20 February 2009 – By Paddy Cronan
On February 21 Maureen Shea starts a new chapter in her career by challenging for the WBA Women’s Featherweight title against Kina Malpartida in Madison Square Garden. Paddy Cronan caught up with her to discuss her career and what lies ahead.
When one thinks of Irish-American boxers the names Dempsey, Ward and Sullivan immediately spring to mind.
Maureen Shea is the latest in a long line of Irish-American title challengers. She was first thrust into the spotlight while acting as a sparring partner for Hillary Swank in the movie Million Dollar Baby. When Hillary would attend her fights, the media followed.
If it was about her, it was about her, she said.
I was there to do one thing and that was to work with her. Then the media was coming down to see me and to talk to me. I went with it and I did interviews whenever it was ok and we always got my training in. To me it didn’t make a big deal. I felt it was good for the sport for men and women’s boxing,” recalled Maureen.
“People have been calling me out my whole career, I will fight whoever gets put in front of me. I feel that if I wasn’t able to box a lick the media wouldn’t have cared about me. The media came because of Hillary but they saw that I was a good fighter and the story became me.”
When asked about her ambition to win the WBA title, Maureen enthusiastically answers, “This is a great opportunity for me, and I’ve worked hard for it and that’s important for people to understand that. I didn’t get this by just sitting on my behind. The WBA title is mine to have, so I’m going to go get it.
As a female in a male dominated sport, Maureen has experienced adversity from day one.
“I’ve had fighters come up to me and say you don’t look like a fighter you look like you should be in the kitchen baking pies. Why do you want to be a fighter? Fighters come out of jail they come from the streets.”
A loss in the New York Golden Gloves could have spelt the end for Shea, she regrouped and moved on.
“That could have been the end of my career but I would not let that get me down. As long as I leave my heart and soul in that ring and I do my best and I train to the best of my ability. Whatever the decision of the judges is all I can do is my best. I walked away from that fight knowing I did my best. Some people felt the decision should have went the other way and I won the fight. I am where I am now because a persevered and I didn’t give up.”
The reaction of family, friends and the general public is something Shea has had to adjust to.
“I didn’t listen to those people that were telling me women shouldn’t box. Oh Maureen your smart, your pretty, you could model you can go become a lawyer. Why are you doing this nonsense? I love this sport and there’s nobody that’s going to deter me from reaching my dreams.”
It was clear from talking to Maureen that she relished the role of the underdog, and enjoyed proving her critics wrong, one of these critics was legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum.
“The first time I met Bob Arum three years ago. I went up to him and I said that I would really like the opportunity to fight on one of his undercards. He told me that he was not into female boxing.”
After hearing that Maureen could have given up and resigned herself to the fact that she would never appear on a Top Rank undercard. Instead she decided she was going to change his mind.
Last month Maureen had another meeting with Bob, and again he told her he was not interested in female boxing. She decided to chance her luck,
“They may not be into women’s boxing, but they will be into Maureen Shea. Just give me the opportunity, watch my DVD put me on your show and people will enjoy my performance.”
Here she is now, fighting for a WBA title on Top Rank three years after being told she would never fight on a Top Rank show.
“I’m Irish and I’m very proud of it. I would love to fight in Ireland. I feel almost like I’ve fought in Ireland because I’ve fought in The Garden twice on the eve of St Paddy’s day. I mean thats the closest thing to it I hope to get out to Ireland. The Irish fans are phenomenal, I can feel their energy. It was indescribable. I feel that I’m their daughter. I felt like I had a million brothers and fathers watching me and the women too. Its incredible because you feel that family feeling, that camaraderie from the Irish. When I found out John Duddy was on the card as well I said that’s wonderful. I was happy for him and I was happy that the fans would come because I know that we share a lot of fans after they saw me fight on his undercard twice.
Its great their energy and their presence I can feel them in the ring. They come out and their passionate, I love the screaming and I love the chanting. It fuels a fighter. The first time I saw that was when John fought Yori Boy Campas. I saw John taking some shots and I was thinking oh man, all of a sudden the fans came out chanting.
I saw a fire in Johns eyes when he heard that he felt them. It was amazing what I saw happen in that fight. He came back with a flurry like Yori Boy never even touched him. I was incredible. I said wow that’s passion, that’s support right there and that helps a fighter and the fans need to understand that.”