Super featherweight Chevelle “Fists of Steel” Hallback of Tampa, Florida, is quick to tell you that she is a superstar just waiting to be discovered. While that description might sound bombastic to most, there is no shortage of other female boxers and industry insiders who concur with that assessment.
Although the superbly conditioned Hallback, who is rated number one in her weight class by the WBC, has a record of 25-4-1 (11 KOS), she realizes that female boxing is in dire need of someone capable of becoming a mainstream star.
Hallback hopes that a short film about her life that was screened on May 5 at the New York Independent International Film and Video Festival will help give her the exposure she so desperately needs.
She believes that “Fists of Steel,” which was directed by a gifted young filmmaker named Annie Griffith, will help get here where she wants to be.
“The film is about female boxing, gender-politics, and family and religious issues,” said the muscular and animated 34-year-old Hallback, whose nickname, as well as the image of a fist smashing through steel, is tattooed on both of her upper arms.
“I hope the film raises questions that people want answers to. I welcome the scrutiny. Nobody has more dedication to the sport than I do. And I’ve been through a lot. A real lot.”
It was Hallback’s character, as much as her boxing skills that drew Griffith to her. While a student at the Savannah School of Video in Georgia, Griffith went to see one of Hallback’s fights. At the time, Hallback was living in that city and fighting on monthly shows at the Civic Center, Jarrell’s Gym, Morrell Park, or the Johnny Mercer Theater.
“Her personality is so vibrant,” said Griffith. “I was looking for a subject and her story was so compelling. It is all about one woman’s struggle against long odds. I worked on the project for three years and did everything. I was the producer and the director and even did some editing.”
Hallback’s journey began in Plant City, Florida, where she says she was born into “a beautiful family.” She is now the oldest of 15 grandchildren. For as long as she can remember, her mother, a beautician, and her stepfather, a military man, instilled an abundance of values in her.
“They told me to never be a bully, but don’t let anyone take advantage of me, either,” the high-energy Hallback said.
“I always liked boxing, but I fell in love with it when I watched [the second] Muhammad Ali-Leon Spinks fight. Ali was so smooth and kept making Spinks miss. I remember going to bed that night, saying, ‘I wish I could fight.’”
Those dreams were put on the back burner until about ten years ago. Hallback was employed at GTE, which is now Verizon, and was not particularly thrilled with her choice of vocations.
She remembers tuning into a Mike Tyson title defense on a Saturday night and seeing Christy Martin thrill the television audience with a stirring victory of Deidre Gogarty. Not long afterward, Martin appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
“I got so excited, on Monday morning I was in Calter’s Gym,” she recalled. “I told the trainer there that I wanted to be a world champion and asked him what I had to do.”
A year later Hallback turned professional without the benefit of any amateur experience. She got a very harsh reality lesson in her second fight, when she was stopped in the fifth round by Lucia Rijker, who was then 4-0.
“I’ve always said that I would fight anyone who would fight me,” said Hallback. “But that was the toughest fight of my life. I wasn’t ready for Lucia then, but I’d be ready for her now. I would love to have the opportunity to avenge that fight, but I’m not sure if she is even going to fight anymore.”
After competing throughout Florida, as well as on the road in places like Las Vegas, Bossier City, Louisiana, New Orleans, and Austin, Texas, Hallback settled into Savannah, where she fought for promoter Mike Jarrell.
It was there that she won the IBA super featherweight title with a unanimous decision over Alicia Ashley, and also defended the crown with a decision victory over Melissa Del Valle (Salamone).
She also unsuccessfully challenged undefeated Mary Jo Sanders for the IBA Continental light welterweight title, losing a ten-round decision.
Fighting regularly she became a local celebrity and is proud of the fact that she is the only female fighter to ever fight a main event in that city. But as rewarding as her stay in Savannah was, Hallback felt that she needed to get more exposure elsewhere so she first moved to Temecula, California, where she fought for Gary Shaw, Dan Goossen, and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Fighting out of California, she won the Women’s International Boxing Association super featherweight title from Layla McCarter (W 10), and defended that title in Tokyo against Emiko Raika (W 10).
Her last fight was a ten-round decision victory over Belinda Laracuente in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, in November 2005.
“I respect Chevelle more than any other female fighter,” said Laracuente. “She is the best out there. No doubt about it.”
Right now Hallback, who is once again residing in Tampa, is committed to bringing more respectability to the sport that she not only loves, but also lives for. She says that Mia St. John is not an elite boxer, but her posing for Playboy gave her career a much needed boost.
As far as Laila Ali, who is the face of the often maligned sport, she says, “If not for her father, she wouldn’t have made it as far as she did.”
She feels that it is she who is the total package. “Not only am I a very talented boxer, I have so much more going for me,” she explained. “I’m personable, good with people, likeable, and marketable. I’m the whole package.”
Just how marketable she is is yet to be seen. While she waits for her ship to come in, she is studying psychology at Hillsborough Community College in Tampa and mulling over any and all offers.
Although she is the mandatory challenger to WBC super featherweight titlist Jelena Mrdjenovich of Canada, the champion has shown no inclination to fight her. Female boxers only have to make mandatory defenses every 18 months.
“She wants no part of me,” said Hallback. “I’d be willing to fight her in Canada or anywhere else. My whole career, I’ve gone to other people’s backyards. A lot of girls avoid me, but she can’t avoid me for much longer. As soon as she has to fight me, I will take her title.”
She says that promoter Lou DiBella has expressed interest in putting her on one of his Broadway Boxing shows. If she could get involved with the right promoter, she believes that her self-described farfetched fantasy might eventually come to fruition.
“My dream is to be the first woman ever to fight on HBO,” she said. “I once saw Larry Merchant and I asked him if he liked women’s boxing. He said he didn’t. I told him that someday he would be broadcasting one of my fights and I would convert him into a fan.
“I think I‘m a much better fighter than Laila Ali or any other woman,” she continued. “Just like Don King made a star out of Christy Martin, someone can do it for me. I have so much respect for Christy because she made history. Now its time to create my own history.”