Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Maureen Shea: The Million-Dollar Baby Turns Promoter

Boxing is the strangest sport of all. It can take you by surprise when you least expect, pull you into its world and never let you go. That’s what happened for female boxer and NABF featherweight titleholder Maureen “Moe” Shea, 15-2 (9) aka “The Real Million Dollar Baby.” Known to some boxing fans for preparing Oscar winner Hilary Swank for her role in “Million Dollar Baby,” the Bronx-born Shea came to the sport late and made a name for herself in the ring as a tenacious fighter who has never taken no for an answer. Sometime ringside commentator, writer, full-time titleholder and president of Global Boxing Gym in North Bergen, NJ, Shea is now adding yet another accomplishment to her list: the first active female boxer who is a promoter.

“I am the kind of person that if somebody tells me I can’t do something, then I go out and do it,” Shea told in a recent interview. “My father told me, ‘You cannot box. You have to work and go to school. You can’t do all three.’ I said, ‘Watch me.’ People told me I couldn’t box. I couldn’t turn pro. I said ‘OK, watch me.’ They said I can’t win a title and I said, ‘Watch me.’ That’s how I always have been. So now I am starting this promotional company and I am not just giving myself an opportunity; I am giving others an opportunity as well. These local fighters I know that want to stay active.”

Shea’s company, Pandora Promotions, is having its first card this Thursday when Alicia Ashley,15-9-1 (1), takes on Crystal Hoy, 5-3-3 (2), at the Masonic Temple in Brooklyn, New York. For Shea, this card, co-promoted with Global gym owner Mark Kolodziej’s Global Boxing Promotions is a logical step in her career. It’s also something of a gift to herself.

“My birthday is January 11” Shea told me. “I’m going to be 30 and that is a birthday gift to me. I don’t drink; I don’t party. I love to dance but my friends call me geriatric because I go to bed early. I’m a morning person. That will be my birthday gift in having that. I reflect back on my life and it’s surreal to me; a lot of things have happened. And to now be a promoter…I just went with it. I always had dreams but you never really think it is going to happen sometimes. You let life take you where it’s going to take you and this is where it’s taking me.”

Shea grew up in the Bronx a troubled teen. The daughter of a Mexican mother and an Irish father, she was kicked out of high school her junior year. It was soon after that she found boxing. But it wasn’t easy. Female boxing has always had a lot of trouble being accepted like its male counterpart and her journey proved no different.

“When I first started out in boxing, I was turned away from gyms because of my appearance,” said Shea. “I was turned away from Morris Park boxing by Jim Borzell, who later on matchmade my fights. He told me, ‘Oh, you don’t look like a fighter. I don’t think there is anything for you here.’ He was just showing me around the gym. I said, ‘OK, great. Thanks. And I left and I went to [another gym] and asked what the rates, etc. were and they said, ‘Oh, we don’t have a facility for a female.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ They said, ‘We don’t have a female bathroom.’ I said, ‘Listen, I don’t need a bathroom. I need a ring, a place to jump rope and a heavybag to hit.’ They said, ‘Well, we don’t work with females.’ I said, ‘I’m not looking for a trainer. I’ll train myself.’

Shea started out boxing at NYBG under Luigi Olcese, who remains on her team as her manager to this day. Eventually, she moved on to Gleason’s Gym where she trained with Hector Roca, turning pro in August 2005. 

Shea explained her impetus for getting into boxing, which, as it turns out, was out of both necessity and accident.

“I got kicked out of high school in my junior year,” she explained. “I was just hanging out. I would do whatever I wanted. I was in a relationship with a guy that was six years older than me. I was 17. He became verbally abusive and then he became physically abusive. And he punched me in my face and I got eight stitches about my eyebrow. He was about 250 pounds. Later on, I learned he was doing steroids. People told me but I didn’t believe it because he would spend hours in the gym. When he would do that, I’d start going to the gym to better myself for him.

“When he hit me…it’s a whole psychological process,” she continued. “You don’t realize…people would say, ‘How can you stay with him?’ Especially me. I was a tough kid growing up. I got into fights. I didn’t let anyone disrespect me. But when I was in a relationship with him, he changed. It was like night and day. He started to verbally abuse me and then the pushing and shoving started. Then he’d verbally abuse me again. I began to deteriorate. Everything, my self-esteem was going and going. Not that I felt like I deserved it but I didn’t know how to fight back. I had no ammunition. I went to the gym to start working out thinking, ‘Well, if he is going to start working out in the gym then I’m going to spend two hours in the gym. So I did and I walked into the back of the gym and there was boxing. I was 19. The only other time I had seen boxing was when Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear. I saw that fight. I had never paid attention to boxing ever again but I knew who Mike Tyson was.”

