Boxing
Rematch vital in Hallback's HBO quest
Lyle Fitzsimmons


By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor


(NOTE: Final part of three-part series. Boxing Editor Lyle Fitzsimmons recently traveled to Tampa, Fla. to meet Chevelle Hallback, who'll challenge Holly Holm in a 140-pound women's world title fight later this month in New Mexico. Today's third part examines the status of women's boxing and Hallback's goal of becoming the first female in a feature fight on HBO. Part one previewed the March 26 fight. Part two recapped a writer vs. boxer sparring session on Feb. 20 at the Fight Factory gym.)

Tampa, FL (Sports Network) - Sitting on a table along the ring apron, Chevelle Hallback smiled into the would-be camera, took a cue from a non-existent director and delivered her lines with veteran aplomb.

"I protect my teeth in there with this," she said, holding a battered mouthpiece and gesturing toward ongoing sparring action over her left shoulder. "But I protect them on the outside with this."

Though her opposite hand was empty and not a cue card in sight, it wasn't hard to imagine the exchange unfolding on a big-city soundstage as Hallback pitched her favorite toothpaste.

Instead, in the glitz-free bowels of a hangar-like gym, her scripts remain on indefinite stand-by.

"I have it all figured out," she said. "I practice in front of the mirror every day.

"They won't even need to bring in a writer or anything. I've got the whole thing stored up in my head."


Chevelle Hallback (right) will face Holly Holm on March 26.
All that's lacking at this point is the opportunity.

And to hear Hallback tell it...that, too, is just a matter of time.

The Floridian can seize the moment on March 26 in Albuquerque, where she'll face old foe Holly Holm - a winner in their first go-round three years ago - for the WIBA's world title at 140 pounds.

But more important is snatching Holm's perch as the sport's consensus No. 1 female - which, Hallback contends, would be a giant leap toward becoming the first woman in a feature bout on HBO.

Theoretically, a win could at least vault the 38-year-old toward heights Holm has already reached.

Branded as "The Hottie," she got an instant boost with an ESPY nomination for fighter of the year alongside Floyd Mayweather Jr., Joe Calzaghe, Kelly Pavlik and MMA star Georges St. Pierre in 2008.

Her win over Hallback was broadcast on an ESPN2 undercard and a 2008 defeat of New Yorker Belinda Laracuente was part of a females-only event on Fox Sports Net's "Best Damn Sports Show Period."

Still, outside of Christy Martin's heyday in the '90s and well-hyped progenies of Ali, Frazier and Foreman a decade later, no female has made a substantial move beyond novelty crossover acceptance.

And according to several observers, that long-standing dynamic won't be so easily changed.

By Hallback...or anyone else.

"A small part is because some people don't like the idea of women in a combat/contact sport," said Rick Woelfel, veteran sportswriter and founder of womensportsonline.com. "But I think the big reason is because the talent pool of skilled, competent female fighters isn't very deep.

"Thus, women's bouts feature unskilled fighters who aren't very entertaining from an athletic point of view, or worse, someone who has skill and/or power against someone who has one or the other or neither, leading to mismatches and potentially dangerous situations."

While women have made significant strides and in some cases reaped financial rewards comparable to or greater than male counterparts in other sports, Philadelphia-area boxing columnist Todd Thorpe has a hard time seeing the same happening inside the ring.

In his view, sexuality - or lack of it - plays a central role.

"It's a slap across the face of all female athletes, but popular women's sports seem to be limited to those in which at least some of the athletes/competitors are attractive or cute, like figure skating or gymnastics or tennis," he said.

"What will it take to get more exposure and gain in popularity? The boxing version of Danica Patrick? Not sure that most men, even boxing fans, would want to see an attractive woman get smacked in the face and bloodied up for a half-hour either."

As for HBO, which included a Laila Ali "personality feature" on a 2006 broadcast from Madison Square Garden but has never packaged a women's bout on its own merits, the status quo remains.

"Women's boxing is still very young," said Kery Davis, senior VP of programming for HBO Sports. "There are so many questions surrounding the sport, including is there enough depth and where do the athletes come from? We're monitoring it, but we're not engaging it at the present time."

In spite of those dubious prospects, Hallback remains undeterred.

And outside of the occasional day when 5 a.m. seems too early to climb out of bed for a training run, her resolve is no less solid than it was when she began her professional career in 1997.

Quitting on the quest now, she says, is simply not an option.

"Too many people would be able to say 'I told you so,'" Hallback said, "and I don't want to give them that chance. That'd be a worse thing to do than failing. If I fail, that's one thing. But to quit trying would be a slap in the face to all the ones who believe in me.

"If every successful person backed down when someone asked them why in the world they were trying to do something difficult, a lot of great things would never have happened and those people never would have changed history.

"I'm still ready to change history."

This week's title-fight schedule:

SATURDAY

WBO welterweight title - Arlington, Texas

Manny Pacquiao (champion) vs. Joshua Clottey (No. 1 contender)

Pacquiao (50-3-2, 38 KO): First title defense; Won world titles in six weight classes Clottey (35-3, 20 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2, 1 KO); Held IBF title in 2008-09

Fitzbitz says: Pacquiao in 10

Vacant WBC lightweight title - Arlington, Texas

David Diaz (No. 7 contender) vs. Humberto Soto (Unranked)

Diaz (35-2-1, 17 KO): Third title fight (1-1, 0 KO); Held WBC title in 2007-08 Soto (50-7-2, 32 KO): First title fight at 135; Held WBC title at 130 in 2008-09

Fitzbitz says: Soto by decision

WBO cruiserweight title - Berlin, Germany

Marco Huck (champion) vs. Adam Richards (No. 14 contender)

Huck (27-1, 20 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten since 2007 (8-0, 6 KO) Richards (23-2, 15 KO): First title fight; Eight of 23 wins against foes with winning records

Fitzbitz says: Huck in 7

Last week's picks: 3-0

Overall picks record: 173-61 (73.9 percent)

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 fitzbitz@msn.com, follow him at twitter.com/fitzbitz and read more at fitzbitzonfights.wordpress.com.

Jabs, hooks or knockouts, Lyle Fitzsimmons can be reached at fitzbitz@msn.com.