Five years ago female light middleweight Cristy “Code Red” Nickel had never thought about boxing competitively when she took a class on a lark. When she hit the pads on her very first day, her trainer told her she had natural ability and strength.
Three months later, without having even one amateur fight, she made her pro debut and has never looked back.
Having come a long way in a short period of time, the 31-year-old Nickel will put her 7-5 (4 KOS) record on the line against 20-year-old Olivia Fonseca of Philadelphia on March 15th at Madison Square Garden’s WaMu Theater.
The card, which is called “A Fistful of Shamrocks,” is being promoted by Celtic Gloves Promotions and will be headlined by undefeated junior middleweight James Moore, 14-0 (10 KOS). Originally from County Wicklow, Ireland, he fights out of Queens, New York, and will take on J.C. Candelo, 27-9 (18 KOS), of Colombia.
Other featured bouts include junior middleweight Pawel “Raging Bull” Wolak, 19-0 (13 KOS), a native of Poland who fights out of New Jersey, against Dupre “Total Package” Strickland, 18-2-1 (7 KOS), and lightweight contender Oisin Fagan, 20-5 (15 KOS), a Dublin native who fights out of Oklahoma City.
For Nickel, who was born and raised in Northern California and can trace part of her lineage, the McGee and the Murphy clans, to County Wexford, fighting at MSG is a dream come true.
She had learned about her good fortune when her manager, David Selwyn, called her as she shopped for one of her beloved romance novels at a Manhattan Barnes & Noble.
She was searching the racks for “Irish Hearts” by Nora Roberts when the news of the upcoming fight put her into orbit.
“My knees went weak and I grabbed the bookshelves to keep my balance,” said Nickel, who describes herself as real-life rags-to-riches story and says the best yet to come.
Nickel, the daughter of a minister, attended the University of Memphis where she earned a degree in exercise physiology. Always a fitness enthusiast, she took up boxing only because she got bored with more conventional exercise programs.
Although she lost a four-round decision in her pro debut to Miriam Brakache at Sam’s Town Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, she was hooked. And she went on to win her next seven fights, four by knockout.
In August 2005, she fought a rematch with Brakache in Beijing, China. At stake was the vacant IBA women’s light middleweight title. Nickel lost a 10-round decision, but showed her mettle and made a lot of fans in the process.
“My nose was shattered and blood was in my stomach, but I went the whole 10 rounds,” said Nickel. “A fighter never stops, and I wasn’t going to come all the way to China to lose. I would have died in the ring rather than quit. I wanted to finish with dignity.”
To this day, Nickel marvels at how well she and the other fighters on the card, including Butterbean, were treated by the Chinese people.
“We realty got the red carpet treatment,” she said. “And I couldn’t believe it when I saw Butterbean and me on a huge billboard together. People would point to it and say, ‘Code Red.’”
During this comeback Nickel hopes to amp up her boxing career before she eventually hangs up the gloves. Because she is somewhat of a perfectionist, she is not happy about the fact that her career got so untracked after such an ambitious start.
In her very last fight, in March 2006, she was stopped in three rounds by Elizabeth Mooney in Albany, New York.
“I highly recommend that boxers go through the amateur system, because when you turn pro with no amateur background you are playing catch-up,” she said. “For most of my career I had no manager and took a lot of fights I probably shouldn’t have taken.”
Because she was a ticket seller, Nickel says that one promoter put her in winnable fights, but none of those victories really accelerated her career to the next level.
“I didn’t feel like I was learning anything,” she explained, “but in the last couple of years things have gotten much better.”
The loss to Mooney actually resulted in Nickel re-evaluating everything about her life. She went through a difficult divorce, but also wound up appearing on an MTV show in Philadelphia. She moved to New York, which has always been a dream factory, and started her own business as a personal trainer. Business is now booming.
Counted among her many celebrity clients is Katie Couric. Others who she is not at liberty to discuss include luminaries from the entertainment, business and communications industries.
She also has a new boxing trainer, Ingo Okafor of Nigeria, who she says brings out the best in her. They have good chemistry, and he has gotten her ready for what she considers the biggest fight of her life.
Even though there were 26,000 people in the Beijing arena, with millions more watching on television and a title on the line, she finds the anticipation of fighting at MSG more daunting than that.
“My parents will be coming in from Idaho, which is very exciting,” she said. “I’ve had 12 fights and they’ve only been to one. This is the crème de la crème. It’s every boxers dream to fight at MSG. I couldn’t make a comeback with any more style than this. The conditions are fabulous. Everything’s coming together. I can’t wait until March 15th.”
Other Irish favorites scheduled to fight on March 15th are junior middleweight Henry “Western Warrior” Coyle, 5-1 (5 KOS), of Chicago by way of County Mayo; and middleweight Simon “Slick Fighting Irish” O’Donnell, 5-1 (2 KOS), of County Galway.
In addition, live Irish music will be performed by the band “Big Girl’s Blouse.”
Tickets, which range from $400 to $50, can be purchased through Ticketmaster, 866-448-7849, or by calling Celtic Gloves at 917-559-8467 or Gleason’s Gym at 718-797-2872.
For sponsorship and advertising opportunities, contact Mike O’Sullivan at 516-242-0428