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Leah Mellinger


5'7Ĺ" junior welterweight Leah "The Kitten" Mellinger was born on July 28, 1972 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She trained at Terry Nye's Gym and Karate School in Lancaster from 1993 to mid-1999. The former Miss Lancaster County beauty contestant and high school cheerleader originally joined the gym to learn karate and get herself in shape.

Leah did not take an easy path to the women's boxing pinnacle that she attained in 1998 by winning the IFBA and IWBF Junior Welterweight world titles.

Like many professional female boxers in the 1990's, Leah began competing as a kickboxer (she went 12-0 with 9 KO's in FFKA action.)

She began boxing in the spring of 1995 and went 5-0 in unsanctioned bouts before going 3-0 in USA Boxing and Golden Gloves competition.

She made her pro debut on August 22, 1996, in York, Pennsylvania, where she knocked out debut fighter Shara Holmes in the first round.

But on September 28, 1996 in Salinas, California she was TKO'd in the ninth round by Gina Guidi of San Leandro, California, who would later become the IFBA Junior Middleweight champion. Guidi improved to 6-1 with this victory.

Leah came back from this loss to take a four-round decision over Gwen Smith in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania on November 26, 1996, dropping Smith to 0-2.

Continuing to campaign in Pennsylvania, she knocked out Roxanna Billingsley in the first round in Lancaster on 11 December, 1996, then battled to a four-round draw with the durable Dora Webber in Harrisburg on February 22, 1997.

Leah next fought Kathy Collins (140 lbs) on Kathy's home turf in Westbury, New York on June 6, 1997, losing on points over six rounds in what has often been described as a "home town decision" for Kathy. Collins improved to 5-0-3 with the win.

Jane Couch and Leah Mellinger

On August 7, 1997 at Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, Leah (139 lbs) lost a 10-round unanimous decision to Jane Couch (138Ĺ lbs) when she challenged the then-unbeaten British boxer for the WIBF world Junior Welterweight title. Mellinger had the champion in trouble in the first round, and several other times during this fight, but she couldn't cash in and lost a 10-round unanimous decision. Couch improved her record to 7-0-0 with this win.

"She had (Couch) in trouble four different times, but instead of finishing her off, she put her hands up and ran around the ring", said Terry Nye of his protege's performance. Mellinger agreed, adding that "I think I got overly excited when I saw her in trouble. I just couldn't finish her off."

Leah next evened her record at 3-3--1 with a hard-fought six-round split decision over previously undefeated Gina Nicholas of Longview, Texas on November 6, 1997 in Biloxi, Mississippi, using her jabs, straight rights and ring movement to handle an opponent with superior punching power. By the third round, Nicholas was bleeding from her mouth (after colliding with the ring ropes, she told me) but her aggression kept her in the fight and persuaded the judges to hand out only a split decision in Leah's favor. The loss dropped Nicholas to 5-1.

Fighting in her home gym, Leah handed hard-punching Virginian Lisa Ested her first loss in six fights in a closely-fought match on February 21, 1998. Leah held Ested at bay with quick jabs and counterpunching early in this fight but Ested came on strong in the last two rounds as Leah appeared to tire. Ested fell to 3-1.

Leah Mellinger vs. Fredia Gibbs for the
IFBA Junior Welterweight belt, March 21 1998

One of Leah Mellinger's finest hours came when she took on the unbeaten Fredia Gibbs for the newly-created IFBA Junior Welterweight belt at the Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City on March 21, 1998. Leah (40 lbs) started cautiously against the highly-ranked Gibbs (138 lbs), who was 16-0 as a kickboxer and 4-0 as a boxer, and known for a fearsome overhand right. Mellinger suffered a one-inch cut from a right to her left eye as they broke from a clinch in the sixth round, but she survived Gibbs's attempt to end the fight quickly, then used her ring skills once again to control the fight.

