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Rhonda Luna: "Deservin' and Gettin' "
by Bernie McCoy
October 4, 2010

     
   
   
   
   

(OCT 4)  Rhonda Luna is a featherweight boxer. She is possessed of ring skills that rank her high in one of the most competitive weight classes in the sport of Women's boxing. She is also an educator armed with several graduate degrees and she continues to coach middle school sports, in what little spare time she has, drawing on her experience as a college athlete. And, on the last weekend in September, Rhonda Luna was doing "touristy" things in New York City, visiting from California with her brother/boxing manager, Jacob and his wife. I sat down with Rhonda in the lobby of a hotel in a neighborhood whose avenues were once jammed with push carts, sweat shops and all manner of industrial complexes but is now home to film festivals, art galleries, chic restaurants and undersized, overpriced living quarters. Tribeca (Triangle Beneath Canal St.) was the first in what is now a long list of gentrified New York City enclaves, with a new look and a new, hip nickname.

"Boxing is not my life," Luna makes clear, at the start of our conversation, while at the same time conceding, "I really love the sport. I love the competition. I love that it's just you out there and you rise and fall based on what you bring when the bell rings." Luna's last fight was a razor thin ten round loss to Ji-Hye Woo in South Korea last November, for the IFBA super featherweight title. "It was a tough loss," Luna relates, "if I had won the title, my career, obviously, would have been very different."

The IFBA title fight was Luna's fourth bout in 2009. This year, her first fight will be on October 28 against Ela Nunez at the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino in Highland California, just outside San Bernardino. "I think a close loss, on foreign soil, against a tough fighter in her home country, sent a couple of signals across the boxing community. I sure didn't get the opportunities to fight this year that I did in 2009." It's an old story in boxing, one best filed under a fighter's reputation preceding her.

Luna is no stranger to this particular phenomenon. In late 2008, she was contacted by Top Rank Boxing and offered a WBA super featherweight title fight, in Madison Square Garden, the following February, against Maureen Shea. "We couldn't say 'yes' fast enough," Luna remembers. "I already had a bout scheduled in November 2008 which I went ahead with. I beat Kina Malpartida in six rounds and, suddenly, the title fight disappeared. The WBA found a new opponent for Shea: Kina Malpartida." It's easy for an outsider to say, "that's boxing," but you don't lose a title fight spot on a Top Rank card in Madison Square Garden without it hurting, and listening to Rhonda Luna, nearly two years later, recount the tale, you realize that the hurt has stuck around.

The Luna/Nunez bout, also, winds, circuitously, in a "six degrees of separation" path to Kina Malpartida and the WBA title. Prior to Malpartida winning the WBA title over Shea in the Garden, Malpartida lost two bouts: to Luna and, a year prior, a fifth round TKO to Ela Nunez. I ask Luna if the winner of the October 28 bout should be in line for a WBA title fight. If there was such a thing as a "Duh!" look, Luna flashes it as she replies, "Yeah, I'd say the winner of our bout makes a deserving contender for the WBA crown. Do I think it will happen? We've already had several discussions with Kina's management about a title fight and let's just say, they haven't been particularly productive."

I refrain from mentioning a comment I heard, a long time ago, from an old trainer in an old gym on North Charles Street in Baltimore. I knew him as "Deke" ("Deacon") and he said to me one time, "In boxing deservin' don't have nothin' to do with gettin' ." Malpartida has defended the WBA crown three times since her tenth round TKO of Shea and the kindest observation that can be made of those three bouts is that they have significantly expanded the definition of "challenger," at least as far as the WBA super featherweight title is concerned.

Right now Rhonda Luna is concerned with Ela Nunez and six rounds in Highland, CA on October 28. "I appreciate that Patrick Ortiz (the promoter and president of Ringside Ticket in Santa Rosa, CA) is willing to bring Ela Nunez from New York to fight on this card. It indicates his ongoing commitment to the sport and to good female bouts." A subsequent email from Ortiz indicates he's equally happy with the prospect of Luna/Nunez, "I think the fight with Rhonda Luna and Ela Nunez may be the fight of the night. Both are action fighters and I really cannot predict who will win the bout, but it should be very entertaining."

For now, Rhonda Luna gets Ela Nunez over six rounds in Southern California on October 28. Did she deserve more opportunities to fight in 2010? Sure, no one with Luna's skills should go almost a year, outside the ring, in a talent laden featherweight division. Does the winner of Luna/Nunez deserve a return with Kina Malpaartida, this time for the WBA crown? It would be a very good fight and would add some needed luster to the WBA super featherweight title and to the championship bona fides of Kina Malpartida. Will it happen? That gym on North Charles Street is gone and so is Deke, but his words stick around and, for the most part, in this, the most heartless of sports, they still ring true. It would be nice, however, if this time, "deservin' and getting' " came together.

Bernie McCoy

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