Melbourne boxer Monique Schafter tells Cherrie all about the sport and how it is growing in popularity and gaining increased respect.
How did you get into boxing?
I started boxing in Melbourne as a way of being fit. I’ve always liked contact sports and I’ve always been a fan of action movies and so I thought maybe I can live out those fantasies! I was initially at Leo Berry’s Gym in Richmond. I’d do all of the fitness classes with the guys, but Leo berry didn’t like training girls. One time he yelled at me because I’d got to the fitness class early and I was warming up on a speed ball and the dude lost he marbles and said, “what are you doing, girls aren’t allowed in this gym’, I said, “I’m here to do the fitness class, I’m just warming up”, he said, “don’t talk back to me, get outta here!” After that experience I pissed that gym off and started training at Fitzroy Stars, which is an Indigenous gym in Melbourne. While there wasn’t anyone who could train me there, they were welcoming to everyone, whether you were a guy or a girl, Indigenous or not Indigenous. When I moved to Sydney I found Mundine’s Gym which is like the equivalent of Fitzroy Stars. I was being coached by Tony O'Loughlin who is this 70 year old guy who is a cross between Mickey, the coach in Rocky and Clint Eastwood in Million Dollar Baby. I had my first fight at the end of last year with him. But I’ve sacked him as a coach as he got a bit nasty and inappropriate. Some of the other girls who were also training with him have since left and gone onto other gyms.
So it sounds difficult for women to actually find a gym and a trainer?
I think it is. It took me quite a while to find a gym that I liked and a coach who was prepared to take a girl on. At Mundine’s there were probably about three or four coaches, but Tony was the only one who would take a girl and train her up. It can be hard, but there are clubs around that specifically train girls.
What about male boxers, what’s the reaction from them with women training in the gyms?
I think most of them think it’s pretty cool. One of the things I love about boxing is that level of respect that goes down. There are all these really physically intimidating looking people, but everyone understands how much work goes into becoming a fighter. Anyone can train fitness wise, but to train for a fight is full on. I’ve never copped any discrimination or comments from any of the dudes I’ve trained with.
OK, take us through a training session?
You start with running and drills and stretches and warm up games. Then you do some shadow boxing, then you put the gloves on and do a few rounds on the bag while the coach yells out instructions. It might be hooks or upper cuts, or maybe thirty seconds where you smash the shit out of the bag. Then weights and sit-ups and sprints around the block. Part of my training was to replicate a fight where there is three two minute rounds, so you’d have to sprint as fast as you could for two minutes then rest for one then do it again and again. It’s about two hours a session. If you had a fight coming up that would be six days a week.
What was the hardest thing to learn, a certain punch? Footwork? What was most difficult for you?
My strength in fighting is that I’m a bit of a brawler. I want to get in there and just wrestle, but you have to learn to really think when you’re in the heat of the moment and not waste all your energy. You have to be quite tactical and graceful. I found that the hardest because my animal instinct is just to get in there.
Hitting someone in the face seems like it would be a pretty confronting thing to do. How do you prepare to be able to do that?
[Laughs] It’s not hard! It’s not that hard when you have punches coming at your head. Also if someone is pulling punches in a fight then that’s almost worse because of the mutual respect in that environment. You don’t want to disrespect them by not using your skills.
Do women spar with men?
I’ve sparred with men at Mundine’s. I’ve sparred with smaller blokes and younger blokes. Everyone is looking for a sparring partner so they match you up on your build and not your gender.
What do you think has lead to the growing popularity of women’s boxing?
I feel like it’s a little bit more socially acceptable these days. As younger people are coming through they can see that women can be just as skilled as the blokes. There’s increased visibility and I don’t know if movies such as Million Dollar Baby, as tragic as it is, have raised the profile too.
Do you have a boxing hero?
Jack Demspey. I hear awesome stories about him. Before a fight he would soak his face in brine to toughen up so he wouldn’t bleed as easily in a fight. He would do strength challenges too, like try to lift up cars and other stupid things like that. He sounds like a bit of a character so I idolise him a bit.
What about nicknames, there seems to be some pretty colourful nicknames for boxers?
‘Monster’ was one of them. Tony had one for me every week, I think one was the ‘Melbourne Mangler’, oh and ‘Flex’ too.
What do you think needs to be down so that women’s boxing is more recognised in this country?
It’s fantastic that it has now been accepted into the Olympics. I think any kind of attention is good for the sport.