Updated: Jun 28
Plant City Florida is a pretty unremarkable town but a remarkable athlete resides within its walls.
Her name is Chevelle "Fist of Steel" Hallback, a 50 year old professional boxer campaigning at welterweight and currently ranked No 7 in the world by Boxrec.
Hallback, a disciple of Muhammad Ali, didn’t put on a pair of gloves until she was 25.
At the outset she had no amateurs, no Team USA and all its trappings, no sponsors and no promoter.
Seemingly no chance.
Leastways that’s what her ‘managers’ must have thought when they, in March 1997 - in only bout number 2 of her pro career - pitted her against the most feared female professional boxer of the era - Lucia Rijker.
At that time Rijker, a former kick-boxer and 12-0 as a pro, was ripping through anyone put in front of her. Hallback maintains that until an HBO programme featured Rijker the night before the show, she had no real idea what kind of level of opponent she was fighting that night in Texas.
Hallback surprised Rijker with her power in the first round but she overdid it, fatigue took hold and Rijker stopped the rookie in the 5th of 6 rounds.
"The biggest mistake that I have made" is how Hallback later designated this contest.
Hallback’s subsequent career has been a blue train, sometimes a rollercoaster one and sometimes frustrating.
For the intelligent and those in the know of the crazy world of professional boxing, the pathos and the ultimate tragedy of the fight game is etched all over it. The glory that Chevelle should have enjoyed after winning 4 world titles at different weights never quite materialised.
The root is an old story for black Americans. A talented, heavy handed boxer lacking in a ticket buying following. What followed was prejudicial behaviour by promoters and matchmakers because of a lack of affiliated management. Majority losses and decisions subject to question in the dark corners of boxing trade sagacity. Fights she was winning were chalked out by technical draws because of injuries to the opponents. But the word was out that Hallback had entertainment value and the close knit fraternity decided how best they could exploit it and at the least cost to themselves.
Relative marquee years in 2002 and 2003, with title wins over Alicia Ashley, Layla McCarter and Mitzi Jetter were supposed to be followed by the golden years. They weren’t.
There was continued debate as to what weight Chevelle should have campaigned at. “Hallback is getting better and better, but I think she needs to come down," said her promoter and trainer Mike Jarrell at the time. Confusion reigned for a few years, despite the wins still coming in.
In ‘04, Hallback didn’t come down but came up in weight and she lost to a much bigger Mary Jo Saunders. Problem solved then.
Always pitted as the away boxer, Hallback eked out tough wins against Kim Colbert and in Japan against Emiko Raika. A bout with Melissa Del Valle was ruled (another) no decision via an accidental headbut. In 2005 the talented Belinda Laracuente was beaten by Chevelle who matched the Peurto Rican’s vaunted speed and flair.
Only Hallback herself can explain an 18 month layoff and the subsequent shut out points loss to Holly Holm in ‘07 and a thrilling draw against Melissa Hernandez.
Chevelle was awarded WBAN Fighter of the Month for June 2008 on the strength of her win over Jeanine Garside. Despite the accolade, the spectre of the away fighter endured. After a great win against Canada’s Jeannine Garside, she may or may not have been robbed against Holm in a rematch, but the cards certainly paid homage to the red light sport that is boxing.
More high profile away fights in ensuing years against a peak - and heavier - Braekhus and then Myriam Lamarre brought both plaudits from TV audiences but also lop sided hometown decisions that didn’t reflect the tale of the tape.
For all that, the lack of amateur boxing’s wear and tear and her laid back, forgiving soul has kept Hallback fresh.
From a religious Christian family, she has rhythm & blues, and memories, some sad but some happy. She keeps on going.
They say that the hardest thing in boxing is to get a fight. Since 2014 Chevelle is unbeaten in five and her last win - you guessed it as the away fighter - she put an unbeaten young prospect to the sword and probably got a matchmaker sacked.
The road is not over.