One of the keys to a productive life is finding something you love and figuring out how to get someone to pay you good money to do it. But what happens when there currently isn’t much “good money” in your passion? That is the challenge facing Holly Lawson (1-1), an ambitious year 33-year-old welterweight that began her professional career last October. Based out of LA’s famous Wildcard Gym, Lawson has been able to hone her craft while sharing training tips with boxing elites like Manny Pacquiao. Although becoming world champion is an obsessive goal, equally important to Lawson in doing so while maintaining her dignity and self-respect. Read how the fighter known affectionately as “Li’l Bear” balances both through the perils of the boxing industry.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: How did you develop a passion for the Sweet Science?
Holly Lawson: I took up boxing class about seven years ago and I really liked it. I had a natural aptitude for it and the instructor told me I should go try out a boxing gym. I took a couple amateur fights but they were really hard to come by and being an adult with a career didn’t make it any easier.
A few years ago I had a breaking point with a lot of things in my life. I truly believe I have what it takes to be world champion. A lot of people said that to me before but I lacked self-confidence. I acknowledged it and moved forward and started working harder by making it my main focus. I started at the Wildcard Gym because it was close to my job and it has been my home forever.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You touched briefly on the difficulty in getting amateur fights as a female boxer. Recently you had a situation where a professional fight was cancelled. What’s the overall difficulty in getting fights now?
Lawson: It’s so hard. [Sighs] I generally give a very PC answer, but the first reason I feel women’s boxing is not on a higher level is because men are the people who watch boxing. Realistically, men don’t want to see women who look like men boxing. A lot of the women boxers fall into that tough, butchy category and they tend to be wild without a lot of skill. They’re just really tough women and that’s not appealing to a male audience.
The flip side is that if you have a bunch of “Perfect 10” boxing girls who look cute but don’t have any skills at all — that’s almost as unappealing because the male audience does want to see some type of technical skill. What’s happened is that a lot of women have been able to get by on how they look and that diminished people’s respect for the sport.
That’s what I see when I look around. It’s sad because the deeper I get into it, the more I meet other female athletes on a certain level I realize it’s not just in my sport. The dynamics between men and women in boxing is very interesting. An upstart male boxer would have a manager. That manager would pay everything: your opponents, your fights, living costs and everything until you get on your feet and become a contender.
With females they don’t see us as viable because the purses aren’t there in America. They’re really, really low. Every woman boxer I know that has a manager or investor putting up money is in more of a sugar daddy situation or they have family. I don’t do either since I’ve been by myself since I was 14. I’ve made a conscious decision to not play into the stereotypes to look a certain way and do certain things to get ahead. In Los Angeles you know this is already prevalent in the entertainment industry, but it’s sad to see it in athletics as well.
The things I know girls do to get somewhere with these “managers” is pretty crazy. I’m not willing to go there. I know the strength of my abilities and I’ve been able to turn people into fans. I have a guy who referees title fights for the IBF and WBC and he’s my biggest fan and has gone to every promoter to vouch for me. Right now I’m going fight to fight. The last fight I was on the undercard to one of the guys I train with, Roberto Garcia. That whole card got cancelled and that’s been happening in general because of the current standing of the sport.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Because you have to do everything on your own, how has that affected your training? Like you said, most male boxers get to focus exclusively on the fights.
Lawson: I’m sure my physical condition would be in much better shape if I was able to have that support system. I’m sick right now and I’m pretty sure it’s because I’m stressed out. I work then I train and juggle everything in life. I don’t want to say my performance would be better because I’m really good. Every single guy that sees me says “I didn’t expect you to fight like that. You fight like a dude. You box like a man. That’s crazy!”
I’m a fan of the sport and I study it. My skill is there. I’m sure if I was fighting more often I’d be more comfortable. The support system gives you that extra edge. Like anything in life, if you could focus 100% on your passion things are easier.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Is your day job part of your support system or do you have to keep the boxing completely separate?
Lawson: I’m a private trainer which is good because I get to be my own boss right now. I’m hustling and I have to make the decision often if I’m going to work or train. The money isn’t doing too good right now because I’m putting all my faith in the fact what I’m doing will take me where I want to go. My clients are very supportive. [In boxing] I’ve had my nose broken and I was working as a bartender and they were like “Good Lord, you gotta get outta here!” [laughs] I couldn’t be in there with two black eyes. But other than that everyone has been supportive. People are really shocked at first but the turning point is when they see me box.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Let’s touch on that. How would you describe your style in the ring?
