THE splendours of the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City proved something of a culture shock for Monique 'Killer' Ruddock. She is 21 and it was the first time she had stayed in a hotel.
Opportunities for luxury travel are somewhat limited when you live on a run-down estate with your mother and six brothers and sisters. Donald Trump himself had paid for the tickets for herself and her trainer. All Monique had to do was climb in the ring with Bonnie 'The Cobra' Canino from Florida, the world women's featherweight kickboxing champion.
The referee stopped the fight in the fourth round, but Monique, the British champion, had done well enough to earn Mr Trump's congratulations and an invitation to come back again in June. She can't wait.
'The other boxers were such nice people out of the ring. We'd all go and have a drink together after the fighting. There was a swimming pool and a sauna and my room was just incredible - marble floors, cable telly, mirrors.'
Monique's tired eyes lit up at the memory. She had crawled into bed at 6am after a homecoming party at the Coventry night-club where she works as a 'doorperson'. It was 6pm and here in Don's Gym, tucked away on an industrial estate, the only hint of transatlantic glamour was coming from Whitney Houston on MTV. Not that you could hear much above the thud of punchbags being pounded by fists and shins.
Kickboxing appears to be one step up from street fighting. The contestants wear padded gloves, but have to keep one eye peeled for the right hook and another for the left foot, aimed at any target above the waist.
Monique's sparring partner, Tony Craven, is more than a stone heavier than she is. But her trainer, Steve Donnelly, has no qualms. 'Monique can handle it,' he said. 'She's one of the boys.'
She is a slim 5ft 6in, weighing in at just over nine stone, with a soft voice and a warm smile. She has been fighting since she was 11. 'It's calmed down a bit now, but in the Eighties it was dog eat dog where I live. I used to get wound up by the racial abuse. I was told to ignore it, but sometimes you can't.
'By the time I was 17 I worked out that I was going to be seriously hurt unless I could look after myself better. Funnily enough, I haven't been in a street fight since I started doing this. I know I have power, so I can just walk away. It's given a purpose to my life.'
Since leaving college with a BTECH in leisure and recreation, she has had holiday jobs at Butlin's and worked as a waitress in Pizza Hut. Now she jogs five miles a day, spends the afternoon in the gym and works at night.
Mr G's club stands at one end of Britain's oldest pedestrian shopping precinct. It does not have a reputation for violence but Monique was once caught by a punch from a 14-stone rugby player as she moved in to break up a fight. 'I had to hit him quite hard and he stopped straight away.'
For her fellow doormen, Keith Richmond and Martin Thornton, it was confirmation that she had bottle. 'When we have to go in, you know she'll be there. We have to be like a chain and you can't afford any weak links,' said Martin.
Monique stood on the door, demure and polite, her white dress shirt gleaming. She was shining a small torch into every incoming handbag. 'One night I found five half-bottles of vodka and one of Bacardi,' she confided.
Handbags were coming thick and fast. Women are allowed in free before 11pm on Fridays. A few had brought boyfriends, one of whom assumed that the special offer also applied to him. Monique guided him back towards the pay desk. 'It's pounds 3 for gentlemen, sir,' she said, a hint of steel creeping into that girlish voice. He paid up without a murmur.
By 11.30, Jack-the-lads were arriving on clouds of lager fumes and aftershave in gangs of up to a dozen at a time. Many knew Monique and were interested in her fight in Atlantic City.
'Hello, gorgeous,' said one, flinging his arm around her shoulder, 'how did it go, then?'
The clientele was predominantly white with a sprinkling of Asians. Later, a middle-aged woman selling single Cellophane-wrapped roses for pounds 1.50 each also disappeared inside. Romantics were obviously thin on the ground, however, and she left after 20 minutes still lugging a full bucket of blooms. 'I'm off to the Pink Parrot,' she announced as she swept through the door.
Having surveyed the available 'talent' inside, a gang of six young men obviously had the same idea. They trooped out in single file, sporting an assortment of scars, broken noses and cauliflower ears. 'Good-night, Monique,' they chorused politely.
'They're rough-heads,' she said after they had left, 'but I grew up with them.'
By one o'clock it was time to lock the doors. Before moving inside to patrol the perimeter of the dance floor, Monique was listening politely to a young man in a roll-neck sweater and stylish slacks. He was telling her about the joys of angling.
Britain's featherweight woman champion kickboxer stifled a yawn. In another two hours she could go to bed and dream of June in Atlantic City.
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