Despite the stigma that women in the ring are usually as exciting to watch as Al Gore teaching a public speaking seminar, here’s a fighter that proves all of the skeptics wrong. Eileen Olszewski dominated the amateur competition in the 112-pound division, was undefeated in United States competition, and for three consecutive years won the most prestigious titles around the country. After being crowned U.S. national champion for the third straight time in 2003, culminating a remarkable amateur career, Eileen seemed destined to take the professional ranks by storm. Yet, we fast-forward to 2006 and the woman considered one of the best prospects to ever come out of New York is still waiting for her opportunity to make her mark on the sport.
Olszewski’s patience is finally running thin after more than two years of trying to get a fight. She’s sick and tired of sitting on the sidelines watching other women get their shot while her professional debut is still nowhere in sight.
This is supposed to be the time to shine for this former Knicks City Dancer who danced her way all the way from Oahu, Hawaii to live the life she’d always aspired to. Fourteen years later, New York has stuck with her but Olszewski has made the successful transformation from dancing togs to boxing trunks. Formerly Eileen Kuwaye, she met her trainer and future husband Matthew Olszewski in a New York martial arts studio while preparing for a role as a stunt double for a movie.
A former professional kickboxer with impressive credentials himself, Olszewski never forgets the first time he got in the ring with Eileen and started throwing punches at her.
“I hit her with the first punch and it was pretty hard,” he said. “But her reply was, ‘That’s nothing man, my brother used to hit me three times harder than that.’ That was when I knew that not only did she have potential, but a hard head, which is what you need to be a boxer.”
Week in and week out I head to my local Crunch gym, leaving the world behind for an hour or so in my continued quest to imagine what it feels like to be a fighter. I jump rope, hit the bags, shadowbox, trying my best to emulate the pros if you can even call it that. I don’t have to look far though to envision what the sweet science is supposed to look like because Eileen Olszewski is often nearby in the ring sparring with other fighters, and not just women. After getting my first look at this hardnosed, human buzz saw, I just felt relieved that it wasn’t me in that ring on the other end of her punches. Pressing forward with a relentless aggressiveness, Olszewski combines crafty movement with great hand speed to make for a truly special talent.
Despite my futile attempt to look like a fighter, entering Crunch gym’s boxing realm has given me the opportunity to tell an important story that needs to be told. In a sport in which our hands get tired from scratching our heads so many times after sitting through the torture of watching far too many inept fighters climb in and out of the ring, you’d think a great talent like Eileen Olszewski would be a welcome refresher. Yet, almost three years after leaving her stamp on the amateur ranks, she hasn’t even been given the chance to showcase her skills. Numerous times Olszewski’s hopes were dashed when her first professional fight seemed on the horizon only to be scratched when opponents got a chance to look over her resume and rethink their options.
“I think my amateur record scared them and they decided it wasn’t worth the risk,” she said.
The dilemma seems to be twofold. No woman in her right mind who’s also just starting her professional career wants to get her feet wet against an opponent with as much amateur experience as Olszewski and most promoters don’t want to take a chance on a female fighter whose resume doesn’t include Playboy or at least some photo shoot that spells sex appeal.
The idea of women as sex objects first and foremost dominates their popularity in boxing. Remember Mia St. John? She couldn’t fight worth a lick yet she sure was fun to look at. Fans could’ve cared less about her boxing skills, focusing only on her physical attributes. Olszewski is well aware of this unfortunate phenomenon. “If you don’t portray that sexy image then they (promoters) are not really interested even if you have talent.”
So she feels that her “fighter mentality” has gone against the feminine image that defines the marketing approach in women’s boxing. Even Laila Ali with her muscular frame and ferocious fighting nature is promoted as the sensual daughter of Muhammad. It seems that for women to be successful in this sport, they have to worry more about their seductiveness than their fighting skills.
It’s not easy for Olszewski to adapt to this “feminine” style. She will always be a hardnosed fighter first and foremost. “Boxing can’t be emotional,” she said. “It has to be science. Women fight like they’re trying to kill each other. There are only a few women fighters that I like to watch. I try to emulate guys.”
But if it takes putting on a pretty and provocative outfit for a ring photo shoot to get some attention, then Olszewski will lower her standards and do it, anything to get a fight these days.
Every good lawyer deserves his or her day in court, and so now it’s time to give Olszewski her day in the squared circle, one that she well deserves after accumulating a closet full of amateur trophies and years of dedicated preparation for her professional debut. Mr. Arum, Mr. King, Mr. DiBella, Mr. Goossen, and all other ring-keepers, I call on you to give this real “Million Dollar Baby” a chance. She’s eager to fight for you and promises you won’t be disappointed. For God’s sake let’s get this woman a fight!
How many former Hawaiian native, Knicks City Dancers are interested in getting into the ring and begin a boxing career? If there are any others, please contact me and I will add you to this amazing list that in the meantime stands at ONE.
The window of opportunity narrows with each passing day and Olszewski no longer cares what level opponent is put in front of her as long as someone’s there. “I’ll fight anyone at this point, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to fight, I’ll even fight a ten-rounder if that’s what it takes. I’m in great shape, I know I could go that distance. Sometimes I see girls in there and I can’t help to think that I could be doing that and doing it better.”
The sport of boxing prides itself on being a lifeline for those underprivileged and underappreciated individuals who possess a unique gift of pugilistic prowess, and thus in return are given a chance at stardom. That fairytale of fame and fortune sounds good but it seems Cinderella isn’t always so fortunate.
This Cinderella thrives in her business as a personal trainer and may be appreciated by her fellow peers, yet she still remains unknown to the boxing world. She refuses to let the clock strike midnight before getting her chance. Olszewski can’t bear to retire from boxing untested and unsatisfied without a single professional fight, forever tormented by the wonderment of what could’ve been if only she had caught a break. Her talent is obvious, her amateur background impeccable, her personality delightful, yet Eileen Olszewski’s boxing career remains in the dark eagerly waiting for the lights to come on. It’s time to turn the lights on and let this dedicated fighter do what she does best; fight. She deserves her time in the sun so somebody needs to step up to the plate and give it her. Our sport can only benefit from this roster addition as Olszewski signifies all of boxing’s good qualities. God knows we need more exciting fighters like her.