Lawson: I would say I’m a boxer-puncher. My idols are Philly fighters; Bernard Hopkins is like my living idol. Another favorite fighter is Miguel Cotto. I like technical fighters that can actually punch. I admire finesse boxers like Floyd Mayweather. I’m pretty straight up technical and tall for my weight class and use that to my advantage. I do hear often I fight like a black dude. [laughs] That’s funny because I don’t have a Detroit style but I have a lot of confidence.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Does boxing complicate your dating life?
Lawson: I’m always upfront about everything – I don’t have a poker face and strongly believe in telling the truth in everything. Most men are intrigued by it and the first question is can we spar? I’m always like dude; I would break your ribs! [laughs] I have a boyfriend now and he’s my biggest fan. He was at my fight in April. It was pretty funny – my best friend told me he almost killed her squeezing her hand. He almost got into a fight with the opponent’s father that was sitting in front of them. He’s real supportive and I try to make him proud.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Your debut was a loss last October. How were your nerves and feelings before and after the fight?
Lawson: I was insanely nervous but really confident leading up to it. I lost but actually won that fight. The girl brawled with haymakers and I boxed. I feel like I easily won behind the jab and right hand the whole night. The referee came up to me afterward and said they robbed me and I should petition the judges. I didn’t understand then you could go before the California State Athletic Commission and do that.
It was very disappointing because I lost on a split decision because she was aggressive even though I blocked a lot of her shots. Someone told me afterward that California likes aggression. I was landing most of my shots and her face was all busted up. I looked fine that night.
I was so nervous I didn’t sleep the night before. In my life I’ve always wrestled with self-confidence. I put in all this time training and the person I had training me at the time didn’t show up to the fight. I had two friends with me in my corner and a guy from Wildcard to help wrap my hands. I know when I stepped in there I wasn’t as confident as I could or should have been.
My last fight I had the best time which is why I’m so disappointed I haven’t been able to get another fight. There are new things I’ve been working on in the gym.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Some fighters have told me they get off on seeing the damage they inflict in the ring. What stimulates you in the ring?
Lawson: It does feel good to land a very good punch. To me, it’s being able to slip the punches. In my last fight I did that and came back with three punch combinations. My trainer is Eric Brown who also trains Peter Quillin, who fought recently on HBO. He’s from Detroit and treats me like one of the guys. He has certain combinations he teaches all of us. One of his things is the jab. I’m tall and really long so everything works off that. We’ve worked on the jab, stepping in with the uppercut; throw a quick hook and then the right hand.
In order to do that you have to be really fast and confident that those first three left hand punches are gonna land to set up the right hand, my money punch. There was a point in my last fight I was able to do that and it was the best feeling in the whole world. With any true boxer that’s probably going to be the answer. You want to hit people but you don’t really want to hurt them. I know that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but you know what the game is. Most boxers don’t go in there to tear someone’s head off.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Switching gears, what are your music tastes?
Lawson: It’s funny because I don’t like really aggressive music when I’m working out. I prefer melodic, R&B and pop. Of course I listen to Jay-Z, Kanye, Eminem and the basics. I noticed you’re friends with Murs who is one of my dearest friends in the whole world. I love his music. I like Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy and the LA basics. My dirty little secret is that I’m the biggest Jeezy fan on the planet. I love him. [laughs] My first fight I came out to a Jeezy song.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Knowing your take on how women are treated in boxing, how do you feel about your gender’s representation in Hip-Hop?
Lawson: I’m torn on that. On one hand I do like some of the most ignorant Hip-Hop ever. Murs would confirm this. You don’t want to tell an artist what they can or cannot say. I’d like to see artists be a little bit more conscious of what they’re doing and saying to their peers. It’s a fine line, but I feel like it’s almost happening now. There’s a wave of rappers if you read the lyrics you can see the respect to the women who raised them and who they are with. I’d like to see a place in society in general where men would feel comfortable talking about the fact they love women and the reasons why.
Check back in Christmas Eve (December 24) for part two as Holly Lawson gives her take on friend Manny Pacquiao’s contract issues with Floyd Mayweather, old vs. new fighters, and her favorite fights of all time. Follow her on Twitter @lilbearlawson.