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Not According to the Script
Bernie McCoy
April 9, 2005
(APR 9) It was all set for the perfect Hollywood ending: Maureen Shea, as famous as the sparring partner for Hillary Swank during the actress' preparation for her starring role in "Million Dollar Baby" as she was as an up-and-coming amateur fighter, was in the finals of the New York Golden Gloves, one bout away from a title.

Not only that, Shea, in a wonderful "back story", was a Irish fighter in a featured fight at Madison Square Garden, or the Theater at the Garden, where the Golden Gloves have been held in recent years. An Irish fighter featured at the Garden is a tradition going back, at the very least, to the 1940s and Billy Graham, the Greenwich Village welterweight, not the preacher.

Hillary Swank, this year's Academy Award recipient for Best Actress, had jetted in for the fight and was at ringside to cheer on her former sparring partner. Shea had gotten to the finals after two fights, a decision and a stoppage. Thus was the scenario in place for the perfect Hollywood ending: Swank in the ring, maybe holding Shea's gloved hand up in triumph, the crowd going wild, the flash bulbs popping, the TV announcers getting hoarse over the Golden Gloves champion and the Hollywood star.

It was all set, except for that age-old proverb that warns: "sports is drama without a script." And boxing, the most dramatic of all the sports, too often deviates from a script. Maureen Shea is a very good boxer, she has learned to box the way it should be learned, in a top line gym, in her case, the renowned Gleason's near the Brooklyn Bridge. Shea got considerable "ink", in the main stream press, for her involvement with Hillary Swank and "Million Dollar Baby", but in fact, she's known, in the boxing community, as one of the top amateur fighters in New York and that means she is one of the better amateur fighters in the sport.

So is Ronica Jeffrey, a hard punching fighter out of Flatbush, Brooklyn, not coincidently, also by way of Gleason's. Jeffrey came out of the other corner on Friday night, having also reached the Gloves finals with a decision and a stoppage. The similarities between Shea and Jeffrey don't stop with their Gloves record: in addition to putting in many hours at Gleason's, both are college students, Jeffrey at LIU in Brooklyn and Shea at Iona College in Westchester County; both, also, should they choose, probably have a bright future in the sport of Women's boxing.

Friday night it was Jeffrey who had the edge. She controlled the fight from the opening bell and won handily. Between rounds, Swank, giving it the "old Hollywood try" rushed along ringside to Shea's corner, encouraging her former sparring partner. If there was a moment for a come-from-behind finish, this is where the scriptwriters would have put it. But, this was a boxing ring in Madison Square Garden, not a Hollywood sound stage and there would be no "happy ending" this night, not for the Irish fighter in the Garden nor for the Hollywood star. It was Jeffrey's night, it was Jeffrey's fight and Jeffrey's Golden Gloves championship. The 5-0 scoring told the story of the bout much more dramatically than any script could have.

Predictably, the following morning's newspaper stories headlined that Maureen Shea had lost instead of emphasizing the fact that Ronica Jeffrey had won. This, of course, was hardly surprising, given the well publicized tie-in to the movie, the ringside presence of a movie star and the fact that, as far as many newspapers are concerned, bold faced names make "better copy" than a good amateur boxing bout. I guess this is the spot when Ronica Jeffrey's line is: "that's show-biz."

However, both Ronica Jeffrey and Maureen Shea go well beyond "show biz." Both athletes have achieved a skill level as boxers, which, should they choose, would make them a valuable addition to a professional sport that desperately needs fighters with their boxing talent. As for Hillary Swank, her talent, as an actress, is already well established and as a fight fan she'll have another chance on July 30 to cheer for one of her "Million Dollar Baby" colleagues. On that night, in Las Vegas, Lucia Rijker, who was both a technical adviser and acted the part of a villainous fighter in the movie, will finally square off with Christy Martin in a long anticipated matchup. It should be noted, however, that while the Rijker/Martin bout should make for a dramatic evening and a great fight, I'm fairly sure Christy Martin is another fighter who doesn't pay much attention to scripts.
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