the sport, raising money for charity and helping to put together an all female boxing card in the spring.

Winning world championships and promoting female boxing arent’s her only plans. She also wants to give back. To make a place of safety and sanctuary for girls and women to overcome violence and to find a place for themselves in the world. With her infectious laugh, it is hard to imagine that St. Vil would have ever known pain or violence–but she did. As with many of us the world over, it’s the fighting back to take possession of one’s own life that is the biggest challenge.

Melissa was kind enough to take time from her training with Leon “Cat” Taylor and Juan Guzman to speak with Girlboxing readers about her upcoming fight. We didn’t touch upon the dark stuff at all–just talked about boxing, moving on in life and her passion for the sport.

Here’s what she had to say:

01
Nov
15

Olympic Trials- The Finalists

Olympic Trials- The Finalists … with one to come

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Triumphant Flyweight Virginia Fuchs (l) and Middleweight Claressa Shields have won their respective finals at the 2015 Olympic Trials in Memphis, TN. They have earned the right to compete at the Continental Olympic Qualifier in 2016 as USA Boxing Olympians. Photo Credit: USA Boxing

Flyweight contender Virginia Fuchs had her night of relentless technical execution and determination that led to the 2-1 unseating of the 2012 bronze medalist Marlen Esparza.

Reigning Olympic gold medalist in the middleweight division Claressa Shields had her 3-0 night, fending off her challenger, Tika Hemingway, who’d loudly proclaimed that she’d take it from her. Shields had other plans and after outboxing Hemingway with an impressive performance, became the United States only two-time female boxing Olympian.

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Lighweight Jajaira Gonzales (l) lives to fight another day against Mikaela Mayer. The box-off is set for 4:00 PM on Sunday, November 1  at the Cook Convention Center South Hall in Memphis, TN. Photo Credit: USA Boxing

And lightweight upstart, 18-year-old Jajaira Gonzales, pushed the envelope in her win over Mikaela Mayer to make it one a piece. Today’s box-off will decide which of these two warriors will represent the United States in the Olympic qualifiers next year. Both fighters bring a lot to the contest. Mayer has strong technical abilities and with her longer reach can box tall, whereas Gonzalez brings aggression, pressure and fast hands that seem relentless. For all her youth, Gonzales has won impressive international titles readily matching Mayer’s competitive fire.

Stand ready to applaud them all!

Olympic Trials for Women’s Boxing Results
112 lbs: Virginia Fuchs, Kemah, Texas, dec Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas, 2-1

132 lbs: Jajaira Gonzalez, Glendora, Calif., dec Mikaela Mayer*, Los Angeles, Calif., 3-0

165 lbs: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich., dec Tika Hemingway, Brackenridge, Pa., 3-0

*This is Mikaela Mayer’s first loss. Championship box-off between Jajaira Gonzalez and Mikaela Mayer will take place at 4:00 PM on Sunday, November 1 at the Cook Convention Center South Hall.

31
Oct
15

Olympic Trials- The Challengers!

Olympic Trials- The Challengers!

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At 18, Jajaira Gonzalez (l) defeated veteran champion Tiara Brown, for a place in the 2015 Olympic Trials finals against reigning USA National lightweight boxing champion Mikaela Mayer. Photo Credit: USA Boxing

Each of them has endured a loss.

Each of them has fought through that loss and will meet the winner of that contest in the ring on Saturday night for a chance to come away as a prospective Olympian poised to compete on the world stage for the opportunity for a final berth at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.

Each battle for the right to fight in the finals was hard-fought and in some cases, fraught with history as veterans who have encountered each other before in the squared circle knew it was all down to what happens in four rounds of action.

 

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Reigning Olympic flyweight bronze medalist, Marlen Esparza (r), was redeemed last night when she defeated Christina Cruz. Esparza will face Ginny Fuchs in a rematch in the Olympic Trials final. Photo credit: USA Boxing

For the reigning Olympic flyweight bronze medalist, Marlen Esparza, it meant redemption and being on a track for what seemed inevitable at the beginning of the week before she was stopped cold by Virginia Fuchs. In defeating, Christina Cruz, a fighter’s fighter who fought a brilliant outsider’s game with angles and heart, Esparza is now pumped up to rewrite the script with Fuchs and come away with what must feel like her rightful place.

In the lightweight division, the 18-year-old, punches-in-bunches phenom, Jajaira Gonzalez, who’d fought Mikaela Mayer to a 2-1 split decision in their battle, came away victorious over 2014 World Championship bronze medalist, and three-time USA Boxing National Champion, Tiara Brown. Gonzalez, a Junior and Youth World Champion, used aggression and pressure to counter Brown’s veteran technical ring savvy in carving out the 3-0 decision.

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Tika Hemmingway (l) claimed victory over Raquel Miller in the middleweight division. Hemmingway will face reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields in the Olympic Trials final. Photo credit: USA Boxing

For former champion Tika Hemingway, contesting for a berth in the finals against reigning Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, there was an inevitability to her win over Raquel Miller, even though the battle was closely contested with a lot of back and forth in momentum and opportunities to be exploited. No matter who fights Hemingway, there are always costs. She is hard-hitting and physical in the ring–and while she’s lost once to Shields in the Olympic Trials, she’ll fight just as hard tonight for a chance to win.

Win or lose, the 24 women who have come to Memphis to fight for a place at the Olympics are each momentous in their drive, determination and skills as boxers. It is no easy feat to compete at the level of Olympians, harder still for women, and, in my estimation, hardest for female boxers who not only must seek out opportunities for support during their four-year odyssey for a place on the team, but must also endure the slights and prejudices of a wider public that rarely support women in the ring. That it has come down to the three contests tonight is miraculous, but let us not forget all of the days and nights of training and competing in rinky-dink rings with barely enough money for car fare. That USA Boxing has developed a cadre of elite fighters it supports for this go around is fantastic, but there needs to be more. More excitement, more opportunity and much, much more respect.

Watching many of these young women compete at the National Women’s Golden Gloves in July, my heart was overwhelmed by the bravery and humbleness they exhibited both in the ring and out. As a body sport, boxing teaches humility and to step inside the ropes is to exhibit physical and mental strength that is honed through thousands of hours of hard, hard work.

So whatever happens tonight, who ever winds up our Olympians, do applaud all of the women who have fought and dreamed.  They deserve it.




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© Malissa Smith and Girlboxing, 2010-2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Malissa Smith and Girlboxing with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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