The competition is hotting up in Barbados and so is the weather. The rain has stopped and the sun is out making the 24-hour training centre, a massive tent with three big rings, feel like a sauna. You could also say it’s a three ring circus with all the characters inside, like Hector Lopez, who once fought Kostya Tszyu and has told each member of the Australian team the story in full excruciating detail. Yesterday in the tent he was telling me too, but all I wanted to do was go outside and get some oxygen. Instead I heard the entire story of Hector’s boxing career, going back to his appearance in the 1984 Olympics, followed by the highs ‘I was 17 and I was the shit, what can you do?’ and the lows, denied a title shot, the usual former contenders lament and then his fight in Florida with Tszyu, which he says he won, although not on the scorecards. The whole time I was wondering if I was going to pass out before he got to the end, which was now, standing in front of a swaying Australian boxer/journalist in a tent in Barbados at the age of 43, coaching the women in the Mexican national boxing team, many of whom box with a level of intensity and determination that lifts them above the pack. So he’s doing something right.
It might be suffocating at times but to me the tent is the most interesting place to hang out, especially for studying the sport, the different training styles, different dress styles and all the various personalities, of which there are many. So many nationalities, accents, dispositions, from the posturing to the shy to the gregarious. The Chinese, who have been successful in the ring, shadow spar with the most vigor of anyone, throwing almost non stop flurries. And the Costa Ricans are a happy smiling bunch who are helping me learn Spanish and grin like imps every time I pass them.
Also today, after I trained on pads with Ruben Sanchez, I watched team manager Mary Pittiglio spar the Spanish team’s 60kg girl. Mary is sad that she’s missed out on competing as an athlete due to her age, but she more than held her own today so I hope she can keep on fighting, maybe in the masters division.
I also watched some excellent sparring between some of the 48kg and 51kgs girls who have been eliminated. Canadian Mandy Bujold was an absolute standout sparring Japan and Costa Rica. As we watched, Tammy Taylor and I thought that Mandy might give some Australian boys in her weight class a run for their money. I’d like to see that one day because I’ve got a feeling that the gap between the men and the women in this sport is shrinking pretty quickly.
Every time I see the standard rise another notch or two, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I remember the days when men said women just couldn’t box, ‘No way, never’. They’d give them a few months rudimentary training, throw them in the ring and stand back and say ‘See, I told you.’ I wish those same guys were here in Barbados right now to see how slick and strong some of these boxers are.
They’re sparring here with 10oz fight gloves and the spars are as hard as the fights. The men should be worried because in years to come if these girls ever turn pro, they’re going to outshine them, in fact maybe they already are.
Unfortunately, most of the Australian team has been eliminated. Claire Ghabrial in the 60kgs class did the best she could against a counter punching southpaw from Thailand but went down 7-2. Claire, herself a counter puncher, just couldn’t get through the Thai girl’s defense. It was frustrating and heartbreaking since Claire won gold in Turkey this year and was focused on a medal at the worlds. But Claire is stoic and determined and will grow from the experience.
Jenny Smith, the novice on the team, drew Mary Kom, the Indian 3-time world champion in her second fight after beating Trinidad and Tobago. She was stopped in round 1 with a score of 9-0
And Kelly McGrath at 54kgs had a close fight with Greece with the scores 6-6 in the third round but she lost points for holding and dropped the decision 9-12.
Finally today Shannon O’Connell, 51kgs beat a rough fighter from Nepal 12-1.
She almost suffered whiplash when the Nepal’s Sanju Lama charged her and the two went flying across the ring and almost ricocheted off the ropes like they were in a giant slingshot.
And finally Sabrina Ostowari, fighting the Chinese world 57kg champion started to find her range by the third round and took the champ to a 6-6 decision, which on count-back went to the Chinese champ.
Meanwhile team USA are having a good tournament with Queen Underwood winning in a rough and rugged fight last night against Tajikistan’s Mavzuna Chorieva in the 60kgs class and Marlen Esparza also winning her second bout against Korea’s Ok Hyang Kim in the 51kgs class.
I also had a chance to see the UK’s 51kgs sensation Nicole Adams and saw her switch hitting skills and boxing flair, like a female Mayweather in the making.