What to wear to the ball? The Union Jack suit is out for starters. She has it in storage somewhere but the old sartorial embellishments are of no use to Kellie Maloney this time around. The world’s first transgender boxing manager/promoter sets out on her maiden voyage on Saturday, feeling mild anxiety about how she might be received by a Glasgow crowd buttressed by the sauce.
“Oi, Kellie, get ’old of this,” or similar sweeteners are the sort of thing for which she is preparing: “I’ll need a magnifying glass to help you out with that, son.” No. That would never do. That is what Frank might have said, and if Kellie is determined to achieve anything on her re-entry into the boxing firmament it is to keep her former self firmly in the world she left behind.
“When I was Frank I used those remarks myself, directed them at Karren Brady once, when she was chairwoman at Birmingham. It was in the play-off to go into the Championship and Millwall lost. They were all singing songs and I joined in. I think to myself now that those remarks were very offensive and derogatory. I was sexist as Frank, but that was to hide stuff.”
It’s not that Kellie wants to erase Frank from her history, as it were, just to project Kellie as the authentic version of the individual who came into being as a male in Peckham, 62 years ago. “What I don’t want is to get so excited that I’m sat ringside and I start screaming and shouting. My concern is that Frank will take over. That’s a big worry. It happened in Big Brother, the first four or five days Frank came out. I need to remain under control.
Great boxing rivalries
Great boxing rivalries
1/10 Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier – 1971, 1974 & 1975
Possibly one of the greatest rivalries of all time, not just in boxing but in any sport. These two titans met three times, with Ali taking home the spoils 2-1. The first was known as the ‘Fight of the Century’ in which two undisputed title holders came together, it ended with Frazier winning after 15 rounds via unanimous decision. The final fight was dubbed ‘Thrilla in Manilla’, where Ali retained all three of his heavyweight titles.
2/10 Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling – 1936 & 1938
Among two of boxing’s most historical fights. With Schmeling’s origins of Nazi Germany, these two represented something a little more than just two heavyweight boxers at their peak coming together. Louis was undefeated coming into the first fight while Schmeling already had 60 fights under his belt. The German won it with a 12th round knockout. By the time the pair met again, Louis had won the world Heavyweight title. It only took him one round to knock out Schmeling. Louis’ performances gained him national recognition and became one of America’s first African American heroes.
3/10 Micky Ward v Arturo Gatti – 2002, 2002 & 2003
The first time these two met proved to be The Ring Magazine’s ‘Fight of the Year’. A famous left hook body shot in the ninth brought Gatti to his knees and proved the deciding factor in the judges’ decision. A rematch was agreed immediately with Gatti knocking Ward down in third, however the American managed to finish the fight before losing by decision. The final fight also won The Ring Magazine’s fight of the year, Ward knocked down Gatti in the sixth, but before the referee could count to ten, the bell sounded. Gatti was able to come back and win via unanimous decision.
4/10 Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank – 1990 & 1993
In what was initially a fierce domestic rivalry, became one of world interest between these two British greats. Eubank was originally the challenger and began shouting out for Benn after only 10 fights. After winning his WBO middleweight title, Benn agreed to face Eubank. With each fighter saying they were going to knock the other one out, it was the challenger that actually did. With a technical knockout in the ninth round. The re-match was watched by half a billion people worldwide, with both defending titles it was so even, it ended in a draw.
5/10 Gene Tunney v Jack Dempsey – 1926 & 1927
Fighting twice, these bouts have gone down as two of the most famous in boxing history. Tunney won the first over 10 rounds via unanimous decision. The second is why these two were forever known in boxing history. In the seventh round Dempsey threw a flurry of punches to knock Tunney down for the first time in his career. The referee couldn’t count until Dempsey had reached a neutral corner. He didn’t oblige, buying Tunney valuable time. Tunney managed to rise at a time many say was over ten seconds. This is why the fight is known as the Long Count. Tunney went on to knock down Dempsey in the eighth and win by unanimous decision.
6/10 Manny Pacquiao v Juan Manuel Marquez – 2004, 2008, 2011 & 2012
One of the greatest modern day rivalries which will go on to be imprinted in boxing’s history. Having fought four times to this day, Pacquiao has won two, Marquez one and the other being a draw. Marquez winning the most recent with a sixth round knockout, handing the Pac-Man back to back defeats. The Ring Magazine awarded it not only ‘Fight of the Year’ but also ‘Knockout of the Year’.
