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  Kelsey Jeffries: Making Her Own Breaks
By Sean Newman

(JUNE 7) Kelsey “Sweet Power” Jeffries, better known as “Kel-C”, describes herself as “very lucky” to have hooked up with highly sought-after trainer and former two-time world champion, Buddy McGirt. While fate may have played a part in the beginning of that relationship, luck certainly had nothing to do with it. Given her background both personally and professionally, Jeffries has earned the right to be trained by one of the best, because she is one of the best. How she got there is a testimony to her natural skill and determination to rise to the top of the female boxing world, and she continues to strive for perfection.

Jeffries has always been a natural athlete, but at first it was not clear that boxing would be the direction in which she was taken. Born in California, but raised in Hawaii, things didn’t always come easily to Jeffries.

“I’ve always been an athlete,” Jeffries relates as she tells the story of how she initially became involved in the sweet science. “I had brothers and I always wanted to be like them. I played soccer my whole life. Growing up I went through a lot of tough stuff, and I internalized everything. I always wanted to work really hard at being good, at being an athlete, whatever it was. Being a professional soccer player was my goal, but that wasn’t happening. Boxing just kind of came into my life, and that was something that I could work at where I didn’t money, I didn’t need people to be there all the time. I could go to the gym and just work on my stuff. It was kind of a way out for me to deal with growing up.”

At 12 years old, Jeffries found a familiar name when looking over her family tree. It was then that she discovered that she was a descendant of the great former heavyweight champion, Jim Jeffries. Though she downplays that relation on the basis that she wants to excel on her own merit, Jeffries admits that this discovery “might have inspired me a little, or planted the seed for boxing.” That, and watching tapes of Vinny Pazienza, who she describes as one of her favorite fighters. “I used to watch his tapes and copy everything he did. I mimicked everything he did in a fight, she says of the man called Paz.

Boxing also helped her gain respect among her peers in school. The stereotypes existing in Hawaii dictated that Samoans and native Hawaiians were the “tough people,” and white people like Jeffries were “weak,” as Jeffries puts it. Jeffries would soon shatter that perception with regard to herself when she began boxing at age fifteen, and came to be known as a “tita,” which she says is Samoan/Hawaiian slang for “tough girl.” She might have been different, but it was a good kind of different.

As an amateur, Jeffries compiled a record of 9-2 in an abbreviated career, peaking with the San Francisco Nationals. Citing a couple of reasons, she soon decided that the professional game was where she belonged.

“I didn’t have a trainer for a long time, and I finally got one and started doing well toward the end of my amateur career,” Jeffries says. “I thought I did well at the N`ationals, but the judges didn’t see it that way. I turned pro because it was hard to get fights, and I didn’t like the amateur style, the pitter-patter points thing.”

Turning pro on July 2, 1999, the 5 foot, 5 inch featherweight stopped Sandra Mapone in round one in Tucson, Arizona. That fight would mark the beginning of a seven fight winning streak for Jeffries, who began her career at 23 years old. Then came her only loss by stoppage, which may have been more a result of the conditions that Jeffries had to endure outside the ring, rather than those inside it. Her opponent was Laura Serrano, a southpaw who outweighed Jeffries by ten pounds.

“She caught me with a good left hand,” Jeffries remembers. “I was on Vicodin before this fight, because I was having my wisdom teeth removed. I was undefeated and doing well, having just started out at 7-0. My manager called and said we had a fight coming up in Las Vegas in a week. I said ‘I can’t take this fight, I have my wisdom teeth coming out, and I’m already on Vicodin.’ They said, ‘no we’ve already signed the contract you have to fight.’ She was way bigger than me, but I just thought that the bigger she is, the harder she’d fall, trying to be confident. I got off the Vicodin for the fight, of course. But I was still on kind of a high in the fight, like I was stoned.”

Even though she was knocked down twice in the bout, Jeffries felt that she was doing well and that there was no reason for referee Joe Cortez to stop the fight. At the time of the stoppage, Jeffries says that she and Serrano were trading punches along the ropes, and Cortez steps in. “I understand what Bernard Hopkins was saying before the Robert Allen fight (about Cortez),” says Jeffries.

Jeffries did not allow the loss to discourage her, and in fact bounced back with a decision win in her very next fight against Cynthia Prouder. That win garnered her recognition as the WIBF America’s Featherweight Champion in August 2000. Making the victory all the more sweet was the fact that it was on the televised portion of a Roberto Duran Vs Patrick Goosen undercard.

In her next fight, Jeffries dropped a decision to Alicia Ashley, but came back with another win over Prouder. After another win over Imelda Arias, Jeffries would embark on a journey that would see her earn another nickname, “Road Warrior.”

Traveling to Germany to challenge Michele Aboro for the WIBF Junior Featherweight Title, Jeffries knew what she was up against. She would be fighting in her opponent’s backyard, and Germany is famous for its hometown decisions for fighters like Sven Ottke. She performed very well, but lost the ten round decision.

“I felt that I won the fight,” says Jeffries. “In fact the WIBF president saw the fight and gave me every round. Of course that didn’t give me the title, but it was a good fight and a good experience.”

That experience would pay dividends in her very next fight, an easy four round decision win over former champion and highly respected Yvonne Trevino. Trevino had engaged in televised fights on several occasions, and probably never saw what was coming against Jeffries. Again fighting in her opponent’s hometown, Jeffries left no doubt as to the outcome in this fight.

