“I was meant to be a champion when I walked into Doc Keppner’s gym. I just didn’t know it.”—Terri Moss
There is a cost to living a life in boxing. You can’t be great and be a part-timer. The sport simply asks too much of you in terms of time and commitment. You have to be willing to pay the cost, a fact Terri “The Boss” Moss knows all too well.
Moss probably shouldn’t be here. That’s something she might just tell you herself. Where is here? It’s the Buckhead Fightclub Gym in Atlanta, GA. How she got there was anything but an ordinary route.
Terri was a 34-year-old narcotics investigator when she got bitten by the bug. On a lark, Terri went with a friend to check out a boxing lesson on the way to an aerobics class and I guess you could say she never really left. Despite having no boxing experience whatsoever, Terri had found her passion. She was such a novice that even getting through three minutes with a heavy bag was a test.
“It took a lot of courage and maybe just some insanity to walk away like that.”
Making the decision to leave law enforcement was not an easy one. Between going to school part time to gain a bachelor’s degree and working as an investigator, time was already tight. Not to mention that Terri was facing legal age requirements for certain jobs she was interested in. After discovering boxing, Terri felt she had lost “that push” to beat the clock for her career goals in law enforcement. So of course, she did the sensible thing and left behind the stability of her position to enter into the not all that lucrative endeavor of near middle-aged pugilism. I suppose a regular person might question the wisdom of that choice, but as you may have guessed, Terri Moss is not regular
Due to suffering from Hepatitis C, Terri wasn’t even able to get into the ring right away. However, she indulged her boxing jones by working with Doc Keppner and becoming a cut “man” and the 2nd in the corner for male boxers. Being a woman in a man’s corner was a true rarity, but Terri found little resistance from the fighters. In fact, many took pleasure in the novelty.
“As soon as I’m off this, I’ll be cured. I can fight.”
While Terri soon proved herself to be first rate in a supporting role, she still wanted to become a fighter herself. That’s when Terri learned of interferon therapy, which is a painful and difficult remedy for Hepatitis C that can “in rare circumstances” eradicate the affliction from the host’s body. Once Terri learned this could perhaps cure her of her condition, she jumped into the treatment without much reflection. If it worked, she could box. There was little else to consider.
As good fortune would have it, the therapy did work. Terri was cured–no longer potentially infectious–and therefore able to fight. She was in the ring five days later. With no amateur background, only three sparring sessions to her credit, and at the grand age of 36, you might think Terri would have started slow and attempt to find fighters on her level. Instead, Terri’s first three fights were against WIBA Intercontinental Champion Wendy Sprowl, future IFBA & WIBA World Champion, Maribel Zurita, and #1 ranked contender, Patricia Martinez. A veritable murderer’s row for even an experienced fighter, an even more brutal gauntlet for a novice. As Terri put it, “You would think an average human would be smarter than that.” Not surprisingly, she lost all three fights. In fact, after her first fight with Sprowl, Terri thought she would never go back into the ring. That lasted a week.
“The hard ride didn’t scare me.”
Terri knew if she wanted to be more competitive she would have to step up her training, which led her to the gym of Xavier Biggs (the brother of former Olympic Super Heavyweight Gold Medalist, Tyrell Biggs). With Biggs, Moss learned she was a boxer-puncher and began to put to use her natural athleticism and timing with a true game plan for the first time.
The results were immediate. An upset victory over #1 ranked minimumweight contender Nina Ahlin served notice. The result of her hard work and dedication culminated with a victory over WIBF Strawweight Champion Stephanie Dobbs, in September of 2007. At the time, Moss was 41 years old, 13 years the senior of her opponent. As she told me, “I wish I could have been sponsored by AARP.” Her victory entered her into the record books as the oldest female world champion in boxing history.
“I never had any idea people weren’t going to see it my way.”
While Moss wanted to continue fighting, her age, trainer indifference, and the general difficulty of booking women’s matches worked against her. With all these challenges and frustrations road-blocking her career in the ring, Terri decided to continue her boxing career outside of it. Terri found herself “in mourning for three years”, but she always knew her time as a fighter would be short. That did not mean she could not have a boxing life. So she set about doing just that, this time as a trainer, a promoter and eventually, the owner operator of her own spot.
She first began training women to fight out of Xavier’s Decatur, GA gym. While there were not many women to work with early on, and Biggs was a bit old-fashioned about her training men, it did provide a start. It kept her in the game and helped her sharpen her skills as a trainer and grow her contacts as a fledgling businesswoman. Eventually, Terri would have to leave out from under Xavier’s wing and make her own path.
“I have never failed yet.”