7/10 Ken Norton v Muhammad Ali - 1973, 1973 & 1976
Ali’s second defeat came to the man known as ‘The Black Hercules’. In what was their first fight, Ali was the 5-1 favourite and had won 10 fights since his first lost to Frazier. Norton broke Ali’s jaw in the fight, despite The Greatest carrying on, he lost on a split decision. Six months later, Ali avenged Norton winning also on a split decision and re-gaining his NABF Heavyweight title. The third and final fight was some three years later after Rumble in the Jungle, Ali won via unanimous decision.
8/10 Marco Antonio Barrera v Erik Morales - 2000, 2002 & 2004
Involving two of more modern days most famous Mexican boxers, the Barrera v Morales trilogy is a famous one, spanning over three different classes. Their first fight was in the super-bantamweight division with both holding titles. Morales won the first on a close split decision. Deciding to move up classes, Morales went to Featherweight, where again he met Barrera for a title match. This time Barrera won, in what was Morales’ first ever career defeat. The third and final time they met was in the Super-Featherweight division, where again Morales lost and with it his WBC title.
9/10 Riddick Bowe v Evander Holyfield - 1992, 1993 & 1995
These two Heavyweight giants came together three times in a famous blockbuster conquest. In the first fight, Holyfield walked in with Lineal, WBC, WBA & IBF Heavyweight titles having beaten Buster Douglas and George Foreman. Bowe had never tasted defeat and to everyone’s surprise, won via unanimous decision. The re-match went the distance with Holyfield winning on a split decision. This was Bowe’s first and only career defeat. The third, unlike the other two, was ended after eight rounds when Bowe knocked out Holyfield.
10/10 Sugar Ray Leonard v Thomas Hearns – 1981 & 1989
These two first met in a heavyweight clash with both boxers’ welterweight titles on the line. Ray Leonard known for his boxing skill, and Hearns for his vicious punching. The epic battle lasted 14 rounds before Leonard unleashed a series of punches, forcing the ref to stop the fight. The re-match, known as ‘The War’, had both fighters again holding titles, this time in the super-middleweight class. After 12 rounds of back and forth punishment, the fight was scored as a judge’s draw. The two never fought again with Hearns moving to light-heavyweight.
“The other night I went to a show at the York Hall and I was called Frank more times than when I was Frank. But that’s OK. They were all really nice but then it was a small crowd, a couple of hundred people. That’s the interesting thing on 23 May when it’s a real boxing crowd, real hardcore. I’m a little bit worried about that, how the crowd will react. I’ll just have to smile and flash my eyelashes.”
Kellie has it all going on. She has announced the launch date of her book, Frankly Kellie, a tome that details the transition from south London lad to blonde belle. She thought of the title herself: “Clever, innit?” She has also agreed to promote a fellow transsexual called Becs, a medium, on the promenade in Herne Bay, Kent. In July she will front her own promotion at the York Hall, in east London, another big hurdle.
I intercept Kellie in Birmingham on the occasion of her first visit to a boxing gym as a woman. We meet at New Street station. She is dressed casually in jeans, patent white loafers and a leather jacket. She has put some thought into her appearance, wanting to strike the right note on showcasing herself as Kellie for the first time to the die-hards awaiting her arrival at the Eastside Boxing Club.
Like many a gym in the big metropolis, Eastside is housed in Birmingham’s shifting industrial hinterland among trading units that offer nil sense of permanence. The aroma is pure boxing, the smell of effort and exertion landing like a straight right on the nasal cavity. Inside the place is buzzing, young lads of varying race and creed going through their drills, believing themselves to be the next Floyd Mayweather Jnr. Parents line the rear wall chatting about this and that, and excited to be in attendance for the unveiling of a celebrity.
Yes, Dee from Benefits Street was on her way. When she heard on the Brum telegraph that Kellie was coming to town, she was straight on the blower to arrange to meet. They hadn’t seen each other since the Big Brother immersion. Dee’s presence allowed Kellie to cross the threshold one step removed from the centre of attention. In truth, the kids barely noticed. They preferred to be active.
