Maureen Shea fights her way to the top

Maureen_Shea_S_Boxing_1August 24, 2012: By John J. Raspanti, DoghouseBoxing. Many professional fighters have turned a painful part of their lives into a positive influence.

Two of the most famous were former middleweight titleholders Rocky Graziano and Jake LaMotta.

At a young age, both Graziano and LaMotta faced violent fathers who used them as punching bags. With bitterness and hatred permeating their souls, the boys grew up wild, and had many brushes with the law.

As young fighters, the pair used their embittered past as a building block to a world championship.

Maureen Shea was 19 when her boyfriend began to abuse her physically and mentally. To escape the beatings, Shea found a gym, where she discovered boxing. Like Graziano and LaMotta, she found a release for her anger and resentment in the ring.

After a short but successful amateur career, Shea turned professional. She won her first 14 fights with seven of those wins by knockout. Shea lost her bid for the WBA super featherweight title in 2009. In 2011, she captured the interim WBC super featherweight title. As of this writing ,Shea, now 31, has compiled a professional record of 18 wins and only two losses.

In a wide-ranging interview, the transplanted New Yorker, now living in Southern California, discusses her boxing career, involvement in the Academy Award winning film Million Dollar Baby, and her goals for the future.

John Raspanti: What is it about boxing that you like so much?

Maureen Shea: The people I meet. The fans. The ability to touch people’s lives, and how they touch my life. And the challenges–boxing shows me how to push limits people place on me.Boxing shows me who I am and I’m always discovering things I didn’t know about myself. And it’s a great feeling.

JR: You started boxing at a very young age. What drew you to the sport?

MS: I was drawn to boxing as a form of self-recovery. Boxing helped me heal from an abusive relationship and some early life trauma. Boxing taught me to depend on myself and to dig deep to find the answers to the challenges life put in front of me.

JR: You had three fights in 2011, but none in 2012. Why haven’t you fought this year?

MS: We had scheduled fights that got bounced around from date to date in the beginning of 2012.

JR: A few weeks ago, you were stripped of your interim WBC female featherweight title. Did the news bother you?

MS: The WBC is a prestigious title, and I am grateful to them for their support as I was an NABF Champion, and then given the opportunity to fight for a World Championship.  It was surprising that the title was vacated but it doesn’t bother me. I am certainly at peace. I didn’t fully understand it myself, and finally put it all together when my representative, Luigi Olcese,broke it all down for me.

We were told after my fight in December that we would have to fight Ina Menzer of Germany.  Luigi had to wait until February to negotiate with Menzer’s representatives as she fought in late January, so automatically, I had to sit out 3 months.  I know we had a good fair starting point in negotiations and my team was looking to counter that offer when we were advised that Ina Menzer was out of the running for the fight.  My team assured me that we would make a strong effort to bring the fight to Mexico or the US and I would have loved for that to happen.  I don’t know why Menzer’s team chose not to continue negotiations but that decision came from the Menzer camp, not from mine. I was looking forward to the possibility of fighting Menzer and still do.

The WBC then informed us I would have to fight Jelena Mrdjenovich on short notice in April.  This meant I would have to fight in Canada for a purse that was (25%) twenty-five percent less that my staring point of negotiations with Menzer’s camp.  Mrdjenovich’s team already had a date set in April and we were not even given an opportunity for a purse bid.  So the WBC ordered Jelena to fight for the Featherweight Title and I had the interim title. Because of these delays, we tried to schedule a defense that got bounced from March to April and finally to May. Two weeks before my scheduled May date, at a routine doctor’s check up I was advised to take a break from serious training by my doctor.

My job is to focus on preparing to fight. The rest of my team handles negotiations. I am looking to be back in Championship form very soon.  I am grateful to the WBC for the opportunity but sometimes blessings come in strange ways.  Right now, I have the freedom to fight and am not bound or have to be put on hold awaiting any negotiations.  I want to be a world champion again but most important, I just want to fight.

JR: Do you think being associated with the Oscar winning film Million Dollar Baby – helped your career or hurt it?

MS: It was a mixed blessing. Obviously being thrust in the spotlight, you have to deal with a lot and I tried to handle it all with humility and grace. This opportunity presented itself to me, and a lot of people couldn’t or wouldn’t accept it but I tried to make it positive for myself and anyone else who I touched because of it.

JR: I say hurt it because of all the extra pressure. Was the pressure difficult at times?

MS: The expectations were confusing. I was an amateur fighter and a college student thrust in a very public situation. I wasn’t sure if people wanted to know me for me, or for my involvement in the movie. I questioned people being genuine. And as a fighter I didn’t know my abilities yet completely. I hadn’t accepted my talent and wasn’t processing it mentally or emotionally.

JR: You lost two fights in a row in 2009. Do you think you’re a better fighter now because of the defeats?

MS: Most definitely. I had to adjust- inside and outside of the ring. New trainer, new environment. But I learned a lot about myself and what I needed and, most of all, what I didn’t need.

JR: Do you have a favorite punch?

MS: I’d say my left hook, whether it lands to the head or the body.  But I must say since working with Joseph “Hoss” Janik at Knuckleheads Boxing, my straight right is becoming my favorite punch.

JR: Will you be fighting in 2012?

MS: We’re planning on two fights hopefully, by the end of 2012.

JR: Thank you very much, Maureen.

MS: Thank you, John.