Inside a small packed boxing gym, Mia Rosales St. John takes measured steps while sparring against a young boxer from El Monte who’s half her age but very strong. Blows are exchanged freely and sweat runs down the two female boxer’s faces inside the boxing ring as dozens watch while doing their own workouts in the gym that can’t be larger than three boxing rings side-by-side.
It’s mid-afternoon and the younger kids are walking in to see St. John and Mayra Manzo trade blows. On one corner outside of the ropes stands St. John’s trainer Rhonda Luna, who also fights professionally. On the other is Ben Lira, one of the fight games’ master trainers. Both give advice to their charges during the fight session. “Don’t back up,” advises Lira to Manzo who punches hard and seems to gain confidence each round. Luna tells St. John to fire her right hand.
St. John (47-12-2, 18 Kos) has been sparring steadily for weeks in preparation for a world title challenge against Norway’s Cecilia Braekhus (21-0, 5 Kos) who has the WBO, WBA and WBC titles. The welterweight clash takes place April 13 in Denmark.
Now 45, the prizefighter with the almond-shaped eyes has been exchanging blows for the past 17 years professionally. St. John has fought in 61 professional fights and amassed 287 rounds since 1997. Only a handful of women have fought as many fights and are still boxing. Amazingly she doesn’t have visible battle scars that most prizefighters bear after the same amount of fights in the boxing ring. But she’s quick to tell you there has been damage. Most of it comes while sparring.
“It’s always dangerous,” says St. John who has moved up in weight divisions from featherweight to junior middleweight. But maintaining the weight has been difficult. “I can’t keep the weight on.”
Just recently St. John defeated Christy Martin in a rematch to capture the WBC junior middleweight world title. This past November she lost by decision to Tiffany Junot by decision after 10 rounds. Despite the loss, St. John still wants to push on. She’s more determined than ever to buck the odds.
“I was amazed at what Bernard Hopkins did,” says St. John, who is very petite looking even at a heavier weight division. “I look up to him and what he’s done in boxing.”
Hopkins recently established another history-making record by defeating IBF light heavyweight titleholder Tavoris Cloud and winning yet another championship. At 48 years old the Philadelphia warrior has been defying odds and beating men half his age. St. John knows his secret. Nutrition and fiendish workout regimens are the backbone of both prizefighters. St. John can’t seem to stay away from the gym or from abstaining from food that contains sugar. Few understand this absolute warrior ethic St. John possesses. Most get caught up in her looks and magazine covers and fail to see the deep introspective Rosales St. John. She’s a very prideful woman who is extremely proud of her heritage and is willing to fight outside the ring for any cause she feels warrants assistance.
In a couple of weeks St. John will venture to Denmark to face one of the top female prizefighters in the world in Braekhus. Fighting in Europe is nothing new to her. St. John has fought in Germany before and also in China and Mexico. But the prospect of fighting one of the top female boxers has her amped up.
Currently a film crew has been following her and interviewing various people who have come across her boxing life. The Da Vinci film crew comes from Washington D.C. and has been working on the project the past few months and maybe longer. The film is scheduled to be released in 2014. Ironically, St. John is a rather private person outside of the prize ring. Though she’s very business-minded and willing to go full throttle for public relations gigs, when it comes to personal matters most of it is off the record. This writer has known St. John for almost her entire career and there’s a whole book worth of material that the world does not know about.
One thing St. John mentioned is the danger every prizefighter faces when stepping inside the boxing ring. She has been taking punches for more than 60 bouts and countless rounds of sparring for two decades. It is dangerous for any boxer and she realizes it.
Could this year be the last for “The Knockout?” “It’s really difficult,” says St. John honestly about stopping suddenly.