Many of the top pro boxing women know each other; a fact that becomes more and more evident to me when I hear my trainer Bonnie “Queen B” Mann chatting aimiably about meeting with Mia St. John in Vegas, running into Laila Ali at a hotel, or talking with Erin Toughill or Christy Martin on Facebook.
For my birthday this year she gave me an incredible gift: she arranged for me to talk on the phone with three-time world title holder Melissa “Huracan” Hernandez (11-1-2), who has a title fight coming up this December 4th in Albuquerque, New Mexico against the inimitable Holly Holm (25-1-3).
On the phone, Melissa gracefully put up with my awe-struck stammering, and treated me like a friend. She also talks a million miles an hour with that beautiful Bronx by-the-way-of Puerto Rico accent. She has just as much energy on the phone as she does in the ring, and she answered all of my carefully researched-in-advance questions and added a few of her own. The “Huracan” tag fits her amazingly well.
Melissa is probably best known for being willing to take on any fighter in any weight category. She barreled out of the amateurs in 2005 with a string of wins, but really drew the attention of the boxing world by facing Kelsey Jeffries, who had more than 40 pro fights (and 33 wins), for Melissa’s fourth fight. They battled 10 rounds to a draw, and suddenly Hernandez was a boxer to watch.
She told me she was proudest of her wins against Chevelle “Fists of Steel” Hallback – an incredibly athletic, powerhouse boxer – and Lisa “Bad News” Brown. And while it was exciting to hear her talk about some of her most famous fights, I wondered what her difficult times looked like.
“Do you ever get discouraged or afraid?” I asked her.
“Absolutely!” she laughed, “Every fight!”
“No way,” I said, half disbelieving. “Not every fight, surely.”
“It’s true,” she replied equably. “You should hear me, dragging myself around the gym, telling everybody that I hope I don’t wreck it for my next fight; that I hope I don’t go down bad, get knocked on my ass. I take every fight very seriously; I have a lot of respect for my opponents, no matter what craziness I might talk in the press conferences. There are some incredibly powerful boxing women out there, women who train very hard and make sacrifices in order to be in top fighting condition. So of course I get afraid. I want the fight very much, but I also know the risks.”
“My goal is to fight my best,” Melissa said, after a brief pause. “I don’t say, ‘I have to win every fight.’ Everyone loses sometimes. I just want to make it to the last bell, win or lose, knowing I fought my best.”
“What does your training regimen look like as you’re getting ready for a big fight?” I asked, switching gears.
Most days she does a 3 mile run, sprints, and calisthenics, along with an incredible 16 rounds of sparring, with a fresh sparring partner every three rounds. “Some speed bag for focus, mitt work. And I do the slip bag endlessly,” she said, somewhat ruefully. “All. The. Time. It’s good for quick movement patterns, reaction times.” Which certainly shows when she’s in the ring. If ever there was an explosive, quick-moving boxer who works the angles, it’s Melissa Hernandez, one press writer recently noted.
Melissa is not just a boxer, she’s also an astute businesswoman with a keen grasp of the business side of boxing. She trains a number of fighters (mostly women, but also some men, which – she noted dryly – is where the money is), and spoke briefly to the ever-widening gap between MMA and boxing. She pointed to the need for a bigger dose of “show” in boxing publicity (she’s well-known for talking a little smack for the press) but she also mentioned a need for the people who love boxing most to pool their money and help promote women’s boxing shows. “Take that $2000 you were going to spend on a trip to the beach,” she said, “and help rent out a hall where a show can run! Show your love for this sport.” She laughs, but you know she’s dead serious, too.
If you ask her about women’s boxing being admitted to the 2012 Olympics, you’ll get an ear full. She’s justifiably irate at the small slice of weight categories and slots the women will have in comparison to the men, and she has the most to say about the exclusion of pro fighters, who are allowed in many other Olympic sports. “We have such a small space,” she said, “and we really need to show the world how incredible women’s boxing is in order to win a larger array of slots and weight categories. I wish we could showcase the very best fighters in women’s boxing; professional women with history and power. Women the world will not only tune in to see, but demand more of.”
We also talked about Lucia Rijker‘s recent induction into the World Boxing Hall of Fame – the first female boxer ever to win that status. I asked her who the next three women should be. “Belinda Laracuente (with whom Hernandez lived and trained in her early years), Laura Serrano, Sumya Anani, Alicia Ashley, and me!” she told me, her quick and easy laughter punctuating the final nominee.
She’s quick to promote herself, but she’s also constantly promoting women’s boxing, and is quick to criticize other top-tier boxers whom she feels don’t use their name and resources to do the same.
“Okay,” I said, down to the last question on my page of notes, “Who do you want to fight next, after Holly Holm in December?”
“I’ll fight anyone,” she said, with unfeigned enthusiasm. “I want to fight everyone; I don’t care about the weight category. There are so many great boxers out there I’d like to get in the ring with. Jackie Nava would be one,” she noted. “And Ina Menzer. And how about Christy Martin? I want to fight her!”
“I’m the best,” she continued, “I’ll give them all a shot.”
Whoever she fights, the crowd can count on this energetic, committed, and dynamic woman to be her best in the ring, all the way to the final bell.
Copyrighted image used by permission of BestFemBoxers.com
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