Female Seattle Boxer Fights Battle Of The Mind In Face Of Olympics

Feb 15, 2012

This year, women will box for the gold for the first time ever at the Summer Olympics in London. One of the top contenders is a boxer from the Northwest named Queen Underwood. Jessica Robinson reports.

Boxers will tell you that competing in the ring isn't like other sports. You're not part of a team. You're not racing the clock. You're going up against an opponent who's so close you can look her in the eye …

… right before she punches you in the face.

That's Queen Underwood, getting a shot in during her first bout at the Olympic team trials in Spokane. Here's how she introduces herself:

Underwood: “I'm No. 1 Queen Underwood, Queen of the Ring, yes.”

She's a 5-foot-5, 27-year-old from Seattle who works as a pipe fitter by day. And she's considered one of the best hopes for a gold at the first ever women's Olympic competition in boxing. Pretty high stakes.

Underwood: “This is history right now. This is something that's not going to happen again. And just with the high expectations of everybody, I just have to do my best and perform my best and … but I do have to win though.”

And that's the other side of boxing: Boxers say sometimes, the make or break moment doesn't hinge on all the training you did for speed and strength. It's in your head.

Abdullah: “At the Olympic games, the difference between winning gold and silver is your mental preparation.”

That's Basheer Abdullah, a national boxing coach who's been working with Underwood. And he's told her she has a target on her back.

Abdullah: “Everyone's coming after you. They are training to beat you.”

Underwood beat her opponent the first night, but Abdullah says the win didn't come as easily as it should have. Her next opponent would be even tougher – a well-trained boxer named Mikaela Mayer from Los Angeles.

Abdullah: “I told Queen this is one of her toughest challengers. And she knows she needs to bring her A game. She can't have an off night tonight.”

Underwood's life hasn't been easy. She has a website called Living Out The Dream. On it, she alludes to living with a “fear that the door knob will turn.” Underwood recently revealed further what that means in a series of interviews with the New York Times. As children, she and her sister were sexually abused by their father. He eventually went to prison, but Underwood says she still dreams of the day that -quote- “I won’t be 12 years old and feeling helpless; one day I’ll be strong and unstoppable.”

The night of the second bout, Underwood's older sister, Hazzauna, was in the audience.

Hazzauna: “You see your sister up there in the ring and you don't know what's going to happen but you know her potential.”
Jessica: “You've seen her fight before.”
Hazzauna: “Oh yes. I start over every time. It feels like the first fight every time.”

Round one started and her opponent Mikaela Mayer quickly started to land punches.

Announcer: “Queen Underwood trying to counter those punches.”

Boxing expert Christy Halbert did the play by play. Underwood's coaches yelled out directions from her corner, but Underwood's opponent kept making contact.

The score was 4 to 5. Underwood was down. Back in her corner, her coach gave her a gentle smack on the side of her helmet before she headed back in for round two. And suddenly, things started to turn around.

By the fourth and final round, Underwood was ahead. Her focus was clearly back and it was razor sharp.

Announcer: “Let's give it up for an outstanding boxing match!”

Underwood won the bout, 27 to 20. Her sister stood up from the audience, holding a finger up: No. 1.

Afterward, Underwood, a bead of sweat dripping down her cheek, told reporters she was thrilled at the win. But there's only a short rest before the next fight.

Underwood: “Next time, it'll be better, I promise. It's gotta keep getting better.”

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network