Saved by the Bell

When I first came to Austin, I fought to live. Now, as a professional boxer, I live to fight.

by Ann Wolfe

I’M FROM THE STREETS. I grew up in Louisiana, and my parents died when I was eighteen. My mother died from cancer, and my father was murdered. About three and a half years after that, my brother was murdered in Austin, so I moved here in 1992 to find out what had happened. It was a hard life. I was homeless, and I slept under a bridge. But you know what I found out? That if you want to be someone, people will help you.

In Austin I didn’t have a driver’s license or a Social Security card. Even the Salvation Army had an identification system, but being there was worse than being on the streets. They put women and children with drunks and dope addicts, and it wasn’t safe. So I learned how to ride the bus all day. I learned how to go to a Wal-Mart that stayed open all night and to the hospitals when it was cold. If you don’t have medical insurance and you go in at ten o’clock, twelve o’clock at night, they can’t see you until the morning. But guess what? You stay warm all night.

One day, in 1996, I was sitting in the hospital, and I saw two girls on television boxing. I was always athletic; I played basketball, football, baseball, everything. And I had to fight on the streets sometimes whenever someone tried to take what I had. Believe it or not, it was the men that tried to take things, not the women. And to tell you the truth, if I hit someone one time, I would hurt ’em. On the streets you have to defend yourself. If you’re weak, you die. A lot of people don’t understand that. So when I saw these girls fighting, I thought, “They get paid to do that?”

So I started looking around at gyms. I went to the Montopolis Recreation Center, and that’s where I met Donald “Pops” Billingsly, the trainer I have now. I said, “Will you train a girl to box?” And he said, “No, I ain’t never trained a girl how to box.” I said, “If you train me, I’ll stick with it. I won’t leave.” I was in the gym the next day, and that was it. When I started hitting that bag, for the first time in my life, I felt in control. I took out all of my frustrations when I started boxing: about the death of my mother and my father and my brother. Boxing isn’t about aggression; boxing is about thinking.

I turned pro in 1998, and now my record is 22-1 with fifteen knockouts. Last year I became the first boxer—man or woman—to have won four world titles in four weight classes, and in August I defended my light heavyweight title against Texas fighter Valerie Mahfood. There are a few more women that I could fight, but they probably wouldn’t have the record or the experience. I’ve tried to fight Laila Ali, Muhammad Ali’s daughter, who holds the super middleweight title, but she hasn’t agreed to it. In fact, she was offered the biggest purse of her career to fight me, but she turned it down.

This month I’m fighting a veteran boxer from Mississippi named Bo Skipper in the first sanctioned fight in history between a man and a woman. He says he hopes I “ain’t sucking soup through a straw,” and it just goes to show that Bo Skipper has no real respect for the sport. Everybody who’s anybody knows that he isn’t one of the top athletes in boxing. It’s a shame that he’s making this fight the way it is by saying all of that pea-brain stuff. But this is probably the most press he’s ever gotten.

Some sportswriters have been critical of the fight, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. But I’m not going to try to change their minds. This isn’t about who’s fighting who. It’s about skill. I’m always going to fight to the best of my abilities, and if I give 100 percent every time, I’ll have no regrets.

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