If Not This Year, Then Maybe Next
By Richard E. Baker on September 3, 2022
Her championship fight in South Africa recently fell through. (Photo: Richard E. Baker)
Maricela Cornejo’s beauty is testament to her boxing ability. After 20 (15-5-0) fights a boxer’s face starts to resemble a bowl of mashed potatoes. Eyes, ears, and nose can be situated almost anyplace and having ears growing from one’s forehead is not uncommon.
She is articulate and poised and goes by the name Mari. She has a huge presence on social media and grabs the spotlight whenever possible. She is tall and she fights like a man giving and taking blows without complaint. Disappointment is part of her life. Her championship fight in South Africa recently fell through. Preparing for a championship fight is tough—a lot of work for little reward when negotiations go south.
Mari stands in the corner of the gym. The gym remains cool in spite of the 90 degree temperature outside. She is a big woman, evenly proportioned, strong legs, always a good sign for a boxer. She does not have the breasts she once had. She bought a pair when he needed them and had them removed when she did not. Doctors should figure out a way to install zippers so they can be exhibited around town and put back on the shelf during work hours. The false breasts interfered with her boxing. They were uncomfortable and made her sick. She is now an advocate for having them removed in all women. They are not healthy and she is all about health. She returned to the gym three weeks after surgery. When she sparred she noticed that without the padding, “It hurts when I get punched in the chest.”
In the corner she wraps her own hands, the long cloth hanging to the floor. She straightens the wraps carefully. There is an iciness about her that keeps others at a distance. Don’t tread on me. She occasionally looks up and eyes the gym with a cold stare. Perhaps her countenance has been learned over the years.
She says she was sexually molested at the age of eight. That started a list of problems. As she grew older she moved onto drugs, principally meth. “There was lots of meth in Yakima where I lived,” she said. Yakima has its problems. Twice she attempted to kick the habit and twice she failed. The addiction eventually led to jail. “Meth took my soul,” she said.
Through a strong will she straightened herself out and started college, but soon realized it was not for her. She sought something quicker, something more exciting. Because she wanted to lose weight she joined a gym and started boxing. Boxing is a great way to eliminate one’s troubles and anger. She enjoyed boxing.
She finished wrapping her hands. Javie ties up her gloves and she enters the ring. Four overhead lights shine from above like spotlights. She moves from one cone of light to another as she chases Javie around the ring and attacks his mitts. She moves like a man and hits like a man, her feet firm against the canvas, knees slightly bent. Punches start from the middle of her chest and radiate to her fists. David Benavidez, from a huge poster on the wall, stares down at her. She claims not to like attention but the poster of David’s iron look gives her plenty.
“I want to make a change in the world,” she says during rest periods. “I want to show what women can do.” At the bell she moves back to the center of the ring. She has written several children’s books including one that translates to “Fight for your dreams.”
During the next break she tips her head back and sucks in a stream of water. Beads of sweat trickle down her forehead and form a wet V on her shirt. “This fight fell through,” she said. “But before the year is over I will be World Champion.”
Back to the workout, she bangs the mitt with a hard right. The mitt jerks back then flies forward and smacks her on the forehead. No one is watching.