It’s almost midnight on a recent Saturday at the National Guard Armory in Pikesville, Md., and a man in a black tuxedo has an announcement: The evening’s main event is about to start, and the bar will be shutting down soon.
Tucked behind a ruffled yellow curtain, Shelly Seivert is waiting. She has been for nearly five hours and is now visibly annoyed.
Seivert, 34, sits with a few of her colleagues who have already fought. They’re all males, glistening with sweat, and they seem to be putting off packing up their gym bags to go home. Back to real jobs.
Seivert, who turned pro in December of 2006, will do the same once the six-round bout is over.
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“Boxing doesn’t pay the bills, so bartending does,” Seivert says. “And also I work construction for most of the year.”
Despite boxing being a distant third-place in terms of bringing in income for Seivert, it’s clear where her passion is.
“An actual match…it’s like a wedding day,” Seivert says, “because you’ve got six months to a year invested in it, everything from dieting to proper training and then it’s all done in one day.”
Seivert herself has never been married, but “I’m friends with enough brides to know what goes into those things,”she says with a grin.
Yet tonight her sole focus is Tori Nelson, a boxer she fought to a draw the last time they stepped into the ring a few months ago in Baltimore. It was a performance that led the promoter of tonight’s six fights to place the Seivert-Nelson match last on the card.
“Even Don King knows that ladies often steal the show,” says Gary Williams, a feature writer for fightnews.com, who sits ringside.
Seivert took up boxing 10 years ago after leaving a career in women’s soccer at Towson University. The Armory marks her seventh professional fight, and her record going in is 4-1-1.
Seivert examines her recently taped knuckles and nods approvingly to the “corner men” who wear her last name on their backs.
A security guard finally blasts into the room and asks Seivert a question she’s been itching to hear for hours: “You ready?”
Seivert remains an exception in a sport still largely dominated by males. According to womenboxing.com, the sport has roots dating as far back as 1720 in London. However, for most of the 20th century, it was banned across much of the globe.
In the U.S., a few states began lifting their bans in the mid 1970s. A fighter named Caroline Svendsen was granted the first documented boxing license for a female in Nevada in 1975.
Female fighters still struggled to box legally in America throughout the 1980s. It wasn’t until 1993 that USA Boxing, the national governing body for amateur boxing in the U.S., finally recognized the sport.
Eleven years later, women’s boxing entered the national psyche with the release of Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby,” a film about an underdog female boxer and an underappreciated trainer. The movie won the Academy Award for best picture in 2004.
Yet many within the sport say that women’s boxing will clear its most important hurdle in 2012, when it becomes an Olympic event for the first time at the summer games in London. That decision was announced after the International Olympic Committee voted in 2009 to include three weight divisions for women boxers to compete, 112, 132, 165, known as flyweight, lightweight and middleweight, respectively.
It was a move that Seivert wished had come earlier.
“Yeah, it’s something I would have tried for had it come earlier,” Seivert says, “but I’m so happy for the younger girls. It’s huge for women’s boxing.”
But tonight, she is not dwelling on any of that as she matches Nelson blow-for-blow in the early stages of the bout. The alcohol-fueled crowd yells earnestly at the ring, imploring the women to punch each other -- and the fighters oblige.
As the match lingers on, Nelson begins to wear Seivert down.
She connects on a burst of lethal combinations in rounds four and five, leaving Seivert scrambling to punch her way off the ropes.
A bell rings and Seivert heads for the bench in her corner one last time. Her face is splashed with a sponge and water pours down her back. A high-heeled employee from Ritz Cabaret, a “gentlemen’s club” in Baltimore, marks the beginning of the final round with a giant number 6 hoisted above her head.
Seivert spits into a bucket and jumps up to spar again. The moment she has been waiting and working toward for so long is almost over. For this self-described bride, who looks exhausted, the fight is nearing an end. But the love affair seems certain to endure.
Crispin Lopez contributed video reporting to this story.