On this day her primary interest is Tony Jones, a relative of the great Welsh warrior Colin Jones – and with the same left hook, according to Kellie. We sat on the ring apron as Jones went through his paces on the pads. Kellie’s eyes naturally followed the punching pattern. She bobbed her head: “Let the jab go.” Was that Frank or Kellie talking? “It’s in me, what can I say? I was just working out his jab. It’s the most important punch in boxing. That hasn’t changed.”
The idea is to start small, no more than four fighters. The joint promotion in Scotland becomes a Kellie Maloney project at York Hall, at which Jones and heavyweight Gary Cornish will go again, provided they negotiate Glasgow in one piece. Two weeks out from the Glasgow press conference the adrenalin is beginning to flow and again the understandable preoccupation with appearances comes to the fore.
“It’s too soon for a Union Jack dress. I don’t want to look like Geri Halliwell. I have to look professional, wear something smart. I want to be taken seriously. I was a successful promoter. Now I want to be a successful female promoter. In some ways Frank was a joker.” Does Kellie want to be the joker? “I don’t have to be. I’m reborn and can do it my way now.”
She poses for a few pictures with Dee, who offers me a cup of tea and tells me she has been off benefits for a year. And yes, Dee adores Kellie, who by increments is adjusting to the old game again. “They look at me and I wonder what they are thinking, but it’s a really nice feeling being back in the gym. It’s nice to talk about boxing again. Most of my life these days is talking about different things, my transition, things like that. In a place like this that has not come up.
“They want to tell me what their amateur record is, ‘I want to go pro, will you look after me?’ – stuff like that. I feel like I have returned home in a funny sort of way, but with a lot of peace in me, a lot of tranquillity. Before I was always so angry with myself, fighting myself I suppose.”
Antonio Counihan, one of the last fighters Kellie signed as Frank, is trying to resurrect his career after failing a brain scan. It turned out the MRI technology could not distinguish a birthmark that appeared as shadow. He has had six unbeaten bouts boxing under the Maltese federation, but is keen to regain his British licence and trust his future to Kellie, who had to reapply to the British Boxing Board of Control for her licence.
“I gave all my licences back. When I first approached them [the boxing board], Robert Smith [general secretary] said: ‘I don’t really know what to call you. It’s a strange situation.’ I said, ‘There is nothing really strange, Robert, all I have done is correct something that was wrong at birth.’ I have the same 30 years’ knowledge of boxing. The second time around, it’s more of a test for me. I’m learning to walk again. It’s more of a personal journey. I know there are a few who would like to see me fall flat on my face. I’ve seen the boxing forums. It’s a good job I’m thick-skinned, otherwise I wouldn’t want to walk into a boxing arena.
“It will be interesting for the first six months or so because I have to earn everybody’s respect. I’m not Frank Maloney any more. I know some are going to see me as a freak show, weird. But I don’t want to be seen as some kind of joke manager or gimmick. I’m going to give myself 18 months to two years. I’d like one of my daughters to come into the business and my grandson, which we have talked about, and see how it goes.”
I tell Kellie that if I shut my eyes it is Frank I hear. I mean no harm with this. The words come as they always did with Frank, layered in banter. She takes no offence. “The only thing I can’t master is my voice. I have had lots of voice coaching and I still practise at home. They could tighten my vocal cords. That might work but I don’t want to go through any more operations. It’s softer, and I’m working on it. You can go too high, too low. It’s hard to get that balance.”
I ask her if she thought Frank was not a bit of a pillock at times. In her defence of the man she used to be, it is clear that Kellie, in her use of the first person, will never be totally free of him. “I don’t think Frank was a pillock, no. I quite like Frank, I think he was smart. I [Frank] took on the whole establishment and beat them at their own game against the odds. Mickey Duff tried to drum me out of business, other promoters did, too. Don King did his utmost to see me off, but I survived. If I can retain a little bit of that survival instinct, hopefully things will work out for me this time around, too.
“I don’t want to force the new me down anyone’s throat. I’m coming into a man’s world as a female. They must look at me and think, ‘Who does she think she is?’ They see this 5ft 2in woman giving orders. That can cause ructions. I don’t want ructions any more.”Reuse content