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In-young Lee


5'3" flyweight In-young Lee from South Korea,  born on November 1 1971, is an inside fighter with a tough hook and a strong uppercut. She worked as a truck driver hauling cabbages before she started to box competitively in August 2000.

Korea has long been used to women participating in combat sports such as taekwondo, judo and fencing, offering the female competition equal coverage to men's in the Asian Games and Olympics. Western boxing for women, is, however a relatively new phenomenon in South Korea.

In-young Lee's international success has sparked a women's boxing boom in South Korea, according to reports in the Korea Times. "Lee showed it is not just a sport for men anymore", says boxing promoter Joeng-il Byun, whose gym gives lessons to over 150 women. ``I think Lee has ignited the boxing boom for women, who wanted to learn but couldn't practice it due to the social taboo of considering it as the sole realm of men", says Byun. "However, Lee showed it is not just a sport for men any more."

"My father and I used to watch matches when I was a kid," says Lee, adding that she decided to box after seeing Korean-born (but American-based) Kim "Fireball" Messer fight for a world title on Korean television.

Lee made her professional debut on July 28, 2001 with a four-round unanimous decision over Jin-Young Kim. 

Lee fought for the national (Korean Boxing Commission) flyweight pro title at Yongsan's Capital Hotel in Seoul on November 16, 2002 and knocked out her 17-year old rival Ju-Hee Kim at 1:20 in the fourth round of a bloody contest. Both boxers came out brawling but Kim began to wobble in the third round and was knocked out by a right hook to the head in the fourth. Lee said of the fight, "I think my better stamina paid off for today’s victory. I will continue to improve my skills to fight well at the international level." Kim fell to 2-1-1 (1 KO) with the loss.

On January 23, 2003 at Chamsil Gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea, she won a unanimous (3-0) eight-round decision over former teen model Yumi Yashima of Bashamichi, Japan in a non-title bout. The 26-year-old Yashima tried to box outside and kept Lee at bay with her jab and footwork at first. Eventually, Lee's hectic pace and conditioning were the difference as Yashima was unable to keep Lee at long range and the Korean fighter worked effectively on the inside. Yashima was in trouble in the seventh round as Lee landed several hard hooks to her head, but she was able to last until the final bell. Yashima said she was surprised by Lee's punching power, while Lee felt she could have performed better. ``I wanted to do better, but things didn't go exactly as I had hoped. I am sorry for my fans. But I can promise a much better fight next time", said Lee, who was fighting in her first international pro bout. Yashima slipped to 8-2-1 (3 KO) with the loss.

Yashima was guaranteed $5,000 while Lee received $1,300 plus a bonus for the win. The purses were set to reflect the popularity of the boxers in the two countries, following guidelines established by the Korean Boxing Association.

On March 29, 2003 at Chamsil Gymnasium in Seoul, South Korea, she won a unanimous (3-0) eight-round decision over Yvonne Caples of Berkeley, California. Caples used her reach advantage and left jab to control Lee in the first two rounds but the more aggressive Lee used her hooks well and bloodied Caples's nose in the third. Caples used good footwork to stymie Lee and keep the fight on even terms in the fourth and early in the fifth , but Lee stepped up her pace late in the round to land several hard shots. The sixth round had less action but Lee continued to charge forward with hooks and uppercuts in the seventh and eighth while Caples appeared to be tiring under Lee's steady barrage. ``It was a difficult fight for me because she has better technique than me and I was fatigued in the later half", Lee told reporters after the bout. Caples was also the first southpaw Lee had faced. ``Experience is what I need most now. With the win, I gained the confidence that I can be a world champion", said Lee. Caples questioned the decision, as she had landed more punches than Lee. Caples fell to 6-6-1 (1 KO) with the loss.

