IFBA World Super Featherweight champion Kelsey Jeffries of Gilroy, California, is generally considered to be too good for her own good. Several of her previous opponents have lauded her for her professionalism and consider her one of the finest practitioners in the sport. However, all of the praise has only caused her more frustration.
“She is unbelievable,” said manager Bruce Anderson, who met her several years ago in his previous role as the director of regulation for boxing and wrestling in Oregon, where Jeffries has fought numerous times at the Seven Feathers Resort in Canyonville. “She is fast, highly skilled, furiously determined and fit to fight all day long.”
The 30-year-old Jeffries is next scheduled to defend her title against the relatively inexperienced Melissa “Hurracan” Hernandez of New York, 3-0 (1 KO) on June 15 at the Seven Feathers. After months of searching for opponents, Hernandez was the only one willing to step up and accept the challenge.
“I know I’m fighting a legend,” said Hernandez. “Kelsey is highly respected and I’m expecting a very tough fight. As an amateur I beat a lot of more experienced fighters. There are not a lot of opportunities for women in boxing, so I had no choice but to accept the fight. I’ve psyched myself up to win. It will be tough, but I think the fight is very winnable if I do everything right and don’t make any mistakes.”
Since her pro debut in 1999, the 5’4” Jeffries has been accepting equally difficult challenges. She quickly earned the nickname the Road Warrior by fighting throughout the United States, as well as in Germany and Poland. Moreover, she was willing to fight opponents significantly bigger than her natural 120-122 pounds. Although she has nine losses on her ledger, she has won 22 of her last 24 bouts.
In her last bout, in January 2006, she lost a unanimous decision to Jackie Nava in Cancun, Mexico. At stake was the Nava’s WBC female super bantamweight title.
That loss has not diminished her fighting spirit one bit. She has been preparing for the Hernandez fight in Florida with trainer Buddy McGirt. Anderson believes that there are better days ahead for the hardworking fighter.
“She’s poetry in motion,” he said. “When I sent Buddy McGirt a tape of her, he said ‘Jesus Christ, this is a girl?’ She’s been with him for three years now and has only gotten better.”
As good as Jeffries is, Anderson expresses the frustrations associated with such high caliber female boxers. Because there is little depth of talent in each weight division, few of the best boxers are willing to fight each other.
Even though the amateur program is expanding, getting exposure for women has not gotten any easier. While the best women in each weight class should be fighting each other, that is rarely the case.
“We usually get the champ against a tomato can, which is terrible,” said Anderson. “But that is because you can’t get anyone to fight each other. There are only a few girls out there that really know their craft. Kelsey is one of them. But getting opponents that are willing to fight her is very difficult.”
Recently Anderson had Jeffries scheduled to fight at the Tank in San Jose, California. Six weeks before he had given the matchmaker a list of 18 potential opponents. Three days before the fight he told Anderson that they had an opponent who competed three weight classes above Jeffries. Anderson was appalled, but accepted it as a harsh reality of a burgeoning sport fighting for mainstream respectability.
Longtime California official Marty Sammon stays clear of the business aspects of boxing, but believes Jeffries is a matchmaker’s dream. Having officiated several of her fights as both a referee and a judge, he considers her one of the best female practitioners in the business.
“She’s a good solid boxer who really presses her opponents,” he said. “She’s very aggressive and doesn’t hotdog or clown. She’s very focused in the ring and very positive and pleasant outside of it. If anyone can draw fans to the sport, I would think it would be her.”
Born in Bakersfield, California, Jeffries grew up in Hawaii. She took up kickboxing and after a 9-2 amateur record began living and coaching boxing in Japan. When she decided to become a professional boxer, she moved back to California because it was too costly for promoters to fly her to the United States from Hawaii or Japan for fights.
She began her career with seven straight wins, but soon found herself being matched with the stars of the division. Although she has incurred nine losses against the likes of undefeated Laura Serrano, who was 9-0-1 and 12-0-2 when they met, Michele Aboro (18-0), Iwona Guzowska (7-1), and Connie VanRyckDeGroot (8-0), she has never been stopped.
In addition to boxing, she is a graduate of the South Bay Fire Academy in California and is an on-call firefighter for the Hollister fire department. It is obvious that she is as well-rounded in her personal life as she is in the ring.
If she beats Hernandez on June 15, she is scheduled to lace them up again on July 15 against an opponent to be determined at the Yakama Nation Legends Casino in Toppenish, Washington. At stake will be the vacant NABF super bantamweight title.
If Melissa Hernandez has her way, those plans will be scuttled.
“I’m not going to Oregon to look good and lose,” said Hernandez. “As an amateur, I’ve beaten people I wasn’t supposed to beat. I know I’m in an uphill battle, but I plan on winning this fight. Kelsey’s been around a while and she deserves respect.
“I respect her a lot, but I still plan on beating her. The closer the fight gets, the more confident I become.”