Ann Wolfe vs. Marsha Valley
ESPN2 Friday Night Fights from Waco Texas, June 21 2002
by Kevin Cockle
originally published on the Women's Boxing Page
Not being familiar with Marsha Valley, I rushed to judgement on this bout as the set up pieces unfolded.
Here was a woman who was taking a bout on short notice, against a murderous puncher and physical specimen, Ann Wolfe. Valley admitted to not being conditioned to go ten rounds, and further, was talking in pre-fight
about ‘bullying the bully’. “That’s fine”, I thought, “if you’re Evander Holyfield, but I’m not sure that’s
the way to go tonight”. Valley’s record at 9-6-4 with 4 stops didn’t seem all that promising in comparison
with Wolfe’s 11-1 (8 whacks), and a soft 5’11” 167.8 pounds against Wolfe’s granite 5’10 162 also seemed like
a disadvantage. Valley’s amateur experience seemed to be a possible ray of hope, but even with that, I felt it
was unrealistic to expect this woman to be able to bamboozle someone as imposing as Ann. So I had a bad feeling
this was a mismatch before we even began. Naturally, I was almost completely wrong.
The bout opened with a sizzling exchange of overhand rights, and Valley drawing a warning for holding and hitting
not 3 seconds in: bullying the bully all right, and no apologies for it. Right away, the size of Marsha,
including reach, looked to be more of a factor than I anticipated, but more than that, the woman could really box.
Valley picked her spots, dove in and ducked down behind big right hands, clinched, mugged and backed Wolfe up in
wild two-way action. The last forty five seconds were particularly rousing, with Valley banging Wolfe to the ropes,
Ann slugging back to reverse positions – it reminded me of Joe Louis turning the tables on Max Baer as Wolfe started
to club away. At the bell, instead of the expected mismatch, we had what looked to be more of a cagey veteran with
some tricks up her sleeve against a fitter, more explosive, but maybe more predictable contender.
The second round was much more cautious, but no less entertaining. Valley gave ground with just-in-time movement,
bending at the waist, melting away to the side to blunt Wolfe’s aggression and looking to pick Ann up with counters.
Wolfe came forward, but not mindlessly – she started to ram out the jab, still throwing wide power shots, but also
straightening out a few missiles and looking generally more compact than I had seen her. Wolfe also incorporated
that little Ali shuffle she’s shown before, making me wonder if that’s a deliberate attempt to get Laila’s attention.
Valley probably wouldn’t be getting a decision if the fight stayed this way, but her early aggression had bought her
a pace she could sustain, and respectful distance from Wolfe.
In the third, Marsha continued to deploy Jedi mind tricks in an effort to survive, and possibly steal moments here
and there. Valley turned southpaw, backhanding a flickering stick, and she continued to turn Wolfe at a stepping,
methodical pace. Ann came forward and showed several key elements of her improving game this round, principally
upperbody and head movement. More than once Wolfe was able to slip punches and stay in position herself,
a technique she hadn’t shown against Diane Clarke not so long ago. Down the stretch, Wolfe even rolled with a
southpaw right hook, and countered with a clouting right on Valley’s jaw – good stuff from Ann who was getting
away with wide open punching, but also looking more and more professional in spots.
The fourth saw Wolfe trying to force the tempo, re-committing to the jab and twisting into dangerous haymakers
while Valley clinched, walked her opponent to the ropes and worked with some cramming rights out of the wrap.
Throughout the fight, Valley had been extending her left to measure Ann, but with nothing coming off it, Wolfe
began to work under and over the arm with loud rights to the body, hacking rights to the jaw. Marsha was toying
with disaster with this posture as she would back out, often into the path of Wolfe’s overhand rights.
In an otherwise heady performance from Valley, this was the first sign of a tendency that could come back to
bite her as Wolfe clearly recognized the opportunity.
Wolfe came out for the fifth with that crunching right round punch to the ribs and tomahawking rights over
Marsha’s extended left and sure enough, Valley got caught, staggered half way through the first minute.
As she had all night long, Marsha took the shot well, regrouping, fighting smart off the ropes, and then
things got bizarre. With the ref in a bad position behind the fighters, Laurence Cole called for a break,
Wolfe landed a whalloping left hook and Valley took a deliberate knee in an effort to get Ann penalized.
Smart. Unfortunately, Referee Cole started issuing a count, much to Valley’s surprise. She beat the count,
clearly starting to show signs of wear, and dug in to meet the onslaught. Wolfe pressed the action, but
Valley kept her composure, nailing Ann with spearing jabs and sharp right hand counters off the ropes to
stay alive. At the bell, Wolf answered a belly tapping jab from Marsha with a clobbering late hit, giving
the ref no choice but to finally deduct a point.
By the sixth, physical reality had caught up to Marsha Valley. She had frustrated Ann to some extent, breaking
Wolfe’s rhythm, stymieing Ann’s attempts to pile on, but after the clean shots of the fifth, Valley finally
looked ready to go. Wolfe was irresistable, punching with just as much authority as she had in the first.
She stepped Valley to the ropes, looped a crashing overhand right to the side of the head and Marsha went
limp, although not out. Ann jumped in to add the left/right on top and Valley once again did the veteran thing,
taking a knee, still obviously plotting her way out of the jam when the ref stopped the fight! Momentary outrage
from the announcers was tempered somewhat by Wolfe’s clear momentum – there was little doubt that Valley was
going to take some form of a beating from this point on – but this was not a great outing for the official.
In the aftermath, you had to be curious about Valley’s potential had she been properly prepared, gotten herself
down to 160 and been in a position to compete at her best. Like Diane Clark in a previous Wolfe encounter,
Valley seemed to pose problems for Ann, enough so that this was probably a great developmental experience for
Wolfe. The thing is, Marsha can think in the ring; she may not have explosive physical talent, but she makes
good decisions, takes good risks and should be thought of as a tricky gatekeeper at the very least.
And what of Wolfe? Having had the chance to see her several times now, I was looking for improvement and
found it in spades. She’s not nearly as erect as I’ve seen her, and she’s making a conscious effort to use
those great wheels only as much as she needs to. She still has the odd flailing delivery or moment of bad
balance, but she’s clearly tightened up in those areas and was probably firing wide in this fight because
Valley started to invite it when fatigue set in. Technically, this was a step forward for Wolfe, who along
with Anani has a chance to become a recognizable television fighter who can produce an ‘event’ fight at
some point down the road.
It’s hard not to think in terms of promotion when you see Wolfe. What part of the story don’t you like?
The triumph over the nightmare of homelessness? The responsible, loving parent? The intimidating, marble-hard
physique? The punching power and evolving skills? There are probably better fighters at middleweight somewhere,
maybe even badder fighters in a street sense, but Ann’s the one we can see. Everytime we see Laila Ali’s name in
print, let’s hope someone brings up Ann’s name so we can get the ball rolling. It’s too soon right now, but get
these women 20 fights apiece and let’s see where we’re at. All we need is a third solid threat in the mix and
these fights will make themselves.
© Kevin Cockle
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