Mellinger's fight plan had been to push the fight to the full 10-round distance, knowing that this was unfamiliar territory for Gibbs, who has specialized in quick knockouts. The cut almost caused a stoppage ... but Mellinger protected it with her left and used her right to control the fading Gibbs. Not only did Leah's showing and Nye's energetic pleading persuade the officials to let her continue, but she later admitted that she went for a knockout in the late going ... as payback for the "cheap shot" in the sixth.

"We were tied up, and I knew she was a dirty fighter who hits in the clinch," explained Mellinger. "So I wasn't going to let go and back off. Instead of putting his whole body between us, the ref just grabbed my hand and yelled to break it up. When he lowered my hand I backed off, and she hit me with a right to the eye. I knew what happened right away, it fired me up, and right after it happened I got her with a good, solid left hand and hurt her. I think she (Gibbs) spent all her energy in the sixth round trying to end the fight right there, she thought she had me hurt. By the eighth round, I was fine. I said to myself, I'm not getting a scar on my face for nothing!'. I was mad. I don't usually try for a knockout, but I wanted to put her down."

Immediately after the fight Mellinger was taken to an emergency room, where a plastic surgeon used 15 stitches to close the gash. Nye was originally concerned that the cut over Mellinger's left eye could affect her boxing future. "I called the plastic surgeon that worked on her cut. He said that at first, the healing process is fast. In a month, after the stitches are removed, the skin over the cut will be 50 percent as strong as the surrounding skin. After two months, it's 60 percent as strong. After that, the whole process really slows down. In a year, the skin over the cut is 70 percent as strong as the surrounding skin, and for the rest of her life it will only get as high as 80 percent. He said boxers just have to deal with it."

Mellinger said her concern was "Now everyone knows I've had a cut, fighters will work on that, trying to reopen it. If your cornerman can't get the bleeding to stop, the blood will get in your eye and you can't defend yourself. If that happens, they'll stop the fight." But working on her eye might not be the best strategy, she added. "I think if they look at the tape, they'll see how much angrier and more aggressive I was once I got the cut. They'll see it might be hazardous to their health to open it up again."


facing Kathy Collins on September 11, 1998

Undaunted and healed, Mellinger continued to seek out the best opponents in her weight division. She put her IFBA title on the line on September 11, 1998, again at the Tropicana in Atlantic City, when she fought a rematch with unbeaten IWBF junior welterweight champion Kathy Collins. Leah was coming off a 5½-month layoff and a training injury. Leah (139 lbs) used her reach advantage, her ring movement and her counterpunching skills to frustrate Collins (138 lbs) in the first half of a 10-rounder. Collins was cut under her left eye and looked frustrated by Mellinger's success in taking her out of her own fight plan, which is to get in close and bang the body. After the fifth round, Collins told her corner that she did not want to continue the fight (but she was not visibly hurt). Instead, Kathy picked up her intensity enough to get in close more often and take a few of the later rounds. Mellinger kept her cool and continued to control the overall pace, occasionally landing well to Collins's head.

Leah with IFBA title beltLeah deserved a decision in this fight in my opinion, but she didn't get it. She left the arena with both the IFBA and IWBF Junior Welterweight belts, but only by a split (96-94, 94-96, 96-94) decision. The split decision brought boos from the crowd, who knew they had seen Mellinger outbox the favored Collins (who at the time was reportedly trying to position herself for a match with Christy Martin).

On November 6, 1998 on her home turf at the Lancaster Host Resort, Leah took on a less formidable opponent in Robyn Covino, a former kickboxer from California who had been having a tough time of it as  a pro boxer. Covino's lack of ring movement made her an easy target for Leah, who won an eight-round unanimous decision to move her own pro record to 8-3-1 with 1 KO, while Covino's fell to 1-7.

On December 3, 1998 at the Days Inn in South Whitehall, Pennsylvania, Leah improved her pro record to 9-3-1 with won a four-round unanimous (40-36) decision over Shakurah Witherspoon of York, Pennsylvania, who fell to 2-6-1. Mellinger pummelled a retreating Witherspoon throughout the fight. 