Terri’s first major success was her creation of ‘Corporate Fight Night’ in Atlanta. The novel idea pits amateur boxers from the business community against each other. The inaugural Corporate Fight Night was held in 2010 on a shoestring budget. An instant success, the white collar charity has gone on to become a regular event and has delivered thousands of dollars to multiple beneficiaries, including Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Wounded Warrior Project. Corporate Fight Night 9 will be held on February 19 and includes the participation of Evan Holyfield, Evander’s son. With the continued success of the event, Terri says the next step is “to take it national.” I would not bet against her.
Beyond Corporate Fight Night, Terri’s benevolence extends into other areas as well. She serves as the chairman for the Champions of Dignity Association (CODA), which funds the Retired Boxer’s Foundation (RBF). A true passion for Terri, the RBF assists boxers who may be suffering from physical, mental, and financial struggles after their ring career ends. Terri pointed out, “Greyhound dogs in the country have a retirement program, but professional prize fighters don’t.” One of the surprising challenges Terri lamented over that affects her work with the RBF is the lack of participation from former fighters. She believes that too many want to have their own foundation, which dilutes the overall ability to get assistance to retired boxers in need.
Terri is also a coordinator for the Women’s International Boxing Federation and the Global Boxing Union, where she helps sanction and supervise title fights for both men and women.
“It’s a ballsy way to do business.”
Ever ambitious, Terri has been training fighters since 2004, and nine years later, she opened her own gym in Atlanta–The Buckhead Fight Club. A nearly 15,000 square foot facility, Terri’s gym caters to both men and women fighters and is one of the very few female owned and operated boxing gyms in the nation. Terri’s career as a fighter had not been lucrative. In fact, it cost Terri money to box. As well, she had limited hours she could train other fighters in Xavier’s gym and she was only training women at the time, so that lessened her potential to grow a client stable. She was maxing out at a low level, so her earning potential was very weak while operating under the roof of another. I asked Terri how she found financing for the gym and in typical Boss fashion, she replied, “Where’s the lease? Let’s sign it, we’ll get the money.”
Late last year, Terri received an unexpected phone call. Along with seven other women (including Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe), Terri learned she would be inducted into the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame this July. Terri told me while she is “thrilled and humbled”, when she picked up the phone, she thought “they had called the wrong number.” While Terri’s achievements are numerous, she finds them modest. I suspect she’s been too busy blazing her trail to take inventory of her accomplishments.
Also, Terri and her Buckhead Fight Club will be the subject of a documentary to be released later this month called “Boxing Chicks.” The film follows Terri and a select group of female fighters from her gym as they attempt to make their mark in the sport. “Well behaved women rarely make history” says Buckhead fighter Jackie Breitenstein in the trailer. Something tells me she knows from whence she speaks. I also suspect she’s seen that in the actions of her “Boss.” Directed by Frederick Taylor of Tomorrow Pictures, Boxing Chicks has been making the rounds at festivals and is looking at a multi-platform release (theater and VOD).
The main thing that has changed the game is the Olympic process.”
I asked Terri where she thought women’s boxing is right now. She pointed out that those who think it’s a dying sport are wrong. While she admitted the novelty has worn off from the early years, the depth of talent has steadily—if quietly—increased since the days of Christy Martin and Bonnie Canino. While Terri states “there are great pro fighters”, she feels the growth of women’s amateur boxing is setting the sport up for long term success. One of the knocks on women’s boxing has been the low quality of the fights, particularly in the earlier years. There just weren’t enough good fighters to make quality match ups on a consistent basis.
In 2012, the Olympic Committee introduced women’s boxing to the London games, effectively legitimizing the sport in a way the first women fighters could have only dreamed. If anything, the United States is behind other countries like Mexico, Argentina and many parts of Europe where women headline fights and fill 30,000 seat arenas. Terri believes the key is to get the women’s fights on television and then create a star. To that end, Terri even has someone in mind, recent Olympic champion from Ireland, Katie Taylor. A dynamic and wildly popular fighter back home with charisma and skill to spare, Taylor could be the “Ronda Rousey” the sport needs to break through. When Freddie Roach saw Taylor fight in the 2012 games, he said he had never seen an arena “on fire” the way he did when Taylor did her ring walk, let alone when she entered the squared circle. Terri believes this “is just an example of what’s to come.”
Of course, Terri is doing her part to make that happen. Coming up in April, in conjunction with USA Boxing, Terri will be hosting a round robin tournament with female Olympic fighters from the USA and other countries in Atlanta. Five countries will be participating over four days of boxing. There has never been a women’s tournament on that level held in the United States. All stops will be pulled out. That’s the Terri Moss way.
“A champion never thinks they are going to lose.”
Terri Moss has made a boxing life for herself. She has done it the hard way. Not one step would you call “easy.” She started late, overcame prejudice, health issues, her opponents in and out of the ring. By going to a place almost no one believed she had any business going, she ended up right where she’s supposed to be. Terri told me she “has always been up against the clock.” People say Father Time is undefeated. I suppose that’s true, but right now, he’s up against Terri “The Boss” Moss, and he’s behind on points.
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