Early on Layla McCarter took the warrior’s road.
You know, that long dusty path they talk about in Japanese samurai movies where a person decides to learn the warrior’s craft instead of having it handed to them like a birthright.
In the beginning of her journey the spunky girl from the Northern California and now Las Vegas got off to a rough start. Before she could blink an eye she had four losses and only one win.
She took her lumps early traveling from town to town, barely able to eat and in the early going without a boxing trainer.
Now, 10 years later, after grinding out a career and learning the finer points of the sweet science, McCarter meets Spain’s Lolly Munoz (8-4-1) for the vacant GBU lightweight title on Friday Aug. 15, at the Orleans Casino in Las Vegas. It will be contested at three-minute rounds.
“It’s much harder to get fights,” says McCarter (30-13-5, 7 KOs), a very innocent looking person with a quick smile and short haircut who already has the WBA title. “There’s no one in the U.S. that wants to fight, that’s why we had to go to Spain to find somebody.”
Munoz surprisingly accepted the fight. And when McCarter looked into her next opponents record she found that the Spaniard’s losses were in other countries against the hometown girl.
“She must be pretty good,” McCarter, 29, says, adding that she admires that self-confidence to go to another fighter’s hometown or country. “Nobody wants to fight her in Europe so she took the fight.”
McCarter remembers when she was 19 and full of fight, a little bit of anger and a lot of energy. She remembers taking fights against fighters she didn’t know and remembers trusting the promoters and matchmakers who offered those “easy fights.”
One of those so-called easy fights took place in 1999, when a Los Angeles promoter called McCarter to set up a fight against some girl called Laura Serrano. They assured her that it was an easy fight and the other girl only had one previous fight.
“She was 4-0 and undefeated but they didn’t tell me that,” said McCarter, adding that the fight took place at the Inglewood Forum.
To make matters worse, the promoters didn’t give her meal money after the weighing and there was McCarter with her friend and only two dollars between them. They spotted a Taco Bell and looked at the menu.
“I picked out a seven-layer burrito from Taco Bell because it looked like the most nutritious thing on the menu,” laughs McCarter. “The next day they gave me my meal money two hours before the fight. A lot of help that was.”
It was the fight against Serrano that opened boxing fan’s eyes. The Mexican fighter was supposed to run over the newcomer. Instead, it was a firefight that saw the large Mexican crowd at the Inglewood Forum cheering for McCarter in the four round bout.
Though McCarter lost by split-decision, she proved to many in attendance that she could indeed fight. The raw tools were there in full evidence and the crowd of mostly Latinos booed the decision.
“She (Serrano) cried because they booed her,” said McCarter of Serrano who later became a lightweight world champion too. “She never liked me after that.”
A California promoter spotted McCarter and set her up with some fights in Nevada. While in the gambling state she met her current trainer Luis Tapia. Under his guidance she slowly learned the craft of pro boxing and what it means to be a true professional.
“Layla’s not afraid,” says Tapia, who also managers her career. “She’ll fight anybody.”
A couple of years back McCarter actually accepted a fight against light heavyweight Ann Wolfe. Yes, the Ann Wolfe who strikes fear in almost every female from junior middleweight to heavyweight. Especially after her one punch knockout over a heavyweight champion a few years back.
“They gave us an offer and I accepted,” said McCarter. “But for some reason they decided against it. Later I ran into her somewhere. Man is she big. I’m glad she didn’t take it.”
Though McCarter fought most of her career at 126 pounds she couldn’t find opponents. So she moved up to lightweight and now she’s running out of opponents at the 135-pound division too. In the past year she’s traveled twice outside the country and twice outside Nevada to get fights, and not just at lightweight but welterweight as well.
“I just want to stay busy,” says McCarter who can fight inside or outside with equal adeptness.
Five months ago McCarter finished a trilogy with Canada’s Jelena Mrdjenovich. They had split the first two fights and the last ended in a split decision for McCarter. All three fights took place in Edmonton, Canada.
“I was kind of mad,” said McCarter about the second fight of Canada trilogy that she lost. “They said I claimed to have a sore hand. Sore hand? I broke my arm!”
In their second fight McCarter fired a punch and her arm got caught at a weird angle and snapped between the elbow and wrist. It was an ugly break but she refused to quit. She continued until the end of the 10 round fight.
In the third encounter McCarter jumped out to a lead with her vast array of boxing weaponry and held off the gritty Canadian boxer for a split-decision.
A few months earlier, Team McCarter headed to New Zealand to face welterweight prizefighter Daniella Smith.
“In New Zealand we beat the undefeated girl there. She was a big girl. We fought at welterweight,” McCarter says proudly. “They pack a big punch at that weight.”
McCarter won a unanimous decision and after the fight Smith’s promoters treated the Las Vegas-based boxer very well. They even drove her to the airport.
“That was nice. When I beat Jelena (Mrdjenovich) they promised to drive us to the airport too. But that was before I won,” remembers McCarter about their first encounter in 2005. “They never thought I’d beat her. They left us stranded.”
Of course fighting in another country or state has its drawbacks. All you have to do is look at the 13 losses in her career. But she’d rather fight than sit around hoping for someone to call her.
“That’s why I have a lot of losses I go to everyone’s hometown,” McCarter says, adding that she’s also traveled to Japan and other parts of the country to fight hometown girls. “If I lose, I lose. At least I gave it my best.”
Now boxing experts are slowly becoming aware of her talent. It’s been a long journey for McCarter but her warrior’s way is finally being recognized. Recently the World Boxing Hall of Fame awarded her as one of the best fighters in women’s boxing.
Fights on television
Wed. ESPN2, 6 p.m., Joel Julio (33-1) vs. Jose Varela (23-3).
Fri. ESPN2, 6 p.m., Anthony Thompson (23-2) vs. Ishmail Arvin (14-1-4).
Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Carlos Hernandez (42-7-1) vs. Hector Alatorre (15-4).
Who will win #HOPKINSKOVALEV