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Mia St. John Finally Retires: “We’re All Addicts”

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Mia St. John is really retiring.

Few realize that St. John has been prizefighting for nearly two decades and her metamorphosis from boxing pinup girl to world champion represents the sport of women’s boxing.

In the beginning female boxers were seen as an oddity with unskilled ponytailed girls flailing about. Amateur boxing soon pumped in hundreds of female boxers into the sport with all of the tools necessary to perform at a high grade.

St. John similarly progressed on the same road, but she did it as a pro.

Now in her 40s, St. John announced her retirement and this week had an operation on her hip during her birthday. It represents the taking-care-of-business attitude the Mexican-American brunette has exhibited her entire career. She had told ESPN that she was retiring a few weeks ago, but then contemplated another fight. But the operation has convinced her it’s over.

“I’ll still work out twice a day,” says St. John.

While at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, St. John (pictured above, in June 1, 2011 photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank) leisurely recounted her life as one of the most recognizable female boxers in the world today. In the outdoor patio of the famous restaurant, the brunette athlete talked about her start, her rise to fame and her journey to win a world title and more.

Over the years St. John has announced similar plans to retire and somehow would be drawn back into the boxing ring. A good example was her retirement announcement after winning the WBC junior middleweight title against Christy Martin. She returned soon after to fight Tiffany Junot and welterweight world champion Cecilia Braekhus.

“My ex-husband told me ‘you will not enter the boxing ring again. I will physically stop you from entering the boxing ring again’,” St. John said. “We’re all addicts.”

St. John said many boxers cannot simply hang up the gloves and that the attention, the money, the challenge, the physical training routines and the aura surrounding a big fight are all addictive components of prizefighting. One or all of them combined are things that make it extremely difficult to abandon.

“Fighting is a drug in itself,” said St. John. “It’s like the song Hotel California, you can’t get out.”

Rare Financial Success

Very few female boxers have been able to reach the economic levels St. John reached over her 17-year career. Aside from Regina Halmich, Daisy Lang, Laila Ali and Christy Martin, other female prizefighters never reached six figure purses.

In her early days St. John received large amounts of money to fight on the undercards of first Julio Cesar Chavez and later Oscar De La Hoya. Those events remain her favorite.

“Oscar’s fights and the big fights with Chavez at Caesars Palace, those were some of my favorite moments in boxing,” said St. John. “I met Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns when Oscar fought Felix Trinidad. I became good friends with Tommy.”

Money was pouring in for St. John and she needed it for her entourage in the beginning. Her mother Socorro Rosales stopped her from spending lavishly on cars and entertainment.

“She was strict,” said St. John of her mom, who passed away several years ago. “She told me not to buy toys. She told me to invest it.”

St. John, whose given name is Rosales, took her mother’s advice and was very frugal and remains so. Investments in property and construction have given her security. She remains one of the best business minds in boxing, though few realize it. It’s one of the reasons she has become the most successful female boxer today.

Boxing is Pain

In her last fight on April 13, St. John accepted a fight with female welterweight world champion Braekhus for the WBO, WBA and WBC titles in Denmark. Despite a broken hip suffered many months earlier, she entered the ring against one of the best female boxers today. In the second round, unable to maneuver because of her hip, she withstood a barrage and fought off the attacking Braekhus. She remembered telling her corner to stop the fight but they told her she never said anything to them.

“I told my corner to stop the fight,” St. John thought she told them. But she had suffered a concussion and had never actually mentioned those words. She re-engaged with Braekhus in the third round and actually pushed the referee away but the fight was stopped. “I was glad the referee stopped it. No fighter wants to admit they’re too old to do what they love.”

It’s actually a love-hate relationship St. John has with professional boxing. The sport has given her recognition and success that few women know. But injuries and losing are not things she would wish on anyone.

Her proudest moments were fighting in Mexico in front of adoring fans.

“Those fans in Mexico made me so happy,” said St. John. “My mom had me in the U.S. but she told me to never forget where my family is from in Zacatecas.”

After losing in Mexico in 2009 she announced to a few that retirement was coming. Then other offers came and suddenly she was back full throttle. Six-figure money offers remained for St. John so she took advantage and remained fighting for several more years though her reflexes were waning.

“It’s all the sparring that really impacts you,” she said.

Boxing is in the Blood

St. John had won the IFBA lightweight world title in 2005 and other regional titles. Last summer, a rematch with her old rival Christy “Coalminer’s Daughter” Martin took place for the vacant WBC junior middleweight title in Northern California. She won by decision and announced retirement once again. Then she fought and lost to Junot in November.

Martin, who first fought and beat St. John in 2002, was both a rival and friend outside of the boxing ring. The two female warriors are among a select elite that have more than 50 pro fights. It’s a very rare feat even in male boxing today.

Before they fought last August 2012, St. John was hobbling around with a walking cane when people were not around. Her hip had been injured during a weight-lifting workout session. She wanted to keep the fight with Martin who also had injuries. Boxing is in their bloodstream.

“Christy says that’s a drug in itself,” St. John said of boxing.

They fought and St. John won the rematch.

But the sport lured her back into the ring for two more fights. During a mixed martial arts fight featuring Ronda Rousey, a number of female boxing proponents arrived to see the historic event at the Honda Center. Among them was the great female champion boxer Lucia Rijker. She walked up to St. John and had kind words to say.

“Lucia told me she knows what I am feeling,” said St. John. “That it is hard to quit boxing, but to let it go.”

Throughout the years St. John has heard criticisms and false praise but continued her trek in female boxing. Most people, especially the actual fighters, know what she’s done in the game.

“Mia St. John destroyed the stereotype that women boxers want to be manly. Athletic women are often tomboys and criticized for their appearance or demeanor. Mia never fit that mold. She was feminine and still an a** kicker. She is also a fighter who speaks well,” said Layla McCarter the current WBA junior middleweight titleholder who many consider the best female fighter today. “Mia is an all-around contradiction who makes people think twice about what they think they know, and that is a good thing.”

Others have sparred many times with St. John and know she was never easy to pin down.

But now it’s the end of the road for the female boxing icon.

“I’m glad my last fight was against one of the best,” said St. John. “I don’t want to fight girls that are 1 and 4 like other girls just for the money.”

Her business associates know St. John has always been passionate about whatever she does.

“Mia has always given 100 percent toward both the business and fighting in boxing,” said Claudia Ollis, who has worked with St. John on various projects. “She’s a very strong Mexican woman and is successful in whatever she does.”

That is the real St. John.

 

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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