On March 14, 1999 at the Arenahal in Antwerp, Belgium, Leah received a setback when she lost the IWBF Junior Welterweight title to Belgian veteran DaniŽlla Somers by a ten-round unanimous (96-93, 96-94, 98-92) decision. Despite her extensive ring experience, Somers was considered the underdog before the fight. Leah had sounded confident, saying in a pre-fight interview: "Iím not worried. I know that the judges and other officials will do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Iím doing this not only so the world can know me, but so that another country can see womenís boxing at its highest level, and hopefully begin to support the sport. Plus, this is part of being a world champion, going to other countries and fighting their best fighters."

But once the fight was under way Leah's jab lacked its usual snap and Somers stayed with her in the early rounds, then put on a strong finish in the last two to take the decision. (Read Rod Mahaffey's round-by-round fight report and the post-fight press release from Leah's publicist Tom Gerbasi.) Somers advanced to 9-2 with the win while Mellinger fell to 9-4-1. To make matters worse, thieves broke into Leah's locker room while the fight was in progress and stole money, credit cards, and personal belongings!

Terry Nye coaches Leah during her title fight with Kathy Collins

Leah's boxing career received another setback after this fight, as she and her manager/trainer Terry Nye severed their professional relationship after seven years. Although Nye had guided Leah to two world title belts,  she opted to assume all of her own managerial duties as well as to train herself.

The split came only a month before Mellinger was set to defend her IFBA Junior Welterweight title against talented Las Vegas boxer Hannah Fox on an all-female card at the Horsehoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana on June 11, 1999. Two weeks later, Terry Nye decided to assist the Hannah Fox camp in preparing their boxer for the fight, and he also consulted with Hannah's corner during it.

Hannah Fox handed Leah a loss in June 1999
© Copyrighted Photo by Mary Ann Owen

The fight was a disaster for Mellinger, who lacked spark and could not find consistent answers for Fox's aggressive style. Leah took one of the worst losses of her career as she tired early and was unable to slow down an increasingly confident challenger. Mellinger ended the ten-round fight on her feet but battered and with her pro boxing career in obvious disarray after losing a lop-sided (99-91,100-90,98-92) decision. She had now lost both her title belts, and her trainer of seven years, in the span of a few months.

On July 31, 1999 at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, California, Leah used her jab expertly again to move her record to 10-5-1 with a ten-round unanimous (97-93,96-93,97-93) decision over Lisa Holewyne of Waco, Texas, who fell to 7-3-1. This bout was for a little-known PBI Junior Welterweight title, but it got Leah back onto a winning track against a quality opponent. Unfortunately, it would be her last real hurrah in the ring. 

Leah began to train with Barry Stumpf, saying "Barry and I work very well together, and I have total confidence in him as a trainer. I'm learning a lot of new things. One of the big areas of criticism I faced was that I lacked finishing power. People always say I don't have a knockout punch, and that I don't like to fight in close. Those are the things I've been working on with Barry."

Mellinger had hoped to land a rematch with Hannah Fox, but the Las Vegas-based fighter retired and vacated the IFBA title. "I was surprised," said Mellinger of Fox's decision. "There are certainly some great opportunites for her still out there. I was also disappointed, because I was hoping to put something together with her, and I know that a few promoters were interested in that as well. I would've liked another shot at her, because I feel I have something to prove."

On June 9, 2000 at Zembo Temple in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Mellinger moved her record to 11-5-1 with a four-round unanimous decision over IBA Americas Continental Junior Lightweight champion Shakurah Witherspoon, who fell to 8-17-1.  This four-rounder with Witherspoon, a game but clearly overmatched opponent, was Leah's last pro bout.

Leah had graduated from Penn Manor High School in 1990. When not fighting or training, she worked as a project coordinator for a recycling and wrecking company. She is also a gourmet cook, and enjoys dancing and interior design. She was a fine technical boxer who knew how to make the best of her physical abilities under pressure while under Terry Nye's guidance. She came to each bout fit and ready to fight in a true contest of skills, and she handled adversity extremely well against Fredia Gibbs. Unfortunately, she did not find the way to get fully back to that peak with her second trainer.

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Page last updated: Friday, 06 November 2015


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