Hallback ready for the spotlight
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
Tampa, FL (Sports Network) -
Jab, sidestep, cross. Repeat. Jab, sidestep, cross. Repeat.
To the uninformed eye, it's uneventful tango involving anonymous client and nameless trainer in the center of a crowded gym on a run of the mill Saturday morning.
But to Chevelle Hallback and Sherman Henson, they're a series of steps vital toward remaking the result of a frustrating first dance nearly three years ago.
For Hallback, a 38-year-old Floridian; and Henson, the Washington, D.C. native now plying his trade full time in the Sunshine State; the redemptive music begins in one day less than five weeks.
And the particulars are already burned into their minds.
The date: March 26. The site: Isleta Casino & Resort, Albuquerque. The dance partner: WIBA light welterweight champion Holly Holm.
"We're not where we need to be yet, but we're getting there," says the no- nonsense Henson, glancing over as his still-glistening charge warms down at a mirror 15 feet away. "She's been off for a while because she was waiting for the right fight. But as soon as we got it, she was ready to go.
"Everyone else assumes Holly is invincible, but we don't. It's just a matter of not letting her fight her fight. The last time, she was able to punch and run, punch and run. This time, though, she's not going to be able to do that. We're going to make her fight."
The last time -- in May 2007, at Albuquerque's Tingley Coliseum -- Hallback was on the short end of a wide unanimous decision, dropping one 98-92 scorecard and a pair of 100-90s in a bout the two frustratedly contend could have been mistaken as much for a track meet as a prize fight.
As a result, the routines Henson and Hallback now go through for a few hours each weeknight and every other Saturday are focused as much on footwork as fury.
"She fought the other one's fight last time, and we just can't let that happen again," Henson said.
The rivals went in different directions after the first clash -- with Hallback scoring a draw and two wins in three non-spotlight fights before a self- imposed exile that will have reached 21 months by March.
Holm, meanwhile, has risen to the pinnacle of the female version of the sport -- going 8-0-1 in nine subsequent bouts that have yielded multiple world titles and a crossover turn after "Best Fighter of the Year" nomination at the 2008 ESPY Awards in Los Angeles.
"I can't blame those fighters who've made it big like that," says Hallback, who moonlights with a full-time job as a case worker for the state of Florida, while also mixing in classes toward a psychology degree at nearby Hillsborough Community College.
"If they have pizzazz and it gets them noticed by promoters or the media or the TV networks, it's not their fault. I'd do the same thing. But it's my goal to show them that sort of pizzazz and be able to back it up as a fighter, too. I'm a fighter first."
Henson, who lists ex-champions Juan La Porte (WBC featherweight) and Paul Banke (WBC super bantamweight) among his former clients, claims Hallback's credentials are legitimate.
"I've worked with a lot of fighters, a lot of male fighters, and trust me, this one's a real fighter, too," he says. "There's no one out there that really wants to get in with her. And I can't really blame them. I wouldn't want to either."
Citing fatigue issues from the first fight that they claim were prompted by altitude change, Hallback and Henson will continue their at-home regimen in Tampa until early March before heading out to New Mexico for what they expect to be a successful two-week adjustment period.
The card will also include an eight-round light welterweight match between former Holm victims Victoria Cisneros and Terri Blair, as well as the four- round pro debut of flyweight Michelle Waterson.
Five four-round male bouts involving a handful of Albuquerque-area pros are also scheduled.
"It was a lack of experience with the conditions as much as anything else," Hallback says. "I didn't know how to prepare, so I didn't have the energy to fight her the way I needed to -- to be able to wear her down and keep her in one place.
"I'm ready this time. So that's not going to be a problem."
This week's title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO junior flyweight title -- Kempton Park, South Africa
Juanito Rubillar (No. 20 contender) vs. Hekkie Budler (No. 55 contender)
Rubillar (48-13-7, 23 KO): Fifth title fight (0-4, 0 KO); Two wins since three-fight losing streak Budler (13-0, 5 KO): First title fight; Four of 13 wins against foes with winning records
Fitzbitz says: Rubillar by decision
WBC light flyweight title -- Guadalajara, Mexico
Rodel Mayol (champion) vs. Omar Nino (No. 1 contender)
Mayol (26-4-1, 20 KO): First title defense; Winless in first four title fights (0-3-1, 0 KO) Nino (28-3-1, 11 KO): Third title fight (1-0, 1 no contest); Held WBC title in 2006
Fitzbitz says: Nino by decision
Vacant WBO junior featherweight title -- Bayamon, Puerto Rico
Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. (No. 2 contender) vs. Marvin Sonsona (No. 3 contender)
Vazquez Jr. (17-0-1, 14 KO): First title fight; Second fight in Puerto Rico (1-0, 1 KO) Sonsona (14-0-1, 12 KO): Third title fight (1-0-1, 0 KO); WBO champion at 115 in 2009
Fitzbitz says: Vazquez by decision
Last week's picks: 2-0
Overall picks record: 169-60 (73.7 percent)
NOTE: Part one of three-part series. Boxing Editor Lyle Fitzsimmons recently traveled to Tampa, FL to meet Chevelle Hallback, who'll challenge Holly Holm in a 140-pound women's world title fight next month in New Mexico. The initial part will look at that March 26 fight. Part two will recap a writer vs. boxer sparring session on February 20 at the Fight Factory gym in Tampa. Part three will examine the status of women's boxing and Hallback's goal of becoming the first female in a feature fight on HBO.
Lyle Fitzsimmons is an award-winning 21-year sports journalist, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a frequent contributor to sports radio talk shows throughout the U.S. E-mail him at email@example.com, follow him at twitter.com/fitzbitz and read more at fitzbitzonfights.wordpress.com.