Growing up in Chicago’s toughest neighborhood did not come without a fight for Leatitia Robinson.
“I fought every day from the store, to the store,” Robinson said. “To school, from school; just sitting on the porch I was fighting.”
Her brawls that began at the age of 10 weren’t just with girls – a way she now earns a living. These were against some of Cabrini Green’s toughest, and sometimes there were five in a row. Robinson claims she won every altercation.
One of her front porch fights caught the attention of local trainer Alfonso Hasbro, who broke it up before inviting Robinson to train at Sewer Park in 1995. She walked through the door two days later, with no expectation of becoming a professional boxer.
“I didn’t know I was going to be a fighter,” she said. “I thought I was going to get in shape.”
Within the first year, she won her first golden gloves competition and claimed the Citywide Tournament championship. All of this happened by the age of 14.
The discipline she picked up in the gym did not curb her street fights. They continued until she turned 18, when they became too intense against a few gang members she had knocked around. With injured egos, Robinson said they threatened to shoot her. It was a fight even the most elite boxer could not win.
As terrifying as the proposition may have been, Robinson hasn’t allowed it to haunt her.
“What I did was everybody has this memory block in their head,” she said. “I don’t try to remember it. I just try to think about all the positive things that happened when I turned 18.”
The positive was moving out of the north side neighborhood and to Chicago’s south side. It’s only a 20-minute drive, but to Robinson it might as well be a million miles away with her new lifestyle that has garnered a 13-0 record and two world titles (WIBA, WIBF) in the middleweight division.
Friday she was to defend her WIBA title against Shelley Burton (6-2) in Edmonton, Alberta on the World Title Wave card that features three other women’s title fights (super featherweights Jelena Mrdjenovich vs. Franchesca Alcanter, junior lightweights Chevelle Hallback vs. Belinda Larcuente and junior featherweights Lisa Brown and Jeannine Garside). However, Robinson was not medically Thursday for the fight.
Nonetheless, her rise to the top of the women’s middleweight division has helped her forget about the rough life she led as a teenager.
“I started look at life different. It made me think thing I never thought would be,” she said. “I’m given a chance to wake up every morning know that [I’m] the world champion. But when I walk into the gym, I always tell them I’m not the champ – right now.
“I’m just an ordinary female in the game who knows how to play the game.”
She hopes by next year to become the undisputed middleweight champion, and, perhaps, by then she’ll allow others to call her the champ.
By men’s boxing standards, it’s hard to imagine a 13-0 fighter contemplating the undisputed title so soon. Then again, the fights aren’t quite as lucrative for women and there are fewer fighters. Nonetheless, she represents the women who may or may not share similar street fight stories and found boxing as a constructive outlet.
Passionate as female boxers may be, the International Olympic Committee recently deemed the sport unfit for the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
“The IOC did not feel it has reached the stage where it merits inclusion,” IOC sports director Kelly Fairweather said in an Associated Press story Oct. 27. “We will watch the progress of women’s boxing in the next few years.”
Robinson’s amateur career piled on nearly three times the bouts (37-1) she’s had as a professional. She said the IOC’s decision to hold the amateurs out of the Olympics is sexist.
“Women are coming into a whole lot of sports,” she said. “To me, you’re making it seem like men are the only people that can go out. There are a lot of women dedicating their lives to this sport.
“I can speak for other women: It’s every woman’s dream to go to the Olympics. When they reject women, it hurts.”
Women’s boxing may reapply in 2009 for the London Games.
Meanwhile, Robinson doesn’t have to worry about an amateur career or trying to balance her training with a 40-hour workweek. She’s comfortable and away from a turbulent childhood of street fights and rough neighborhoods.
She’s also comforted by her options in women’s boxing. She’s almost giddy in talking about her prospects.
“I got an offer to fight in January,” she said. “If that doesn’t work, I know I’m fighting a girl in Kenya, Africa. I don’t want to talk too soon, but April of next year is a pretty good month for me.”