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Most women need a ring in order to be married. For Deborah Nichols, she's married to the ring.

Winning her first world championship belt (IBA) following a close decision win over veteran Dee Dufoe, the life-long Dalton, Georgia, resident knows that type of dedication to the sport is what brought her the belt.

She also knows that most people think it must be an exciting way to spend a Saturday night. So exciting, in fact, that after beating Defoe, the Nichols' celebration party landed at, of all places, International House of Pancakes.   

Congratulations on the belt. Would you like bacon with that?   "Everyone thinks its all glamour, all the traveling, the publicity," Nichols observed. "I was working 40-50 hours a week, I was trying to raise my son, I never had time for myself," she said of her unusual 'marriage.' "Even when you're at home, preparing for a fight, you still in the gym, you're going over what you did in the ring that day. It's a job. If you want it, you have to go after it, it has to have top priority."

Her championship was the crowning moment of a career born in the martial arts, launched in the free-for-all Toughwomen contests, fine tuned in front of a national television audience, firmly grounded in the close ties to her son and family.

"I would always get frustrated," Nichols recalled of her 14 years in Tae Kwon Do. "The smaller girl's might be quicker and I might hold back because they get you for too much contact. I would find myself holding back. I found myself wanting to go farther."

The outlet became boxing. One trip to a local toughwomen competition was more than enough incentive for Nichols to lace on the gloves.   "It was like, 'Heck, they're giving money away to women who don't even train," she said. "I was doing the training, they were getting the money."
Despite weight mismatches as great as 50 or 60 pounds -- and fighting five fights in one day --Nichols managed to finish third.  "I tell people it was the stupidest thing I've ever done, but in some ways, it was the smartest," Nichols laughs. "That's where people saw me fight, the boxing contracts followed. It wasn't something I planned. Boxing came to me after that."
And it came in a big way. Two fights into her professional career. Nichols was signed as a tune-up for world contender Helen Zagadinow, who already had lined up a title fight with champion Bonnie Canino.

"It cost me more money than I made to take that fight," she recalled. "When I showed up, they thought I was the ring girl. I said, 'No, I'm here to beat Helen.'
She parlayed that fourth round knockout into her biggest break, a spot in the USA Tuesday Night Fights/IFBA featherweight tournament, where she scored a unanimous decision over veteran Melinda Robinson and won the tournament title with a split-decision over Cynthia Prouder. The fight was one of the highest rated on USA Network, with an estimated five million viewers.
Following a win over Shakurah Witherspoon and draws with Chris Kruez and Sandra Yard -- a fight she took on very short notice while out of training -- Nichols stayed busy with a second win over Teara Sanders, the same Sanders she had knocked out in her first professional boxing match.
Nichols -- who finds time to help coach her son Dustin's little league baseball team and work for a local printing company -- again found herself a TV attraction in her 10th fight, and ESPN-2 special against Dee Dufoe.
"I hit her with some really hard uppercuts and hooks. I really thought, 'Girl, you can't take much more of that.' But she did," Nichols recalled. "I still wake up and I can feel her, I can hear her grunts, see her eyes. She had a great chin."
While some felt Dufoe may have earned the win, Nichols was awarded an close but unanimous decision.

 "To me, power is what won the fight," Nichols recalled. "Even her trainer came in the dressing room when it was all over and congratulated me and made the comment, 'Hey, we wouldn't have even won that on our turf.' It was a great fight."
  While Dorothy may think there's no place like home, Deborah said fighting in Chattanooga -- a left jab away from Dalton -- was actually not that helpful.
"I was in a tizzy. I'm used to getting on a plane, and I get in a certain mode. I'd get totally psyched," she recalled. "I didn't have that here. It was so hectic. I was a little worried about it. But when I got in the ring, I had a few moments to look around, I found my son and I winked at him, I found my parents and I bowed to them, and I felt this sweet calm about me. I thought, 'This is good.' I even had time to recognize that. It surprised me."

Although nothing has been inked, a rematch with Chris Kruez is a possibility, as is an undercard spot on an upcoming major heavyweight card.    She had been booked as a feature attraction on the Larry Holmes-George Forman card that eventually was shelved.

"The title has made such a big difference," Nichols added. "I don't go anywhere anymore where someone doesn't say something about it. I'm not Deborah anymore, I'm champ. It's a good feeling."

  It may not be the most conventional marriage. But when they asked if she wanted to be a champion, Deborah Nichols said "I do."

Written by Brian Ackley
Copyrighted 5/7/99   



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