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Maureen Shea:
The End of the Beginning
By Bernie McCoy
March 27, 2006




Someone once asked the legendary bank robber, "Slick" Willie Sutton why he had spent his entire life robbing banks. Sutton's ingenuous reply was, "That's where they keep the money!" If you write about boxing, it's not a bad idea to emulate Sutton's irrefutable logic and spend some time in gyms, because that's where they keep the boxers. Heeding that advice, last week I headed to Gleason's gym in downtown Brooklyn to meet with one of New York's newly popular female fighters, Maureen Shea. Shea, who's been a regular at Gleason's going back to her amateur boxing days, was able to secure the vaunted back office space and we had an hour long conversation, somewhat removed from the tumult and shouting that characterizes any big time boxing gym.

Maureen Shea was born in and is still "of" the Bronx, as evidenced by her rapid fire conversation and the "Jenny from the block" inflection of her words (Shea attended the same high school as Jennifer Lopez). Likewise, she is still best known for her work on the movie, "Million Dollar Baby," during which she spent hours in the ring sparring with Academy Award winner, Hilary Swank.

Shea also gained a considerable reputation in the New York boxing community, during her amateur career, for her performance in the U S championships in which she lost a close decision to an eventual medal winner, who, at the time, had 18 wins and, last year, when Shea reached the finals of the New York Daily News Golden Gloves. While she fully appreciates the notoriety of those experiences, Shea says she came to the conclusion that the time had come to move on and move ahead into the "business" of professional boxing.

"And that's exactly what it is," says Shea, "a business. It only took being at one press conference with Don King and Bob Arum in Atlantic City to have that point driven home. More than a few people have asked me why I didn't stick around for one more year in the Gloves in order to take another shot at a title. The Golden Gloves and the Nationals were great learning experiences, but, quite frankly, I felt I had gotten all I could get out of amateur boxing and another year didn't seem like the right decision to me. I was ready to ' turn pro ' and that's what I did. The movie was also a terrific experience and I learned a lot about something I knew nothing about and that's always valuable. But, now I'm going in a separate direction, the movie and the amateurs are in the past and professional boxing is in the present."

Shea has won her first five fights, the last bout, two weeks ago, a four round decision over LeAnne Villareal in Madison Square Garden, on the night before St. Patrick's Day. Villareal was the first fighter that Shea has fought, professionally, who had a win on her record. Villareal came into the Garden bout with a 1-5-1 record and Shea's first five opponents have had a cumulative 1-11-2 record.

In the lexicon of the sport of boxing, this is known as "being in soft" and it is, in point of fact, the way most up-and-coming fighters begin their careers. However, one wouldn't be accused of being overly critical in noting that in boxing there is "soft" and there is "soft" and that in the first five bouts of her professional career, Maureen Shea has yet to stretch her considerable boxing skills to their fullest. Shea took the question about her opponents' records about as easily as she would handle a lazy left jab and quickly threw a few verbal counter punches: "I thought Sarina Hayden (Shea's second fight) had a win, but I guess it was a draw. I fight who my manager, Luigi Olcese, and my trainer, Hector Roca, decide I should fight. I have the utmost trust in them and scheduling fights is just one of the many things they do for me. I was originally supposed to be in the Garden with a fighter (Ebony Bey) who was 2-0, but she got TKO'd ten days earlier. I asked my manager if we could get the other fighter (who beat Bey....Angela Woolum), but we took Villareal, who had seven fights, instead. I've been fighting ' pro ' for seven months and there is plenty of time to get to everybody. I'm only 25 and I plan on being around for a while."

It's not like she hasn't had other "offers." "Oh yeah," Shea notes,sardonically, "with the publicity I've gotten, I've had more than my share of ' callouts.' One fighter, with 13 wins, wanted me.....I mean, c'mon. Then there was Melissa Hernandez, who I've known for a while since she's also from New York. She's had two fights, I've had five fights. Now, if Melissa thinks about it, let's assume we both keep winning and building up our records and reputations and then, a bit farther down the road, what you have is two New York fighters, two New York fighters with good records and you then have a fight everybody wants to see. It's a really big bout instead of two fighters with seven bouts between them. That's what I mean about the ' business ' of boxing. You have to look at the ' big picture ' rather than what somebody seems to think make sense at the moment."

Shea's next bout is currently being negotiated for April 15 in Savannah, GA with an opponent yet to be named. That opponent won't be Melissa Hernandez and it won't be some fighter with 13 wins, but, hopefully, it will be a fighter somewhere up the ladder form the competition provided by Maureen Shea's first five opponents, since it is abundantly clear that Shea has more than adequate ring skills to be in with quality fighters.

"I'm right where I want to be, personally and as an athlete," Shea says. "I love everything about this sport: coming to the gym in the morning, the sense of teamwork, the support you receive from other fighters, the mutual respect, both spoken and unspoken. I've got good people around me and we have a plan to make a mark in the sport of Women's boxing. I want to keep improving as a boxer, hopefully win a championship, and, at this point in my life, those goals and this sport are my priority. Everyone who knows me knows that and they also know I'll make whatever sacrifices are necessary to be the best I can be."

Maureen Shea has been a professional fighter for less than eight months. She is being brought along "carefully" by experienced boxing people, in the manner of countless fighters who have come before her. Some critics might say that her progress and choice of opponents, to date, have been overly cautious; others will counter that it is exactly the right plan. But here's something almost everyone who has seen Shea in the ring can agree on: Maureen Shea has boxing skills and she has the "look" of a fighter who knows how to fight and her future in the sport, is, clearly, in front of her. Eight months and five professional fights can be validly termed the "end of the beginning" of a boxer's career. We've heard much of Maureen Shea, but most of that "ink" has concerned a movie that's currently on cable and DVD and an amateur career that is history. It's now time for Maureen Shea to step into a competitive professional future and it's not difficult to project, given her talent and determination, that future could bring Maureen Shea much more "ink" than the movie and the amateur career combined.

Bernie McCoy





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