Kellie Maloney Still Wants to Fight
Now, as Jones heads toward the door, Maloney hesitates. She knows what people are likely saying. (At one point, I hear a group of college-age boxing fans near the bar snickering about her. “She’s disgusting,” one says. “She looks like an animal,” says another.) Mendy, her ex-partner, has been critical of her return from the start. “Kellie Maloney is not going to work,” he told me before the match. “Professional boxing is a male sport. This is not Wimbledon tennis. This ain’t a forgiving world.”
In the foyer outside the gym, a teenage girl with blond extensions, who likely recognizes Maloney from her appearance on the reality show Celebrity Big Brother, screams. Jones pauses while Maloney, smiling uncomfortably, joins her fan for a selfie. The lights in the auditorium are dimmed, and Rihanna’s voice blares through the sound system: I‘m friends with the monster that‘s under my bed! Jones starts off and Maloney quickly catches up.
A handful of spectators, mostly men, are scattered in folding chairs around the ring, while the rest of the sparse crowd, many of whom seem barely out of high school, lounge on the pulled-out bleachers. All eyes lock on the 63-year-old Maloney in the front row, with her well-coiffed shoulder-length blond hair and mustard-colored business suit.
“Is that Maloney?” someone asks a couple of rows behind her.
“Looks like it,” another spectator says. “It’s gotta be.”
The boxers touch gloves. For 30 years, Maloney has wanted to walk into an arena as a manager and as a woman, and guide a boxer on her own terms. She just never dreamed it was possible.
As the referee lowers his arm, Maloney leans forward.
The bell sounds. Round One begins.
On March 8th, 1971, a 17-year-old Frank Maloney fell in love with boxing. For weeks, he saved shillings and pennies to afford a ticket to watch the “fight of the century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier on closed-circuit TV at the Empire Casino in London. “It was the only event that brought the world to a standstill,” Maloney says now. He went alone around midnight and watched as Frazier beat Ali in 15 brutal rounds. “I was in awe of it all,” she says. “These two men were willing to die in the ring that night. I wanted to feel what they felt.”
The oldest of three boys, Maloney was raised in the working-class neighborhood of Peckham in South London by Irish-Catholic immigrants. Bullied because of his diminutive size and poor performance in class (he was later diagnosed as dyslexic), he left school at 15, to work as a grocery delivery boy and to box. “I came from a tough background,” she says. “I educated myself as I went along.”
He fought 69 amateur bouts and lost just nine times. But his trainer, Billy Kingwell, discouraged him from turning pro. He thought Maloney, only a few inches over five feet, was too small to succeed against top talent.