A few years ago, a Hollywood movie called Million Dollar Baby told the fictitious story about a woman determined to become a pro boxer, learning from a crusty male coach. In Mississauga’s Battle Arts Academy, a real-life story is playing out with six women with no previous boxing experience learning to fight under the direction of a successful female pro-fighter.
Natalie (Sugar) Brown, a six-time U.S. national champion and two-time world silver medalist, has developed Missfits. The program offers women a chance to train three times a week at Battle Arts Academy (BAA), which has become a spawning ground for aspiring wrestlers.
BAA is owned by Anthony Carelli, who achieved fame and success in the WWE as the character Santino Marella. Five months ago, Brown, who is an instructor at BAA, approached Carelli with the idea of developing a women’s boxing program and now it’s a reality and gaining traction. Brown is teaching the novice fighters about the science, psychology and athleticism of the sport and helping them to develop their inner fighting spirits. The women come from different backgrounds, but they are united in their desire to box.
“A class is something you take once a week and you really don’t build upon, but the women who have decided to join the program are building upon their skills and their knowledge of boxing,” says Brown. “As time passes, they’re showing more dedication to the program. I don’t think they joined the program intending to become a boxer featured on any card. I think they intended on learning true boxing.” Brown is a professional fighter with a record of six wins (four by knockout), and two losses. The 37-year- old Maryland native last fought on a card at the Hershey Centre in December 2012. The market for pro boxing, particularly in Ontario, is limited, and for women fighters there are even fewer chances.
Brown continues, “I believe my program at Battle Arts Academy can help and be a good resource for women who are green like my ladies or women that have had experience in the game and would like to have a place to reap some more knowledge. Selling boxing to women is not like selling boxing to children or the averaged consumer of such a recreation. Women are thinking, ‘Am I going to get hurt? Is my face going to be broken? Will I be able to do this? This is so masculine.’ They only know it as being taught in a masculine way.”
“Mixed Martial Arts is cool and Ronda Rousey has made it sexy, but female boxing is still a bit underground. Other than the pink gloves that make it look cute, a lot of people don’t understand the game from a female perspective.
A lot of the lessons I teach are in-house. They spar with each other. I expose them to a lot of footage from around the world (both amateur and pro women) to open their eyes and enrich them to the culture of female boxing. With that understanding, I believe I can take them out into the world or the rest of the community and we can work with other female fighters, if there are any, at other gyms, or maybe we can begin hosting our own in-house sparring sessions at Battle Arts Academy. That’s ultimately what I would like to do,” Brown explains.
“All of them are registered with Boxing Ontario, which regulates the sport in the province. Whether any of them become a real-life Million Dollar Baby is unlikely, but they are broadening themselves and the sport. Anthony Carelli is breaking some ground here with developing a female team out of Battle Arts Academy. I just thought it was amazing that he supported this idea. He has been supportive and encouraging the program and the women with everything that they need to grow. This is the Hurtin’ Game and you’ve kind of got to get somebody who is used to catching a punch and giving a punch. These ladies have come a long way in the five months. Everyone is learning and doing it impressively and effectively. Everyone understands the game,” Brown adds.
Brown came up with the name Missfits, which has various meanings.
“Every one of the girls are Misses,” she explains. “They are fit for boxing; they are fit for life — for whatever they put their minds to. And, the other spin on being a Missfit is they go against the grain. What woman signs up for the Hurt Game? In our society now, you’re still supposed to be (in a sense) a lady and there are certain outlines and boundaries about what it is to be a lady. Being a fighter and getting into the ring and liking to fight and wanting to fight is not within those boundaries. It is not something that is mainstream just yet. That’s why I named it Missfits.”
“Female boxing has been around for a very long time, back when Muhammad Ali was fighting (in the ‘60s and ‘70s). His daughter, Laila, became a fighter. What MMA did differently that enhanced women in their game that boxing didn’t is they promoted their champion. They promoted Ronda. They gave her some of the spotlight. There have been several female champion boxers that have done phenomenal things, but they were never able to get any of the spotlight.”
“These women are interested in becoming boxers. I believe that because they are getting the education behind boxing and they appreciate it. Speaking for myself, I don’t do it for the fame. I don’t fight for glory. I fight because I like it and I like to perform in that capacity using that art. I love to entertain using boxing and using my knowledge of the art. These guys are understanding the art and how they can perform it as well. Their curiosity and confidence is just growing and growing,” notes Brown.
Incidentally, Brown began in the sport with the nickname Too Bad and that evolved into Sugar. “When I was younger, they called me Too Bad because when I went in there I wasn’t making any friends,” she says with a laugh. “I went in there fighting. It was just a young girl with a chip on her shoulders. Then I became Miss Too Bad because I found a way as I became a young woman to be a young lady about it. After a while people were saying, ‘You know what Miss Too Bad, you’re so sweet. You could deliver an ass whooping in the sweetest way. We’re going to call you Sugar.’ Everyone started calling me Sugar. My favourite fighter was Sugar Ray Robinson— the greatest fighter that ever lived. At first, I wouldn’t accept the name Sugar. I was like, ‘I’m not sweet like Sugar Ray just yet,’ but I feel like I’ve evolved into a Sugar.”
Now she is passing on the secrets of the Sweets Science to women who are evolving as fighters.
Story submitted by Perry Lefko