Although Melissa “Missy” Fiorentino of Cranston, Rhode island, owns the IWBF and NABF featherweight titles, she was extremely disappointed when her June 20 fight with WBC featherweight champion Jelana Mrdjenovich of Canada was cancelled after Mrdjenovich got hurt in training a few weeks ago.
Fiorentino, 17-1 (6 KOS), had worked hard to get the number-one rating that made her Mrdjenovich’s mandatory challenger, so she was ready to do whatever it took to wrest the world title from the well-respected champion.
With the Mrdjenovich bout postponed until at least the end of the summer, Fiorentino has opted to take a very dangerous fight in the interim. On June 7, on the non-televised undercard of the Vernon Forrest-Sergio Mora and Carlos Quintana-Paul Williams doubleheader on Showtime, the 31-year-old Fiorentino will battle Melissa “Hurracan” Hernandez, 7-1-2 (2 KOS), a native of Puerto Rico who fights out of the Bronx.
The show will be held at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut.
In the 28-year-old Hernandez’s last fight, in February, she battled to a 10 round draw with the much more experienced and heavily favored Chevelle Hallback. If Fiorentino is looking at Hernandez as a nothing more than a “keep busy fight,” she’s making a big mistake.
“I was training for Jelana, which would have also been a very tough fight,” said Fiorentino, who is managed by her mother Shirley Ouellette and trained by Peter Manfredo Sr. “I’ve been sparring and training hard, so I figured I might as well put that all to good use.”
Even though the Hernandez fight only became available with about one week’s notice, Fiorentino didn’t think twice about accepting it.
“This is going to be a high profile show,” said Fiorentino. “My fight won’t be televised, but there will be big people there so I want to look good. Melissa is a very aggressive fighter, just like I am, so the fight should be a good one. I am really looking forward to it.”
Although Fiorentino is 5’1” tall and Hernandez is 5’3”, they both use their diminutive statures to their advantage. Each are offensive whirlwinds, so there is no doubt that their fight will be a barnburner.
It is hard to imagine a fighter more determined to excel than Fiorentino. Everything she does, it seems, is at full throttle. She is a graduate of Roger Williams College, where she earned a degree in criminal justice. She is currently employed as a Rhode Island sheriff, who transports prisoners to and from jail and court. Occasionally she is sent on extraditions all over the country.
Every day, rain or shine, except during the week or so she takes off between fights, she runs three to five miles during her lunch hour and then heads to the gym after work. Because she spars only with men at Manfredo’s gym, some nights she will drive 90 minutes each way to Connecticut to spar with a young female boxer named Addy Irizarry.
The discipline extends to her diet. Although she craves pasta, which might be attributed to her Italian lineage, she makes do with chicken, steak, fish and salads.
It’s a tough grind, but Fiorentino is more than happy to make the sacrifices necessary to succeed in such a tough vocation.
“I believe I am one of the best pound for pound female boxers in the sport,” said Fiorentino, whose soft-spoken manner belies her fighting nickname of The Fury. “I get a lot of pride from that because I work so hard to be as good as I am. When people tell me they appreciate my style and enjoy watching me, there is nothing better than that. It makes all of the sacrifice worthwhile.”
Some of Fiorentino’s biggest fans are the prisoners she regularly transports to and from court. “I see a lot of them over and over again, and they are always asking me how the training is going and when I’m fighting again,” she explained. “Sometimes it feels like I have my own little fan club because I see them so often.”
Fiorentino, who never brings anything less than her A-game to fights, is arguably still undefeated. Her sole loss, a 10 round decision to Emiko Raika for Raika’s WIBA title in the champion’s home country of Japan in September 2004, reeked of home cooking.
Fiorentino sees unfair decisions as part of the game, especially in countries where female boxing is much more popular than it is in the United States. American boxers who travel there for the higher purses so often face uphill battles because it is so common to wind up on the wrong end of close and even not so close decisions.
Fiorentino might have been helpless to do anything about the scoring in Japan, but she will try not to leave it up to the judges against Hernandez.
“I want to make a statement in this fight, just like I want to do in all of my fights,” said The Fury. “I’m not looking past Melissa, I would never look past anyone. Besides the draw with Chevelle, she fought a draw with Kelsey Jeffries in her fourth (pro) fight. She’s a very good fighter.
“But I’ve worked too hard to get where I am, and I really want to win that WBC title from Jelana,” she continued. “There is no way Melissa is going to stop me from fighting for the world title later this year. I won’t let that happen.”