From the moment she stepped into the boxing ring she knew this was where she belonged even if she didn’t fully understand the culture just yet.

“I just started training in the gym,” Shea said. “It was hard. I speak fluent Spanish and the trainer was Puerto Rican and so I was kind of accepted because of that. He was like, ‘You want to try?’ So I started hitting the bag, starting with the one-two-three. Unbeknownst to me, I was in there with Elvir Muriqi, David Telesco; all the fighters were in there.”

Shea explained she actually sparred with the men in the gym but at first, they didn’t take her too seriously. Soon enough, like the character Swank played, her hard work paid off and she won over her doubters.

“It was play sparring,” she said. “They’d be like, ‘Oh, look at the girl.’ I weighed about 115 pounds but I showed up every day. I was the first one to arrive and the last one to leave. I just kept doing it and I fell in love with the sport after that.”

The road for any boxer is tough but for a female in a male-dominated sport, it can be even tougher. Promoters are not exactly lining up to sign a female and so Shea never signed with a promoter, instead working her way onto fight cards through sheer will and self-promotion.

“I had to actually go to Bob Arum,Joe DeGuardia, and Lou DiBella and ask to be on their cards,” she explained. “I remember, when I talked to Bob Arum I went up to his hotel room and told him, ‘Look, here is my information, watch my fights. I’d love to be on one of your cards.’ He was like, ‘I’m not into female boxing’ and I said, “Yeah, but I’m going to tell you why [you should be].’ And I sold myself to him. I told him why because I believe I generate human interest into not just respect because of the way that I fight. Women come and they bring their kids because they respect my human interest [story], my story, where I came from and where I am now.”

Even though Shea eventually worked her way to a title this past July, she faced the same issue of getting onto a

 fight card over and over. It became apparent that something had to be done. But for Shea, who has overcome so much to get where she is, it was all just part of the ride we call life. This is a woman who once was kicked out of high school but returned and earned a 4.0 to get an academic scholarship to Iona College while fighting amateur and pro and has now worked herself to this position. “Can’t” simply is not a word she acknowledges.

Now she can add promoter to her credits. For her, the transition just seemed to be a logical step.

“My team got tired of always having to ask to be on these cards because the men are the top priority,” she explained. “So we said, ‘You know what? We’re going to start our own promotional company and set a timeline as to when I will fight because they will [promote] my shows. I won’t have to wait around. I won’t have five-month layovers and inactivity. Now I have a set calendar. I can control it. I like that.”

Shea told me that it was assumed by the New York State commission that she would retire from boxing. But she insists it is quite the opposite and looks to fight again in March. She’s a fighter at heart and that is what she will always be.

“A lot of people don’t understand it’s something inside,” said Shea. “I saw some people on [the New York State] commission the other night and they said, ‘I am so happy you are in promotions now.’ They don’t realize I am still going to fight. They say, ‘But you are so pretty’ and ‘your face’ and this and that. They don’t understand that every time I went into that ring, I never thought about my face when I went in there. Or ‘Oh, my God, my eye. What if I get cut?’ You can’t think about that because if you think about that, you shouldn’t be boxing. You train to do something and you go out and do it.”

Shea is happy to give those around an opportunity to shine while looking for new ways to move both male and female boxing forward as her cards will feature both sexes.

“I’m not looking to sign fighters right now,” she explained. “I am just going to do shows and give the fighters opportunities. Let them go out there and do it. My main event is a female,Alicia Ashley. She was actually a sparring partner of mine. She inspired me. I learned from her and now I am able to give her an opportunity to fight as my main event. That’s a dream come true for me.”

Who knows where this journey will take Shea? Only time will tell in the crazy world of boxing, where dreams come true and hard work generally pays off. Shea is hopeful of the future and looks to work with others in her area to promote our sport.

“Eventually, maybe I can co-promote with these other promoters,” she hopes. “Fighters trust me. I’ve gotten tons of calls already from fighters regarding the show, asking to be put on. They can relate to me. Who are the other boxers that are promoting in New York? I’m the only female. I’m the first female boxer promoting in New York.”

For now, she can revel in another dream accomplished and a boxing first in the books.

“I never expected this,” said Shea. “I got kicked out of high school; next thing I know I have an academic scholarship. I am maintaining a 3.8 GPA, then boxing, then Million Dollar Baby and life took off and I went with it.”

The Masonic Temple is located at 317 Clermont Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.

Tickets for "Brooklyn Explosion", priced $75 and $50, can be purchased by contacting Amanda at Global Boxing Gym in North Bergen, NJ at 201-348-3149. Doors open at 6:30 PM. First bout starts at 7:30.

By: Gabriel Montoya

Mark currently lives in Iloilo City and can be followed through

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