Bill Clinton was president. Patrick Mahomes was in pull-ups.
And at two sites set about 3,000 miles apart in boxing’s backwoods, Chevelle Hallback and Layla McCarter began blazing the trails that’ll take them to a shared spotlight in Las Vegas.
Now 52 and 44 years old, respectively, the two ex-champions and former rivals will be honored with special awards commemorating their matching quarter centuries as professional fighters.
Their celebrations will come amid a weekend of revelry hosted by the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame to mark its 10th anniversary, set for the Orleans Hotel & Casino.
But rather than accepting the kudos for a job well done, the ceremony is reminding Hallback that her professional mission has yet to be, at least in her eyes, completely accomplished.
“If I’m going to be completely honest with myself, I have to say I have mixed emotions about it,” she told Boxing Scene. “I mean, don't get me wrong, I am grateful anytime someone wants to honor or recognize me for any accomplishments I have achieved because they didn't have to do it.
“But I don’t know, because I haven't achieved what I have set out for myself it almost makes me feel not worthy of being honored no matter how many years.”
It’s been a few months more than 26 years, to be exact, since the native of tiny Plant City, Florida, traveled downstate to Miami to stop fellow newbie Connie Plosser after just 47 seconds at the long-shuttered Mahi Temple Shrine Auditorium.
There have been 43 more bouts at venues both large and small since that late February show in 1997, including title reigns at three weights and matches with the high-profile likes of Holly Holm, Lucia Rijker, Cecilia Braekhus and McCarter herself – whom Hallback beat by decision in 10-round championship bouts in 2002 (in Savannah, Georgia) and 2004 (in Pala, California).
And even now, 10 months after her most recent appearance, the memories remain vivid.
“I think I'm most remembered as being the most feared fighter that hit hard, was hard to hit, and never turned down any fight,” Hallback said. “My first fight comes to my memory and it's a fight I tell people about when talking about how I got the fight name ‘Fists of Steel.’ She was the taller and bigger fighter.
“I weighed in with weights around my ankle to make the heavier weight class and she came in over the weight. So she had me by 15 pounds. Anyways, after the fight, she said I hit too hard to be a woman and the lady commissioner took me to the bathroom to check. I was dying laughing. I still do to this day.”
It’s been more than 18 months since the last live fight for McCarter, who’s fought 62 times since a unanimous decision over Deshawn Mohammed in her successful 1998 curtain raiser.
She was an IBA champion at featherweight two years later, added a belt at 140 in 2003, and captured two more at 135 and 147 a dozen years apart in 2006 and 2018. The Hallback bouts were among here most noteworthy in terms of competition, alongside a four-bout series with five-division title claimant Melissa Hernandez in which McCarter won once by TKO and twice by decision.
“I feel blessed to have been able to pursue my boxing dreams for this long,” she told Boxing Scene. “As I near the end of my career in boxing I have a mixture of feelings – pride for what I've achieved, wistfulness for some goals I wished to accomplish and frustration for the obstacles that kept me from doing so. Such is life. Always more to do and never enough time.”
Toward that end, and unlike Hallback who brushes off the idea of official retirement, McCarter said she’s willing to wait another 18 months to two years for a significant fight opportunity.
If it comes, she said, she’ll take it. And if it doesn’t, she’ll walk away with no trailblazing regrets.
But, she said, the jury’s still out on exactly where the trails will lead.
“I'm not entirely convinced that the women's fight game has evolved,” she said.
“In some ways it has. Women get to have more amateur experience and therefore develop more skill by the time they are pro. Women are also occasionally given visible platforms to fight on. Having seen the sport as long as I have makes me see its progress going in circles.
“When Christy Martin fought for Don King on Tyson shows we were at a high. When all-women shows for IFBA belts were being promoted was a bright spot, too. With DAZN, Matchroom and MVP we dare to hope. Is it truly improving? I guess time will tell.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF mini flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Daniel Valladares (champion/No. 6 Ring) vs. Ginjiro Shigeoka (interim/No. 4 Ring)
Valladares (27-3-1, 15 KO): Second title defense; January bout with Shigeoka deemed a no contest
Shigeoka (9-0, 7 KO): Second title fight (0-0, 1 NC); Four KOs in five 12-round bouts (4-0, 1 NC)
Fitzbitz says: The champion is taller and longer and has more experience, but Shigeoka is the latest in a long line of Asians in the smallest divisions to scale title mountains in few fights. Shigeoka in 8 (85/15)
WBA featherweight title – Sheffield, England
Leigh Wood (champion/No. 3 Ring) vs. Josh Warrington (No. 7 WBA/No. 8 Ring)
Wood (27-3, 16 KO): First title defense (second reign); Held WBA title from 2021 to 2023 (one defense)
Warrington (31-2-1, 8 KO): Seventh title fight (5-1); Two IBF reigns (2018-19 and 2022, three defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Warrington is probably the more talented fighter, but he’s shown vulnerability in recent years and Wood is the sort of tough customer to make it happen again. Wood in 10 (70/30)
WBC strawweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Panya Pradabsri (champion/No. 2 Ring) vs. Yudai Shigeoka (interim/No. 5 Ring)
Pradabsri (40-1, 24 KO): Third title defense; Won 22 straight fights since 2017 (22-0, 14 KO)
Shigeoka (7-0, 5 KO): First title fight; Two KOs in three scheduled 12-round fights (3-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: There’s something about a 26-year-old with five KOs in seven fights, including a handful against top competition, that makes it feel like he’s ready. He’ll prove it. Shigeoka by decision (65/35)
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Opetaia; LOSS: Charlo)
2023 picks record: 33-12 (73.3 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,283-420 (75.3 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.