By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s official… Mischa Merz has come full (squared) circle.
Four years after an initial stair climb to the Brooklyn capital of the boxing world, the globetrotting Australian author returns again to the place that re-ignited her zest for the sport and became the backbone of the 282-page project she’ll unveil Tuesday night.
“The Sweetest Thing: A Boxer’s Memoir” is billed by its publisher as a “wonderful mix of champ-in-the-making story and a tour through the world of a women’s sport rising in a male domain.”
Gleason’s Gym will host the book’s launch and kick off a tour that’ll send Merz – the masters division athlete around whom its characters revolve – out west to California and back east to Georgia, where she’ll appear on former world champion Terri Moss’s Atlanta’s Corporate Fight Night show on April 23.
According to Merz, Gleason’s was the logical place to commence the book’s promotional journey, given its role as U.S. staging area for her unlikely climb to the top of the women’s amateur boxing ladder – including wins at the Golden Gloves, Georgia Games and Ringside World Championships.
“I think it’s a cross-section of the city. It is New York,” Merz said.
“You have people from every corner of New York and they’re on every possible level, from top-line boxers preparing for a big fight – who are jaw-droppingly good in their sessions – to the beginners who are just learning the basics and who you know will never get anywhere.
“It’s like the United Nations. All gyms are similar in that they have the rings and the bells and the rhythms, but there’s nowhere I’ve been that’s anywhere on the scale of Gleason’s.”
The book recounts the six trips Merz took from her home in Melbourne to the United States over 27 months from 2007 through 2009. In her words, “It was in those two years and three months that everything changed for me. What I knew about boxing, what I could do as a boxer and who I was in the world of women’s boxing were all transformed.”
The initial September 2007 visit was followed by two more a year later in September and October 2008, respectively, and ultimately by a prolonged May-December 2009 run during which she competed in New York, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, Kansas City, Los Angeles and Albuquerque.
She gives first-person access to training regimens and ultimately fight-night results, while bobbing and weaving through introductions to the many personalities she encountered along the way.
Among them are several women, who, in Merz’s estimation, comprise the foundation upon which the future of the female side of the sport will continue to be constructed.
“I was consciously writing about the sport from a different perspective, within the culture, and relaying it to the outside not as an observer, but as a participant,” she said. “I’ve written about other subjects, but I felt like this was my thing, like I could relate these stories with more fluidity.”
Merz’s 2000 book, “Bruising,” also chronicled her experiences as a boxer and was published to critical acclaim by Picador Australia. Her journalism has appeared in several publications, including The Age, the Sunday Age and the Herald Sun.
“I think the sport has the same potential as women’s tennis,” she said. “There is no shortage of marketable individuals out there and there’s a lot of mileage to be gained from that.”
Soon after she returned to Australia in 2009, the International Olympic Committee announced women’s boxing would be included as an event at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
And needless to say, Merz expects that exposure to provide yet another launching pad.
“Women have already fought in main events on shows in Europe, and especially Germany,” she said. “So it’s the U.S. that’s really been a little slow. But the Olympics will go a long way to legitimizing the sport and showing people the amazing standards of quality the women involved have reached.
“It adds legitimacy and more people are going to want to see it and take it seriously. If the people out there that are in charge have any real business sense, they’re going to want to take advantage of that and it’ll be a tipping point.
“When money is deposited, the bank doesn’t care if it came from men or women. And the same holds true for boxing. Women are half the population and the fighters out there are going to have just as strong fan followings as the men. At some point, that’s got to matter.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO junior bantamweight title – Bahia Blanca, Argentina
Omar Narvaez (champion) vs. Cesar Seda (No. 1 contender)
Narvaez (33-0-2, 19 KO): Second title defense; Held WBO flyweight title (2003-04, 2005-09)
Seda (20-0, 15 KO): Second title fight (1-0, 1 KO); Held IBO flyweight title (2009)
Fitzbitz says: “UPSET! Hometown disadvantage won’t keep youngster from title.” Seda in 9
WBA super lightweight title – Manchester, United Kingdom
Amir Khan (champion) vs. Paul McCloskey (No. 4 contender)
Khan (24-1, 17 KO): Fourth title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (6-0, 3 KO)
McCloskey (22-0, 12 KO): First title fight; First fight in Manchester
Fitzbitz says: “U.K. countryman won’t be enough to derail Khan’s express.” Khan in 10
WBC welterweight title – Mashantucket, Conn.
Andre Berto (champion) vs. Victor Ortiz (No. 5 contender)
Berto (27-0, 21 KO): Sixth title defense; Fourth fight in Connecticut (3-0, 2 KO)
Ortiz (28-2-2, 22 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2009 (4-0-1, 3 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Another middling title defense for unproven welter champ.” Berto by decision
WBO featherweight title – Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Juan Manuel Lopez (champion) vs. Orlando Salido (No. 9 contender)
Lopez (30-0, 27 KO): Third title defense; Held WBO title at 122 pounds (2008-09)
Salido (34-11-2, 22 KO): Sixth title fight (1-3, 0 KO, 1 NC); Held IBF title (2010)
Fitzbitz says: “Young incumbent won’t be stopped en route to Gamboa.” Lopez in 7
WBA featherweight title – Jakarta, Indonesia
Chris John (champion) vs. Daud Cino Yordan (No. 5 contender)
John (44-0-2, 22 KO): Thirteenth title defense; Forty of 46 fights in Indonesia (39-0-1, 20 KO)
Yordan (27-1, 21 KO): First title fight; Twenty-three of 29 fights in Indonesia (23-0, 18 KO, 1 NC)
Fitzbitz says: “Underappreciated featherweight champs keeps rolling at home.” John by decision
Last week’s picks: 3-1
Overall picks record: 198-64
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 at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .