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Mary Jo Sanders
© Copyrighted photograph courtesy of Team Sanders

 
   

5'7" Mary Jo "KO" Sanders from Detroit, Michigan is a naturally gifted athete who participated in track and field, basketball, gymnastics and bodybuilding before entering the world of combat sports through kickboxing and in Tough Woman contests.

Mary Jo won the heavyweight division in the Miss Natural Michigan bodybuilding championship in 1998.

She entered Tough Woman competition in 1998 and won the Detroit Championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000. She went on to win a world championship in the open-weight Toughwoman division in 2000 (despite being the smallest entrant at 138 lbs and giving away 90 pounds to her opponent). Mary Jo also won her division in the 2002 Detroit Golden Gloves. 

Finding it increasingly tough to get other amateurs into the ring with her, Mary Jo turned to her manager/trainer Jimmy Mallo, and they decided that the time had come for Mary Jo’s next challenge, professional world championship boxing! 


Mary Jo pounds Willicia Moorehead in her pro debut
Copyrighted photo from Team Sanders

She made her pro boxing debut on February 7, 2003 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan, winning a first-round TKO over Willicia Moorehead of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who fell to 2-11. Moorehead went to the canvas twice before the referee halted the bout.

On May 23, 2003 at Gray's Armory in Cleveland, Ohio, Mary Jo (140 lbs) won a four-round unanimous decision over Terri Blair (140 lbs) of Louisville, Kentucky, who fell to 2-4 (0 KO).

On June 5, 2003 at the State Theater in Detroit, Michigan, Mary Jo weighed in at 141 lbs and won a clear unanimous (40-35,40-35,40-35) decision over Shadina Pennybaker (142 lbs) of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Sanders had a clear edge in speed and power, and staggered the more experienced Pennybaker several times on the way to a convincing decision. Pennybaker, who was fighting at her lightest ever, fell to 7-2-1 (2 KOs) (her only other loss was to Laila Ali).

On July 1, 2003 at Cafaro Field in Niles, Ohio, Mary Jo (140½ lbs) won a hard fought four round majority (38-38,39-37,40-36) decision in a rematch with Shadina Pennybaker (144½ lbs), who fell to 7-3-1 (2 KOs).

Mary Jo at Playboy MansionOn July 15, 2003 at Playboy Mansion in Los Angeles, California, Mary Jo (141 lbs) outworked and outhit veteran Cynthia Prouder of Los Angeles for a clear four-round unanimous decision in a junior welterweight bout. Prouder could not match the hand speed and aggressiveness of Sanders, especially at close quarters and against the ropes, but her defensive skills and durability kept her out of serious trouble. Sanders threw punches in bunches throughout the fight. While Prouder occasionally landed a few hard straight shots to Sanders's head, these didn't knock the unbeaten newcomer off her game plan at all. Prouder fell to 8-11-1 (3 KOs).

On July 31, 2003 at Kewadin Casino in Sault Saint Marie, Michigan, Mary Jo weighed in at 138½ lbs and won a four-round unanimous decision over unranked Terri Blair (137 lbs) of Louisville, Kentucky. Blair fell to 3-5-0 (2 KO) with her second loss to Sanders.

This fast pace of competition was interrupted when Mary Jo injured her left wrist while training, and could not spar or work out on the heavy bag.

Mary Jo was named "Top Rookie of the Year" by WBAN in 2003. 

On January 30, 2004 at Palace of Auburn Hills, Michigan, Mary Jo advanced to 7-0-0 (2 KO) with a first-round TKO over unranked Jamie Whitcomb of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Whitcomb began aggressively, trying to catch Sanders early with a bomb, but Sanders evaded Whitcomb's attack and used her jab to set up a devastating right uppercut that put Whitcomb down just 40 seconds into the fight. Whitcomb got up and continued, but was decked by a right to the side of her head. Whitcomb got up again but Sanders dropped her with a three- punch combination followed by another right uppercut, triggering the TKO call by referee Ron Cunningham at the 1:29 second mark. Whitcomb fell to 1-7-0 (0 KO).

"I love to throw the uppercut," Sanders said. "It's my favorite punch."

Jackie Kallen, who was at ringside to help promote the movie Against The Ropes based on her career as a boxing manager, stated "This girl is unbelievable - her speed, her power. That's the kind of girl that can make women's boxing."

Jamie Whitcomb agreed, telling me: "Mary Jo will be the next champ, mark my words. What a force. Tuff isn't even the right word to use! I have fought grown men who don't even compare. She's going all the way to the top. It goes much deeper than "a champion in the making" because as a fighter when you look into people's eyes and see that desire and dedication ... that "eye of the tiger" ... you just know from one fighter to another there are few and far between that have that look. Believe me she's got the look."

On April 16, 2004 at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, Mary Jo (140½ lbs) won a six-round unanimous decision over GBU Junior Welterweight champion Layla McCarter (137 lbs) of Las Vegas in a non-title bout. Most would have thought this was a stretch for Mary Jo considering she had only seven professional fights in her 14 month career against Layla's 30 professional fights in seven years.  However, Mary Jo dominated McCarter, who fell to 17-10-4 (2 KO).

Mary Jo Sanders and Chevelle Hallback
Mary Jo in action against Chevelle Hallback
©
Copyrighted Photograph taken by Dan Graschuck

On May 20, 2004 at Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste. Marie, in Michigan, a standing-room-only crowd saw Mary Jo win a ten-round unanimous (96-94,97-93,97-95) decision over the reigning IBA World Lightweight champ Chevelle Hallback of Tampa, Florida for the IBA Continental Junior Welterweight title. Sanders improved to 9-0-0 (2 KO) with the win, while Hallback fell to 20-4-1 (9 KO) with her first loss since July 2001. (For more photos of this fight, see WBAN Photo Gallery #174 on the WBAN Records Member Site.)

"This feels wonderful. It really hasn't set in yet," said Sanders, who improved to 9-0. "The team worked so hard to make this happen. It was just a great fight. To showcase the ability as two women in this sport was awesome. It was just great boxing from a couple of girls."

On July 16, 2004 at Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio, Mary Jo (142½ lbs) won a four-round unanimous decision over Terri Blair (5'6", 142 lbs) of Louisville, Kentucky, who fell to 5-6-1 (3 KOs).

On August 19, 2004 at Aldrich Arena in St. Paul, Minnesota, Mary Jo (143 lbs) TKO'd Lisa Holewyne (140 lbs) of Houston, Texas at 1:55 in the ninth round of a scheduled ten-rounder, defending the IBA Continental Light Welterweight title. Sanders had battled a heavy cold in the days before the fight, saying "It felt like I had razors in the back of my throat. Maybe I don't rest enough." But manager and trainer Jimmy Mallo still felt confident, saying "Mary Jo is punching hard. She has made tremendous improvement in her last few fights." Holewyne fell to 22-13-1 (6 KO's).


Mary Jo overpowered Shakurah Witherspoon
©
Copyrighted photograph taken by Dan Graschuck

On September 16, 2004 at Kewadin Casino in Sault Ste Marie, Michigan, Mary Jo TKO'd Shakurah Witherspoon 57 seconds into the third round of a scheduled six-rounder. Witherspoon fell to 10-38-1 (4 KO). For more photos of this fight, see WBAN Photo Gallery #217 on the WBAN Records Member Site.


Mary Jo Sanders vs. Rita Turrisi in October 2004
©
Copyrighted photograph taken by Dan Graschuck

On October 27, 2004 at Andiamo Italia in Warren, Michigan,
Mary Jo (144 lbs) won a unanimous eight-round shutout (80-72) decision over Rita Turrisi (146 lbs) of Italy, who fights out of Las Vegas. Mary Jo improved to 13-0 (4 KO) while Turrisi fell to 3-6-0 (3 KOs).

For more photos of this fight by Dan Graschuck, see WBAN Photo Gallery #220 on the WBAN Records Member Site.


Mary Jo Sanders vs. Melissa Del Valle in March 2005
©
Copyrighted photograph taken by Dan Graschuck

On March 16, 2005 at Andiamo Italia in Warren, Michigan, Mary Jo won a clear six-round unanimous decision over Melissa Del Valle of Florida in a junior welterweight bout. After a slow start, Sanders used a non-stop head and body attack to overwhelm Del Valle in the later rounds, catching her repeatedly with heavy punches and almost finishing her off in the sixth. Del Valle fell to 29-5-1 (11 KO's). For more photos of this fight by Dan Graschuck, see WBAN Photo Gallery #248 on the WBAN Records Member Site.


Mary Jo TKO'd Lois Theobald
© Copyrighted photograph taken by Kevin Kanahan
 

On April 29, 2005 at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan,
Mary Jo Sanders won by a TKO over Lois Theobald of Crystal Lake, Illinois at 1:52 in the first round of a scheduled eight-rounder. Referee Dale Grable halted the fight as Sanders connected with brutal shots to the head of Theobald.  Theobald, who had substituted for Liz Drew at short notice, fell to 1-3-1 (1 KO).


Mary Jo vs. Belinda Laracuente
© Copyrighted photo by Patricia Butaud of J & P Photography

On May 14, 2005 at the Coushatta Casino Resort Pavilion, in Kinder, Louisiana, Mary Jo (143 lbs) won a clear (100-90, 99-91, and 98-92) 10-round unanimous decision over Belinda Laracuente (141 lbs) of Puerto Rico for the IBA Welterweight Continental belt. Laracuente was a late replacement for Lisa Holewyne, who had injured her elbow during a sparring session. WBAN correspondent Patricia Butaud  said “Belinda Laracuente has got to have the Heart of a Lion. She took on Sumya Anani when no one else would and on just a few days notice took on Mary Jo Sanders. Belinda was quick and could avoid a lot of the "bombs" that Mary Jo threw, but still Mary Jo, with the tenaciousness of a pit bull, managed to trap Laracuente on the ropes. Belinda's lightning fast moves was able to dodge most of the punches, but not all. On occasion, with cheers from the crowd shouting "Ali, Ali", Belinda would imitate Ali and dance circles around Mary Jo. But sooner or later, Sanders would have her against the ropes throwing bombs."  Laracuente fell to 21-8-2 (9 KO).


vs. Eliza Olson in July 2005
© Copyrighted photo by Brian Ackley

On July 30, 2005 at Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan Mary Jo (142 lbs) remained undefeated when she won a ten-round unanimous (98-92, 97-93, 96-94) decision over Eliza Olson (145 lbs) of Fresno, California for the Interim WBC Welterweight title. WBAN's Senior Editor Brian Ackley wrote: "Although Mary Jo Sanders didn’t earn a million bucks for her win Saturday night, her Detroit fans sure thought she fought like it.  As expected, Sanders was the more efficient tactician, although she did absorb a few of Olson’s looping hooks which earned the California-based challenger the admiration of many in the Cobo Arena crowd of 3,000. Neither fighter was in any serious trouble in the fight. Olson was caught off balance and wobbled slightly in the third by a Sanders hook, and Olson did some of her best work in the seventh, before tiring a bit in the final two rounds. Sanders’ best round might have been the 10th, making sure there were no hometown upsets on this night.  Sanders stuck largely to her pre-fight plan with lots of movement and lots of jabs, and on occasion showed a brief willingness to mix it up, prompting chants of 'Mary Jo' from her fans in the last two rounds."  

"I earned it," Sanders told Joanne Gerstner of the Detroit News while her left eyebrow was being stitched up after the fight. "She's a brawler, and it took me a little time to adjust to her style."  Olson fell to 8-5-3 (2 KOs).

On October 19, 2005 at Andiamo’s in Warren, Michigan, Mary Jo (148½ lbs) won a six-round unanimous (60-54,60-54,60-54) decision over Yvonne Reis (148½ lbs) of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who fell to 5-8-1 (0 KOs).

On December 17, 2005 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan
In front of over 5,000 boxing fans, Mary Jo (152 lbs)  won a 10-round unanimous shutout (100-90) decision over Lisa Holewyne (155 lbs) of Austin, Texas in the card's Main Event.
Holewyne fell to 22-16-2 (7 KOs).

On February 3, 2006 at the Conference Centre in Detroit, Michigan, Mary Jo (144 lbs)  TKO'd Iva Weston (5'7½",147 lbs) of Port of Spain Trinidad at 1:54 in the third round of a scheduled ten-rounder. Mary Jo controlled the action from the start and it was soon clear that Weston would have no effective answer for her combinations.  Weston was dropped to one knee by a body shot near the end of the third and the referee stopped the fight. The bout was for the WBC and WIBA Welterweight titles. Sanders improved to 20-0-0 (6 KOs) while the unranked (by WBAN) Weston fell to 10-4-0 (1 KO).

Mary Jo vs. Tricia Turton
Mary Jo Sanders vs. Tricia Turton
© Copyrighted photo by Mike Alberts

On June 3, 2006 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan, Mary Jo (151½ lbs) won a clear ten-round unanimous (100-90 x 3) decision over previously unbeaten Tricia Turton (151 lbs) of Seattle, Washington. Sanders used punishing body shots and superior speed to overpower Turton, a former national 176-lb amateur champion and WBAN #1 ranked junior middleweight at fight time. Sanders captured the vacant WIBA Junior Middleweight title with the win, which moved her to 21-0 (6 KOs) and dropped Turton to 8-1 (3 KOs).

On November 24, 2006 at Little River Casino and Resort in Manistee, Michigan, Mary Jo (151 lbs) won a four-round unanimous decision over last-minute opponent Kimberly Harris (162 lbs) of Tampa, Florida. Harris fell to 2-9-0 (0 KOs).


Gina Nicholas vs Mary Jo Sanders
© Copyrighted photo taken by Dan Graschuk

On January 12, 2007 at the Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan
Mary Jo (160 lbs) TKO'd 43-year-old Gina Nicholas (160½ lbs) at the end of the second round of a scheduled ten-rounder for the IBA Middleweight title. According to Andre Courtemanche of FightNews.com, "
Sanders had things all her way against Nicholas ... she peppered Nicholas with her fast, accurate hands, reddening her face and taking the fight out of her." Nicholas did not answer the bell for the third round. She had not fought competitively since a third-round TKO by Ann Wolfe in November 2001, but she had recently returned fro Iraq where she had been acting as a boxing instructor for US military personnel. Sanders improved to 23-0-0 (7 KOs) while Nicholas fell to 11-6-2 (8 KOs). For more photos of this fight by Dan Graschuck, see WBAN Photo Gallery #425 on the WBAN Records Member Site.

On March 30, 2007 at the Cobo Arena in Detroit, Michigan in the Main Event on a live televised ESPN2 card, Mary Jo Sanders (159½ lbs) won a clear 10-round unanimous (100-90 x 3) decision over Valerie Mahfood (159 lbs) of Groves, Texas defending her IBA Middleweight title.  Sanders outboxed the game Mahfood with her superior hand speed and footwork for the entire fight, scoring with her jab and multi-punch combinations to the head. Mahfood tried to come forward throughout the one-sided contest but was too slow to win many exchanges and ate a steady diet of leather from Sanders for the entire contest. Mahfood never backed down and made Sanders work for her win right to the end but fell to 19-13-3 (9 KO's) with the loss.

On November 29, 2007 at Andiamo Italiano in Warren, Michigan, Mary Jo (160¼ lbs) TKO'd Veronica Rucker (160½ lbs) of Cleveland, Ohio at 0:27 in the fourth round of a non-title fight scheduled for eight. The 21-year-old Rucker, who was bleeding from her nose and cornered at the time of the stoppage, was disappointed by referee Frank Garza's decision. Rucker felt that she was able to continue and still throwing punches, but Garza told Mike Brudenell of the Detroit Free Press that she was not defending herself "to his standards".   Sanders improved to 25-0 (8 KO's) while Rucker fell to 5-9-0 (1 KO)

On June 13, 2008 -at the Isleta Casino and Resort in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in a PPV main event, Holly Holm (150½ lbs) of Albuquerque cruised to a 10-round unanimous (98-92,98-92,97-93) decision over Mary Jo (152¼ lbs).  Holm won the IFBA Junior Middleweight title and a "history first" WBAN Championship Belt for this performance, which improved her record to 21-1-2 (6 KOs).    

Jimmy Mallo, who trains and manages Sanders, said she was off her game plan in the fight in Albuquerque.  But although there was no rematch clause in the first contract, according to Mallo, one was soon arranged. “It wasn’t difficult,” said Holm’s promoter Lenny Fresquez, who said the referee and judges must be neutral. “That was the biggest hurdle. Once we got past that, it was pretty easy.”

The rematch took place on October 17, 2008 at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Michigan. This time, Mary Jo and Holly Holm fought to a 10-round majority (97-93 Holm, 95-95, 95-95) draw for the vacant IBA Junior Middleweight title. According to a report by Mike Brudenell in the Detroit Free Press, "Rushing Sanders (25-1-1, 8 KOs), the Albuquerque-based Holm (22-1-3, 6 KOs), 26, launched a two-fisted attack early in each of the 10 rounds, Sanders taking some hard shots to the head but fighting back with right and left uppercuts. In a storming final round, Sanders, 34, did everything she could to win, hitting Holm with left and right combinations in hopes of dropping her opponent. She caught Holm on the chin several times but couldn’t stop her."

“I felt I did enough to win the fight,” said Holm. “The crowd roared very time she landed a single punch. I felt I threw two to her one and power shots as well.”  Sanders was also in no doubt she’d won the brawl, according yo Brudenell, saying "I definitely know I won the last three rounds, I really do. I did enough to take the points in the fifth and sixth too. But I’m a lot happier than in Albuquerque … but not happy enough because of the draw.”

Holly Holm moved her record to 21-1-3 (6 KOs) while Sanders progressed to 25-1-1 (8 KO's).

Trainer Mallo says of Sanders: "Mary Jo has power to spare. She's like no other boxer I've ever worked with. Her work ethic is second to none. She's got a great jab and a big right hand.  Mary Jo is a classic boxer with a fluid and beautiful style, but a powerful punch.  She can also take a punch, but she doesn’t take them too often.  She is going to be a sports legend,  Just like her father.”

Mary Jo also concentrates on her conditioning: “I see too many boxers, men and women, who seem to run out of gas during a bout,” she says.  “To me, it really doesn’t make for an exciting fight and it can be downright dangerous for the boxers.  My philosophy is to be in the best shape possible to give the best performance that I can.”


Mary Jo poses with former world champion Lucia Rijker

Mary Jo's press bio states that "Mary Jo is a crowd pleaser, a great boxer, and a solid puncher.  Mary Jo is beautiful and powerful and willing to stand toe-to-toe with the toughest.  Along with her skills, Mary Jo's personality and playful good looks are winning her praise in and out of the ring.  Whether you're a boxing fan or not, you can't help but love this girl.  What you see is what you get.  She's a "shoot-from-the-hip" type of person.   Her motto is "dream big, believe in yourself, and treat others the way you wish to be treated".  This complete package is leading to endorsement opportunities beyond the sport of boxing. Where most fear to tread, Mary Jo has found a home."

A gifted high school athlete, Sanders was a member of a state championship girls basketball team. She also ran track, competed in gymnastics and took ballet. graduating from Rochester Adams High School in 1992, Sanders attended Oakland University and Baker College. Out of the classroom, she was lifting weights and doing construction work such as pouring cement and digging trenches.  "It helped me build strength," said Sanders, "I've developed a lot of speed and power over the last four or five years."

Mary Jo in her cornerMary Jo's father is former Detroit Lions tight end and assistant director of player personnel Charlie Sanders.  He was skeptical abut his daughter's combative pursuits at first. "You have a son, and you want him to play football or basketball," said Sanders. "When a daughter is born, you want to look after her, protect her. The last thing you want to see is her pretty face get bashed up. After watching a couple of her fights, I realized she could protect herself properly. She's always been a scrapper and a very determined person. I'm very proud of Mary Jo, but I do get nervous watching her."

"I'm passionate about boxing," says Mary Jo, "but I know there'll be some tough days ahead. That's OK with me."

Other Mary Jo Sanders links

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Page last updated: Saturday August 17, 2013

 
     
     
     
     
 

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