Female boxers jostle for 3 Olympic weight classes
Updated: July 15, 2010, 19:09
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.(AP) Six-time national boxing champion Sacred Downing has a healthy appetite for success and cinnamon rolls.
To reach one, she has to curb the other.
The 119-pound fighter intends to drop to 112 pounds so she can try to qualify for one of the three Olympic weight classes at the 2012 London Games.
She's swearing off sweets in the name of the sweet science.
"The sacrifices you have to make to be great,'' explained Downing, who advanced to the 119-pound finals at the USA boxing national championships with a win Thursday.
As the Olympics draw nearer, Downing is among the handful of female boxers switching weight classes to find a fit in the 112-, 132- or 165-pound divisions that will be contested in London.
"This is a chance at history,'' Downing said. "Whoever is on that team, it will be known forever. They'll be in the books, being the first to open up the door for women to be in the Olympics.''
The International Olympic Committee added women's boxing to the program last summer, but with a caveat - an abbreviated field.
The men lost a division, yet still compete in 10 separate weight classes.
Already the bunching has begun in the female ranks, becoming quite crowded in those three Olympic divisions. Nearly half the fighters at the national championships this week reside in those brackets.
"Makes it a little harder, but it's all worthwhile,'' said Patricia Manuel, the reigning 132-pound national champion from Commerce, Calif. "You only have one chance to be the best anyway. I can say I fought the best of the best and that I'm the best fighter at 132 pounds in the nation. That's satisfying in itself.''
Queen Underwood has been dubbed the "Queen of the Ring,'' a 5-foot-5 firecracker who packs a lot of power in her punches.
Given her success in boxing, the moniker wasn't too much of a stretch or too self-aggrandizing.
"I like it, sort of rhymes,'' she said of her handle.
Lately, she's been ruling the 141-pound division, winning three U.S. crowns. She's attempting to bring her reign to 132 pounds, competing at that weight for nationals.
"I don't think about the competition,'' said Underwood, who's from Seattle. "My own self is my own competition.''
Vanessa Jackson of Columbus, Ohio, was hoping an Olympic division would be contended at her current weight, 141 pounds. No such luck.
So she has decided to eventually throw her name into the ring at 132, as well.
"It's not too hard for me to lose 10 pounds,'' Jackson said. "It's an easy decision.''
Jackson is a late arrival to boxing, not even really putting on the gloves until four years ago when she was 22.
A little surprising, given her fighting pedigree - her cousin is James "Buster'' Douglas, the fighter who delivered one of the biggest upsets in boxing history, knocking off undefeated champion Mike Tyson in 1990.
Douglas helped introduce Jackson to the ring, a way to re-channel her energy.
The dilemma for Jackson is exactly when to cut weight. She may remain at 141 for the next few months and then drop when the Olympic qualifying process begins in 2011.
That's why she's keeping a casual watch on her eventual 132-pound adversaries. She sees the division boiling down to boxers such as Underwood and Manuel.
"Tough girls,'' Jackson said. "But I don't pay attention too much to what the girl has to offer as far as what skills she has or not. I pay attention to doing what I need to do in the ring.''
Manuel, complete with tattoos and a Mohawk, got into boxing as a way to lose weight, shedding 48 pounds. Little did she realize it could possibly pay off with a spot in the Olympics.
"It's been a faithful marriage for seven years,'' she said, laughing. "I love the training, have to train hard to succeed. If you don't, it will be found out in that ring. It's like a lie detector up there. You're going to find out - Did you run? Did you eat right? Did you train? Sleep? You're going to find out.''
Manuel entertained thoughts of turning pro after last season, but when some potential fights fell through, she decided to make a run at Olympic history instead.
"It was the right choice, the best thing,'' she said.
Downing, of Trenton, N.J., brings a certain swagger to the ring. That's with good reason, considering she's going for her seventh straight national title Saturday night.
She's captured five of her national titles at 114 pounds and the other at 119. But she's convinced getting to 112 pounds will be a piece of cake, especially if she eliminates sweets such as cinnamon rolls.
"It's definitely a sacrifice,'' she said with a chuckle.