On September 27, 2003 at Culture Center in Yangjae-dong, Seoul, South Korea, Lee (111 lbs) TKO'd unranked Carla Wilcox (112 lbs) of Seattle, Washington at 0:40 in the ninth round to win the vacant IFBA Flyweight (112-lb) world title. Lee burst into tears when her hand was raised in victory. Lee advanced her record to 7-0-0 (3 KO) while Wilcox, who had previously fought as a featherweight or junior featherweight, slipped to 4-3-0 (1 KO).

The prime challenger for this vacant IFBA title bout should have been Californian Marilyn Salcido, but the Korean promoter and Salcido's management were unable to come to terms over the purse and expenses for Salcido's travel to Korea. Kim Messer, whose world title fights in Korea inspired Lee to compete, also expressed interest in coming out of retirement to fight her.

On December 24, 2003 at Yongin Gymnasium in Yongin City, South Korea, Lee defended her IFBA Flyweight title with a ten-round split (97-96,96-95,95-96) decision over Misa 'Marvelous' Morimoto of Japan, who fell to 7-2 with the loss in her first fight outside Japan.

Lee's popularity in South Korea changed her life, and she told the Korea Times: ``I am really feeling the strain. Everybody knows me now. Whenever they notice me on the street, they ask me to become the world champion. I have to stand the burden and to do my best".

"We're hoping that the popularity of women's boxing will boost the popularity of men's boxing too," said Jae-chul Chin, council chairman of the Korean Boxing Comnmission and vice president of the World Boxing Association, acknowledging that the men's sport has been in a slump there.

Lee published her autobiography, ``I am a Boxer" in 2003, revealing that she was an alcoholic for 10 years before taking up boxing at the age of 29. "I am living a different life since I started boxing," says Lee, "I want to finish my life doing boxing."  Coached by former Korean flyweight Ju-byeong Kim, Lee focused on her boxing training at a high level.  After a 5-km sunrise run through the suburbs of Seoul, she would help her sister with her restaurant business in the morning, then return to the gym at 1 p.m. for non-stop skipping rope, sparring, shadow boxing and sessions on the punching bags. She spent her late afternoon pumping iron and bench-pressing before taking a 7-km jog, finally watching boxing videos to help her sleep.

"There's nothing different between women's boxing and men's boxing," says Lee. "I train with guys so I feel pretty confident when I go into the ring."

2004 was a difficult year for Lee, as she parted ways with promoter Byun Jung-il in January after a dispute over the purses for her fights. Relations between them deteriorated as Byun announced that Lee, an admitted alcoholic, had started drinking again. Lee dropped out of contact with Byun after this. 

On May 19, 2004 the IFBA stripped Lee of its Flyweight belt for failing to make a mandatory title defense within the required time. Byun Jung-il stated that the IFBA required him to provide an explanation for not having had the bout and he replied that he had lost contact with Lee.

``It has been a painful year for me,’’ Lee told Yonhap News Agency after resurfacing in the Fall to reconcile with the promoter and go in search of another title belt, "but I’ve been preparing for this chance for everyone who trusted and supported me".

Lee returned to the ring to fight California-based Mexican-born Mariana Juárez for the IFBA Junior Bantamweight title in Yongin on November 14, 2004, losing by a ten-round split decision. Juarez dominated the early rounds with her jabs, and switched to landing left hooks in the later rounds when Lee became more aggressive in an attempt to rescue the decision. Judge Suk Kwon Kim scored the fight 96-95 for Lee, while Judge Dong Ok Lee scored it 96-95 and Judge Nam Chul Park 97-95 for Juárez.

Though she was disappointed by the loss, Lee said she would not retire. ``I have worked really hard for this match, so I feel very sorry to lose it,’’ she said. ``But I will be back someday to get the title.’’  According to her trainer, Lee was not in her best shape before the fight because of her absence from the ring and a bout with the flu. Lee fell to 8-1 (3 KOs) with the loss while Juárez improved her record to 13-3-3 (7 KO).  

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Page last updated: Friday November 06, 2015


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