“That was incredible,” Jeffries remembers. “I thought ‘Kelsey you’re crazy for taking this fight.’ It was in her hometown, she was a southpaw and a former world champion.
I thought for sure that I would get robbed. I wound up knocking her down twice and winning the fight. I think I got pissed because she didn’t respect me too much.”

On the heels of that win, Jeffries went back overseas, this time to Poland. Fighting Iwona Guzowska for the IWBF Featherweight Title, Jeffries says that at the time she was taking fights at too heavy a weight, but that she was doing it to learn and to fight. Jeffries fought well, but again came up on the short end of a hometown decision. That began a run of four straight losses by decision, but it is hard to keep a good woman down, especially one with the determination and work ethic that Jeffries has. In fact, Jeffries actually has to be told on occasion to train lighter.

Describing the origin of her drive, Jeffries says “My dad was a very good football player and my mom was a gymnast. I played with my brothers all the time, and I just had good athletic genes. My hard work and determination is because of all the hard things I went through as an adolescent. I turned that into a tool for bettering myself. Anger is so powerful, and I put my anger and frustration toward training and making Kelsey better.”

More devoted than ever, Jeffries went on an impressive nine fight winning streak, picking up the WIBA Intercontinental Super Featherweight Championship with a win over Michele Nielsen in Nielsen’s hometown of Waco, Texas. Also included in that winning streak, a win over Layla McCarter, a fight that was special to Jeffries for several reasons.

“That was a great night because it was my birthday, Julio Cesar Chavez and Oscar
De La Hoya were at ringside, and I performed very well,” says Jeffries. And, oh yeah, the fight was for the IBFA Featherweight Championship of the World.

On March 20, 2003, Jeffries won a decision over Rolanda Andrews, a fighter who had knocked out Mia St. John. Jeffries then lost a majority decision to Jo Jo Wyman, a fighter who she had beaten in three previous meetings. Asked why she and Wyman fought against one another so frequently, Jeffries cites both a rivalry and lack of available opponents.

“We are two people who will take fights anytime and anywhere,” says Jeffries. “We have proven that. Nobody will fight us, but we’ll fight each other. I have beaten her three out of four times. In the third fight, I got cut, so when we fought the last time I thought I would box her, do something different because we were always having wars. I thought I boxed beautifully, but Northern California judges don’t like movers, they like fighters. I also had a fight three weeks later, and I was not taking a chance on getting cut.”

Since that fight, Jeffries has gone undefeated in five fights, and is only getting better. Now that she is with Buddy McGirt, she is certain to continue to improve. As previously alluded to, she says luck brought them together.

“A guy named Jerry saw me on TV and told Buddy ‘you’ve gotta see this girl fight!,” Jeffries says. “At the same time my manager, Bruce Anderson, who knows Buddy, sends Buddy a tape of me. Buddy says, “wow this girl can fight.” Bruce asked him if he could help me out and he said he would love to help me out.” I don’t have money or a name for Buddy. I have nothing for Buddy that his other fighters have for him. I have nothing, but me, so that is a pretty big compliment for him to train me knowing that he is really not going to get much out of it.”

Had it not been for Jeffries’ never-say-die attitude, not to mention her willingness to improve and take on tough opponents, that door might never have opened to her. She has simply made her own breaks. Outside the ring, she worked hard to become an EMT, and retains hope of becoming a firefighter in Hollister, California. She also has found great strength and support from her mother, who Jeffries says attends each of her fights and has encouraged her from day one. Her mother even braids her hair before each fight. “She’s great,” Jeffries says.

Jeffries has become a favorite at a place called The Tank in San Jose, California, headlining a few cards there. “The fans are great, they are so supportive of me. It took me awhile to build up their trust in me. I worked hard, and took fights with tough girls. I fought a lot of good fighters at the Tank in San Jose, and I guess I earned their respect.”

Jeffries is not satisfied with the current level of exposure that women’s boxing receives, but understands why it does not receive more. She also has ideas about how to increase appreciation for the female side of the sport.

“I’m kind of with guys in that I understand that this is a man’s sport and it always has been a man’s sport,” Jeffries reasons. “A lot of the girls I see fight, I don’t want them being seen because they don’t portray the image that they should. I won’t go into examples, but I think what can be done to make it better is to get good women fighters and put them on an undercard with a great male fighter. Like Christy Martin with the Tyson fights. I think it’s good to have good female fights underneath the men. I think we compliment the men.”

Jeffries has had the opportunity to meet one of those good women fighters in Laila Ali, who recently spent time at Buddy McGirt’s training facility. Jeffries speaks highly of Ali and her impact on the sport, saying “She is great for women’s boxing, and puts women’s boxing on the map. Regardless of her name, she is a good example for us. She wants to be the best at her craft.”

Though she may never reach Ali’s level in terms of name recognition, Jeffries has made her own way and is deserving of accolades for all that she has accomplished in and out of the ring. With two fights coming up in a six day span, she continues to enrich her reputation as a fighter who loves to fight. What else can one expect from a “tita?”

Writer’s note: I would like to thank Cristina Angeli and Bruce Anderson for their assistance in arranging the interview with Kelsey.

Questions or comments, e-mail Sean at: newmanduke@yahoo.com
 
  ©Copyrighted Photo by Jesus Sanchez  
  June 7, 2004  
     
     
     
     

 

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