By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s happened before.
When it comes to gymnastics, it’s impossible to ignore the Olympic influence that’s been passed from Nadia Comaneci through Mary Lou Retton through Gabby Douglas.
And if Chevelle Hallback ultimately gets her wish, the same sort of generational flow will occur with her sport, thanks to inaugural U.S. women’s boxing gold medalist – 17-year-old Claressa Shields.
“We made a bold statement with medals in the Olympics,” she said. “Claressa Shields, Queen Underwood and Marlen Esparza all fought hard and represented. I can see new girls getting inspired by them, yes, and that is where women's boxing is gonna grow, with new talent and finally an entire world seeing what we can do.
“Now promoters just have to take a leap of faith, and work with us.”
But in the meantime, the 40-year-old has some work of her own to do.
A professional since Shields was not quite 2, the perpetually busy Floridian returns to the ring next week with yet another championship belt on her mind… and the lingering dream of a cable television starring role still squarely – albeit realistically – in her sights.
The Tampa native visits the unlikely locale of Whitehall, N.Y. for the next step in the journey on Aug. 24, when she’ll face past foe Victoria Cisneros for the WIBA’s interim light welterweight title in the main event of a card featuring both men’s and women’s bouts at the Whitehall Armory.
When asked what’s to gain by fighting a foe she’s already beaten – by split decision in a non-title bout two years ago in Albuquerque – Hallback focused on improving the impression left.
“The fight was close and I need to be more convincing this time, because Victoria Cisneros, she is a challenge because she never stops and will fight hard as she can till the end,” she said. “Her conditioning allows her to move forward even when she's hurt.
“Last time with her, I give myself – on a scale of 1 to 10, a 5. This time, with me being in better condition, with more experience and the better skills, I can beat her again.”
And while the jewelry to be gained is of the questionable interim variety – Hallback is ranked No. 2 beneath Zambian champion Esther Phiri, while her 6-13-2 opponent is No. 13 a division lower at 135 – it does salve the craving for action after a March fight in Tampa was nixed at the last minute.
Phiri, who’s never fought outside of Africa, is 13-1-2 since turning pro in 2005
“We had some fights fall through, yes, but I didn't want to let this opportunity go by,” she said. “We are fighting for a title – the WIBA light welterweight – so that means something, and with titles and belts different opportunities come up so it’s a meaningful rematch.”
Hallback last captured a title belt in 2008 when she outpointed Jeannine Garside for the vacant IFBA lightweight crown in Albuquerque. She was beaten there by Holly Holm (UD 10) in a try for the full-fledged WIBA light welterweight championship in 2010, and traveled to Denmark and France in 2011 for failed challenges of Cecilia Braekhus (UD 10) and Myrian Lamare (UD 10).
The losses not only dropped Hallback to 28-8-2 and kept her from winning the WBA/WBC/WBO welterweight (Braekhus) and IBF junior welterweight (Lamare) titles, but they simultaneously prolonged her long-stated career mission – to become the first female in a feature bout on HBO.
And while it may have seemed less of a long shot before the three losses in 29 months, hope springs eternal for the social worker/barber/gym owner, whether it’s ultimately her who breaks the barrier or someone else.
“I've had a good career. I fought good fights against the best even not on HBO, and there's a lot of fighters out there who can't say that and they have been on HBO, know what I mean?” she said. “HBO is missing out by not having women box on their shows, but maybe with the women being such stars at the Olympics that could change.
“I'd love to have my dream come true of being the first woman to fight on HBO, but I'm not gonna let it ruin my life if it doesn't happen. I'm proud of who I am as a fighter and the fights I've fought. HBO would be the frosting on my cake if it happened.”
And the way she figures it, new HBO boxing czar Ken Hershman and the other suits have about 24 months to get it done before she finally surrenders full-time to her non-gloved life.
“I say I'm gonna be around fighting maybe two more years,” she said. “The payoff isn't all about the money. No, it's about what I learned, how I fought and what I can pass on to other fighters when I've done everything I can do and call it a day.
“I have been blessed to have a career with no serious injuries, but yes, it gets to a point where you’ve got to be smart about your body and learn to make changes in your game so you can still perform and fight to best of your ability. And yes, I am busy outside the ring and sometimes, sometimes it’s a struggle to get it all done, but I just have to keep pushing.
“I have a lot of goals, some of which are in motion. I'm training amateurs now and it’s my desire to be in boxing to teach and motivate fighters, professional or amateur. I've been in this game a long time and want to be able to give to others coming up.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF junior lightweight title – Puebla, Mexico
Juan Carlos Salgado (champion) vs. Jonathan Barros (No. 14 contender)
Salgado (25-1-1, 16 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten in Mexico (20-0, 14 KO)
Barros (34-2-1, 18 KO): Sixth title fight (3-2); Held WBA title at 126 in 2010-11 (two defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Challenger has been in with some big names at lighter weights, but reigning champion seems like the belt has made him better. That won’t change here.” Salgado by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: None
Overall picks record: 325-109 (74.8 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.