Mia St. John is really retiring.
Few realize that St. John has been prizefighting for nearly two decades and her metamorphosis from boxing pinup girl to world champion represents the sport of women’s boxing.
In the beginning female boxers were seen as an oddity with unskilled ponytailed girls flailing about. Amateur boxing soon pumped in hundreds of female boxers into the sport with all of the tools necessary to perform at a high grade.
St. John similarly progressed on the same road, but she did it as a pro.
Now in her 40s, St. John announced her retirement and this week had an operation on her hip during her birthday. It represents the taking-care-of-business attitude the Mexican-American brunette has exhibited her entire career. She had told ESPN that she was retiring a few weeks ago, but then contemplated another fight. But the operation has convinced her it’s over.
“I’ll still work out twice a day,” says St. John.
While at the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills, St. John (pictured above, in June 1, 2011 photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank) leisurely recounted her life as one of the most recognizable female boxers in the world today. In the outdoor patio of the famous restaurant, the brunette athlete talked about her start, her rise to fame and her journey to win a world title and more.
Over the years St. John has announced similar plans to retire and somehow would be drawn back into the boxing ring. A good example was her retirement announcement after winning the WBC junior middleweight title against Christy Martin. She returned soon after to fight Tiffany Junot and welterweight world champion Cecilia Braekhus.
“My ex-husband told me ‘you will not enter the boxing ring again. I will physically stop you from entering the boxing ring again’,” St. John said. “We’re all addicts.”
St. John said many boxers cannot simply hang up the gloves and that the attention, the money, the challenge, the physical training routines and the aura surrounding a big fight are all addictive components of prizefighting. One or all of them combined are things that make it extremely difficult to abandon.
“Fighting is a drug in itself,” said St. John. “It’s like the song Hotel California, you can’t get out.”
Rare Financial Success
Very few female boxers have been able to reach the economic levels St. John reached over her 17-year career. Aside from Regina Halmich, Daisy Lang, Laila Ali and Christy Martin, other female prizefighters never reached six figure purses.
In her early days St. John received large amounts of money to fight on the undercards of first Julio Cesar Chavez and later Oscar De La Hoya. Those events remain her favorite.
“Oscar’s fights and the big fights with Chavez at Caesars Palace, those were some of my favorite moments in boxing,” said St. John. “I met Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns when Oscar fought Felix Trinidad. I became good friends with Tommy.”
Money was pouring in for St. John and she needed it for her entourage in the beginning. Her mother Socorro Rosales stopped her from spending lavishly on cars and entertainment.
“She was strict,” said St. John of her mom, who passed away several years ago. “She told me not to buy toys. She told me to invest it.”
St. John, whose given name is Rosales, took her mother’s advice and was very frugal and remains so. Investments in property and construction have given her security. She remains one of the best business minds in boxing, though few realize it. It’s one of the reasons she has become the most successful female boxer today.
Boxing is Pain
In her last fight on April 13, St. John accepted a fight with female welterweight world champion Braekhus for the WBO, WBA and WBC titles in Denmark. Despite a broken hip suffered many months earlier, she entered the ring against one of the best female boxers today. In the second round, unable to maneuver because of her hip, she withstood a barrage and fought off the attacking Braekhus. She remembered telling her corner to stop the fight but they told her she never said anything to them.
“I told my corner to stop the fight,” St. John thought she told them. But she had suffered a concussion and had never actually mentioned those words. She re-engaged with Braekhus in the third round and actually pushed the referee away but the fight was stopped. “I was glad the referee stopped it. No fighter wants to admit they’re too old to do what they love.”
It’s actually a love-hate relationship St. John has with professional boxing. The sport has given her recognition and success that few women know. But injuries and losing are not things she would wish on anyone.
Her proudest moments were fighting in Mexico in front of adoring fans.
“Those fans in Mexico made me so happy,” said St. John. “My mom had me in the U.S. but she told me to never forget where my family is from in Zacatecas.”
After losing in Mexico in 2009 she announced to a few that retirement was coming. Then other offers came and suddenly she was back full throttle. Six-figure money offers remained for St. John so she took advantage and remained fighting for several more years though her reflexes were waning.
“It’s all the sparring that really impacts you,” she said.
Boxing is in the Blood
St. John had won the IFBA lightweight world title in 2005 and other regional titles. Last summer, a rematch with her old rival Christy “Coalminer’s Daughter” Martin took place for the vacant WBC junior middleweight title in Northern California. She won by decision and announced retirement once again. Then she fought and lost to Junot in November.
Martin, who first fought and beat St. John in 2002, was both a rival and friend outside of the boxing ring. The two female warriors are among a select elite that have more than 50 pro fights. It’s a very rare feat even in male boxing today.
Before they fought last August 2012, St. John was hobbling around with a walking cane when people were not around. Her hip had been injured during a weight-lifting workout session. She wanted to keep the fight with Martin who also had injuries. Boxing is in their bloodstream.
“Christy says that’s a drug in itself,” St. John said of boxing.
They fought and St. John won the rematch.
But the sport lured her back into the ring for two more fights. During a mixed martial arts fight featuring Ronda Rousey, a number of female boxing proponents arrived to see the historic event at the Honda Center. Among them was the great female champion boxer Lucia Rijker. She walked up to St. John and had kind words to say.
“Lucia told me she knows what I am feeling,” said St. John. “That it is hard to quit boxing, but to let it go.”
Throughout the years St. John has heard criticisms and false praise but continued her trek in female boxing. Most people, especially the actual fighters, know what she’s done in the game.
“Mia St. John destroyed the stereotype that women boxers want to be manly. Athletic women are often tomboys and criticized for their appearance or demeanor. Mia never fit that mold. She was feminine and still an a** kicker. She is also a fighter who speaks well,” said Layla McCarter the current WBA junior middleweight titleholder who many consider the best female fighter today. “Mia is an all-around contradiction who makes people think twice about what they think they know, and that is a good thing.”
Others have sparred many times with St. John and know she was never easy to pin down.
But now it’s the end of the road for the female boxing icon.
“I’m glad my last fight was against one of the best,” said St. John. “I don’t want to fight girls that are 1 and 4 like other girls just for the money.”
Her business associates know St. John has always been passionate about whatever she does.
“Mia has always given 100 percent toward both the business and fighting in boxing,” said Claudia Ollis, who has worked with St. John on various projects. “She’s a very strong Mexican woman and is successful in whatever she does.”
That is the real St. John.
Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?