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Sounds Like a Plan
By Bernie McCoy
May 21, 2006

"Make no small plans, they have no magic to stir the soul."

Graduates, at all levels of the educational experience, will be on the receiving end of that advice, in various forms, at ceremonies across the country during the upcoming commencement season. Jimmy Mallo is already there. Mallo is the manager/trainer of unbeaten boxer, Mary Jo Sanders and, together, they plan to "stir the soul" of the sport of Women's boxing in 2006. I spoke, by phone, recently, with Sanders and Mallo from their home base in Detroit. On reflection: make that I spoke with Mary Jo Sanders, I listened to Jimmy Mallo.

Jimmy Mallo has plans, big plans for the fighter he considers the best in the sport of Women's boxing, the fighter he refers to as "the champ." And, at the drop of a question, Mallo will be happy to detail those plans without, it often seems, the need for taking a breath. Mary Jo Sanders, by contrast, speaks more thoughtfully and punctuates her remarks with full throated laughter. But, both Sanders and Mallo are on the same page when it comes to their boxing plans for the coming months.

The first step is a June 3 bout in Auburn Hills, MI against unbeaten Tricia Turton. This is Sanders' first bout since she overwhelmed Iva Weston in three rounds in February on ESPN2. Mallo asserts that Turton "will be much tougher than Weston," who was, in Mallo's words, "the best fighter available" for the February bout. In the view of many, (myself included) Weston presented little more than a "speed bump" for Sanders and "tough" is not the first word that comes to mind when describing the February match-up. Tricia Turton is unbeaten in eight fights, including two wins over tough veteran, Lisa Holewyne, late in 2005. Turton's other six wins came against opposition that had a combined record of 12-24. Turton is the #1 Jr. middleweight in the WBAN May rankings. She is a southpaw and she is a tougher fight than Iva Weston.

I asked Lisa Holewyne, who has also fought Mary Jo Sanders twice, how she "saw" the Sanders/Turton match-up. Holewyne, not surprisingly, was very direct in her assessment. Lisa Holewyne answers questions the same way she operates in the ring, with straight-ahead answers. "I came out of the two fights (within six weeks) with Tricia, basically unmarked," Holewyne recounted. "After my first bout with Mary Jo, people might have confused me with the ' Elephant Man.' Sanders is the complete package in the ring, she has size, movement and great athleticism. Turton is tough and, often, she's awkward to fight, but Tricia has a tough night ahead of her, going to Detroit and fighting Mary Jo."

Mary Jo Sanders' own assessment of Tricia Turton is, not surprisingly, a bit short on "bulletin board' material: "Any unbeaten fighter is a tough fighter," Sanders noted. "Tricia Turton is a southpaw and that never makes for an easy fight. I'm working hard in the gym and I'll be ready on June 3. As far as I'm concerned, my next fight is always my toughest and this one is certainly no exception. Everyone, recently, saw the error of assuming that any fight is a foregone conclusion. I was in Indiana for the Sumya Anani/Terri Blair bout and going in, the question all the "experts" were asking was how long was the fight going to last. Let me tell you, that was not only the best, most competitive fight of the night, it confirms the adage that on any given night, anything can happen once the bell rings. Look past a fight? No chance."

That said, Jimmy Mallo's plans for 2006 go beyond June 3. "We have a date in July, at the Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles on ESPN2," outlines Mallo. "We're looking for a top quality opponent and have had preliminary discussions with some of the top fighters in the sport. After that, probably in August, I very much want to finally put Mary Jo in with Sumya Anani here in the Detroit area. Obviously, that assumes Sumya wins her ' return ' with Blair (in Louisville, May 27) which I expect her to do. Sumya has been and is a great fighter and I want to match her with Mary Jo in a bout the entire sport has been looking forward to."

The Sanders/Anani bout has been discussed for over a year and Sumya Anani has been receptive to that match-up for at least that long. The fight has, however, lingered in the dreaded "when the time is right" limbo for too long. Cynics (and writers fit easily into that group) might be tempted to point out that now that Anani has shown a touch of vulnerability, talk of the bout has suddenly revived. Mallo wants none of this, "I have been trying to make that bout for over a year. A match-up that big just doesn't come together overnight, it deserves a big venue, major promotion and TV coverage. We're on the verge of all that coming together in late summer at an outdoor venue here (in Detroit)."

Another issue for Sanders/Anani would seem, at least to me, to be the weight. Sanders is aiming for 152 for Turton on June 3 and, according to Mallo, "won't go below 147 again, in her career." Anani was 138 for the Indiana fight with Blair and she would need to go up, substantially, in weight to "level the ring" with Sanders. Additionally, assuming Mallo obtains the "quality" opponent for the Playboy Mansion in July, would Sanders be ready for an Anani bout, shortly thereafter? Not surprisingly, Mallo has a ready answer, "Mary Jo has done this before. In July ' 03, she fought and beat, Shadina Pennybaker, Cynthia Prouder and, yes, Terri Blair within 31 days. It wasn't easy then, and it certainly won't be easy this time, but Mary Jo is up to it." It's, likewise, safe to assume that after all this time, weight won't be an issue for Sumya Anani and she'll also be "up to it."

After that, it's up the scale for Mary Jo Sanders, literally and figuratively. "Laila Ali is the ultimate goal," Mallo says. "Mary Jo has wanted this fight almost from the beginning of her career. She's very comfortable at super middleweight and we continue to work, in the gym, on punching power and establishing distance. We know there are very good fighters at lower weights and we have respect for them all, but it's always been Laila. I just hope she stays in the sport long enough for Mary Jo to get into the ring with her. It would be the biggest fight the sport has ever seen: two daughters of famous athletes, two undefeated fighters with world titles (an assumption, certainly, given the Anani match-up for Sanders) and two stunningly attractive, athletic boxers. This has all the ingredients of the "Superfight". The money is there for the biggest purse in the sport. Rijker/Martin didn't happen and that was a shame. I'm going to make Sanders/Anani and that's a great bout, but Sanders/Ali is the one everyone will talk about."

Jimmy Mallo "talks the talk" as well, and certainly as fast, as anyone in the business. His fighter, Mary Jo Sanders, has "walked the talk", she's backed up Mallo's words, winning 20 straight fights and looked good doing it. Jimmy Mallo is a good trainer and as a manager he has done what every good manager does, taken his fighter along at a pace and with the opponents he deemed right. Thus far, Jimmy Mallo's plan has been sound, in large part, because he has a talented fighter with whom to implement the plan. The plan continues on June 3 with Tricia Turton, then another "quality" opponent at the Playboy Mansion in July and then Sumya Anani. Then, if things go according to Mallo's plan, Laila Ali.

Jimmy Mallo and Mary Jo Sanders have no small plans. They are looking at ever bigger fights against ever better opponents. It not only sounds like a plan, it sounds like the type of plan that could provide the sport of Women's boxing with exactly the kind of bouts the sport urgently needs. Let's hope the plans become reality.   Bernie McCoy

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