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Tiffany Junot: "Every Once in a While"
By Bernie McCoy
November 19, 2012
     
   
   
   
   

(NOV 19) I remember the first time someone asked me why I wrote about boxing: "Ain't no good stories in this sport," a well worn boxing "lifer" declared, in a well worn gym, close by the train station, on North Charles Street in Baltimore, "all those stories end up bad." Over the years, I found that declaration to be, essentially, more right than wrong; if you're searching for "feel good" tales, boxing is probably not the place to begin. But every once in a while, you come across a narrative where the pendulum that cuts through this often cruel sport swings in favor of just the right fighter at just the right time.

Tiffany Junot has been a professional boxer for over six years, compiling a 9-3-1 record and earning the reputation of a "bell to bell" fighter with six KO wins. On November 11, Junot won the WBC light middleweight title with a 10 round unanimous decision over Mia St. John in Bakersfield, CA. I spoke with Junot last week from her New Orleans home and she articulated just what the win meant to her: "I still haven't come down, this was the biggest win of my career and was meaningful to me for so many reasons.

Prior to the title fight, Junot, who turned professional more than six years ago, after a successful amateur career, had not had a bout since July 2011 when she dropped a six round decision to Kuulei Kupihea in Hawaii. That gap in Junot's ring resume was due to the fact that the boxer, at the time residing in and fighting out of Houston, returned to her New Orleans hometown, after the Hawaii bout, to assume primary caregiver responsibility for her father who was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2011 and succumbed to the disease in December. "We were very close," Junot recalled, "my dad was my biggest fan. I was glad I was able to spend time with him in his final months, but it took a big toll on me, probably even more than I realized at the time."

While her father's death was the defining event for Junot in 2011, a part of her, the fighter part, cannot let go of that bout in Hawaii. "The time difference going to the Islands is substantial," she notes, "and doesn't really hit you until two days after you arrive. I should have had at least five days in Hawaii to get oriented to the time change. I got two. Also, Kupihea is a southpaw and like all left-handers, awkward to fight. I just didn't feel at the top of my game in the ring and knew I was in trouble midway through the fight. The unanimous decision for her was the right call and she was the better fighter that night. Under different circumstances, in a different venue, I think it's a different fight."

Following her father's death, Junot did not return to Houston, staying in New Orleans and continuing to train, waiting for another bout. "I've always been known for staying in shape, not just good shape, fight ready shape. When I train, I train like I have a fight next week. But that period after my dad's passing was a long time with nothing but gym work. Training is fine, but training to fight and fighting are two very different things and fighting was the opportunity I was waiting for." It came in late October when Roy Englebrecht came searching for a replacement for Molly McConnell who had dropped out, due to injury, as an opponent for Mia St. John's initial defense of the WBC light middleweight title she (St. John) won against Christy Martin in August. Englebrecht, who had promoted the St. John/Martin bout was glad to get Junot on two weeks notice. "I knew her reputation as an "action" fighter and thought she'd give a good account of herself with Mia. Her father's death fit into the theme of the night's program ("Fight for Life") which was a benefit for families in the Bakersfield area battling cancer."

"Was I ready?," Junot asks, incredulously, "I was beyond ready. After all the waiting, all the gym work all the running, I never felt better going into a fight than this one. Sure, I was a bit apprehensive, it was a WBC title fight against a very well known and popular fighter, in her part of the country. But from the first round, everythiing worked. I felt in control the entire bout, from start to finish and, frankly, I thought I won every round. Of course, the cards were much closer (98-94, 96-94 (2x) ) and, believe me, I've been around long enough to understand that. I understand who I was fighting and where we were fighting, but I never had a doubt as to which way the decision was going. Look, Mia has had a long and distinguished career and I appreciate the opportunity to fight her, but this was not one of my hardest fights. I think I'm ready to step up and defend the title against whoever is out there."

What does the future hold for Junot? Roy Englebrecht, one of the more imaginative and visionary promoters in the sport and long considered a premier advocate of Women's boxing in this country, is already thinking in terms of staging Junot's next bout in New Orleans. Once one of the great boxing towns, the Crescent City has absorbed Katrina and economic haymakers and has lost much of the former glory that was provided by a trinity of great fighters, Willie Pastrano, Ralph Dupas and Tony Licata, all of whom stormed out of New Orleans to achieve national prominence. Now, New Orleans can boast of another WBC title holder in the person of Tiffany Junot and Englebrecht feels it would be a natural progression in her career to bring her and her title back home, where she has never fought. Junot, naturally, loves the idea and even added a promotional lagniappe of her own: "Wouldn't it be great if the bout could be staged in the old Municipal Auditorium, that was New Orleans boxing, at it's best."

That's for the fertile minds of good promoters and creative matchmakers. For now, Tiffany Junot continues to enjoy what she has accomplished after many years of overcoming personal heartbreak outside the ring and the obstacles, within the ropes, all too common to female boxers in today's sport. Many of these talented athletes, if provided with an opportunity to showcase their talent, have the ability to rise in the sport as high as that talent will take them. But so many of these female boxers fail to get such an opportunity because they lack a well financed support system or are not fortunate enough to come under the auspices of a promoter like Roy Englebrecht (of whom there are not nearly enough in this sport). And yet these fighters, as Tiffany Junot did, toil day after day, in gyms across the country, waiting, like Tiffany Junot waited, for the all too rare type of opportunity that put Junot in the ring with a shot at a WBC belt.

Tiffany Junot got her chance and she not only jumped at it, she slam dunked it. Will she continue to add to the initial success that her ring skills, her determination and her will seem to forecast? The good news is she'll probably get the opportunity. The flip side is that boxing is the most unforgiving of sports and that "lifer" in that Baltimore gym was right: most boxing stories don't end well. But, still the thought lingers: "Every Once in a While."

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