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Mischa Merz: Talks about “The Sweetest Thing: A Boxer’s Memoir”

Exclusive Interview by Marc Anthony

“There is this misconception that boxing is all about money.”- Mischa Merz

Journalist Mischa Merz is not just a person who writes about boxing but is also the former 2001 Australian Amateur Boxing League champion at welterweight as well as a 2009 Masters Golden Gloves Champion. So she has firsthand experience in boxing.

Her past literary work includes but not limited to: 2000 book “Bruising,” 2001 essay
“Body Blows- Sport and threat of Female Muscularity,” and now her latest book titled “The Sweetest Thing – A Boxer’s Memoir.”

MA: Are you at Gleason’s Gym today?

I am not there right now, but I am not that far away.

MA: You have a boxing match for Atlanta Corporate Fight Night against Lisa Bledsoe on April 23rd, but you have fought and won the 2009 US masters Golden Gloves.

Yeah, before 2009, I haven’t been able to fight because I was too old. So, I was in that master’s category. We don’t have masters in Australia so I had to just stop competing. I could have turned professional but I didn’t really see much of a future for me.

MA: In this fight, do you know anything about Lisa?

A little bit, yeah…she has been really friendly to me on the lead up to the fight night. I’ve seen a little bit of her boxing and she looks very strong and determined. From what I hear about her training in the gym is that she is very tough and resilient. It should be good.

MA: You guys are doing it for a good cause as well: Terri Moss’s Atlanta Fight Night.

Yes, a portion of the money goes to the charities but I am not sure which one. Yeah a lot of people do boxing. There is this misconception that boxing is all about money…that it’s all about people who lift themselves out of poverty and that sort of thing but there are a lot of people who do it for the love of it, including those that make money out of it. The fact that money is going to charity reinforces the idea that this is a sport that is just not about the business.

MA: That’s interesting that you bring that up. The media likes to portray that boxing is just filled with corrupt people and it is just about the money. But you have a different view.

Yeah I think so. I think there is lots of money at the very top end of the sport. I guess that draws a lot of people with that dream…that hope that you will be able to get at the very top. But there are a lot of people who know they are never going to get into that elite position yet they still do it anyway. In fact, they continue to be involved with the sport, long after they have been in that high end. So, it tells me that it is something driving people other than money. There are other things as well that is hard to articulate but the sport becomes part of these people’s lives. A way for them to express themselves and they can’t live without it.

MA: Speaking of expressing themselves, you also do it in writing, in your upcoming book?

Yeah, the book is called “The Sweetest Thing.” It’s called a “Boxer’s Memoir,” but, it’s a kind of collective memoir. It captures the rise of women in the sport. Including some of the pioneers who have been involved with it, like Terri Moss, Bonnie Canino, Alicia Ashley, and Lucia Rijker.

A lot of these women where kind of in danger of being swept under the rug because nobody has ever written any kind of historic document about what they have done. That sort of inspired me on one level. I thought there was a need for that and my fighting in 2009 provided a way in into that story. By writing it in my point of view, it was more intimate. I could take people into that world more easily than if I was trying to write some objective history of the sport.

MA: It makes it a lot easier to read I would imagine?

Yeah, it makes it a lot more accessible I would hope.

MA: What caught your eye for boxing? Did you find boxing or did it find you?

I think it was a little bit of both. I just wanted to get fit. That’s probably the case with a lot of people. We had one of those things called boxercise: as sort of fitness class. I thought it was the first thing that I have done, physically, I wasn’t quite out of shape. But it was the first thing that I have done that I kind of forgot that I was exercising. I was kind of absorbed into punching. Then it was a very gradual process over years. It started to escalate and I started sparring probably a year or two after I got into these classes. Then that lead into the idea that maybe I should actually have a fight just to see what it was like because I might regret it. I didn’t want to die wondering what it was like.
I was quite cautious in how I was going to be involved. It was so gradual that I am shackled to this sport now and I can’t get away.

MA: When you came to the US, was that the first time you met all these pro female boxers?

Yeah, there are a few in Australia who I knew quite well because there are only a handful of them. But, when I came to Gleason’s I saw that there was so many of them. And actually I could get a different sparring partner every night of the week. Girls of all different levels: just starting out, Golden Gloves champion and Professional World Champions. And the sparring that I saw was so incredible. It was really inspiring for me. It gave me a whole new lease on life there.

MA: Was it shocking that there were so many female boxers under one gym?

It was not so much shocking but gratifying. It was sort of like… Oh, this is what the real world looks like. It’s not a marginal thing anymore. It’s integrated: The women are here and now no one really questions there right to be there. It’s just part of the sport, it’s not even odd.

It kind of vindicated a lot of theories that I have had over the years about women and the sport. The strength, toughness, aggression and all the things that is required for boxing. It just became apparent to me that women actually do all those things and can be all those things. The world is not going to come to an end. Females are not going to change into monsters and the sport is not going to be degraded. It’s going to be okay.

MA: Do you think it’s wrong that HBO hasn’t put female boxing as the main event for a pay per view?

I think it’s like that with all sports, except maybe for tennis. Women are always sidelined for the males. They are always paid less and they get less exposure. That’s a problem across all sports.

MA: What are your views about females finally competing in the Olympics in boxing, who would have thought it took so long?

Yeah, there are a lot of things that are sort of finally now okay, probably over a decade and a half, institutions that are surrendering to the idea that we are in it now for good instead of not just a fad. Like the international Olympic committee, the WBC, and just now the IBF have started a women’s division. It just made it a little bit more legitimate and real.

MA: You started writing before you started boxing?

Yeah, I’ve been a journalist since the mid- nineteen eighties.

MA: You have written fiction and non-fiction as well?

I have had short fiction published but mostly it’s been nonfiction that has been the main stay: Journalism, articles, profiles and a little bit of fiction. And three books now.

MA: And your favorite subject is boxing?

Kind of, whether I like it or not, I am stuck with it. We are stuck with each other. But other subjects interest me. Sometimes they become off shots of boxing in a way. When I was traveling in America in 2009 I saw a lot of overweight people. I started thinking about the obesity problem and sort of theorizing about that. It’s sort of an ongoing interest. It’s sort of a social problem and an economic problem and an individual problem. It’s all wrapped up with identity and self-esteem. It’s such a complex subject that I find it compelling. Everywhere except in New York is kind of in your face in America.

MA: What’s the difference in New York?

I think people walk a lot more in New York. You don’t see as many extremely overweight people in New York as you would in other parts.

MA: Is the view US people are more overweight as opposed to other parts of the world?

I think that people see that American food culture is responsible for a worldwide epidemic. The fast food and the high sugar content but what struck me is Americans are actually bigger people. Like bigger frames. So when you see an overweight person who is like six foot four, it’s just more dramatic then someone who is only five ten.

MA: You are launching your book titled “The Sweetest Thing” at Gleeson’s Gym address 77 Front Street?

Yes that’s right

MA: Will there be a surprise boxing match on April 12th as well?

I don’t think so because I am hoping that I will actually have a fight at Gleeson’s on April 30th? So I am saving that for a little bit later in the month. There is a women’s boxing clinic on the 28th, 29th and the 30th and on the 30th there will be a fight night. I am hoping to be matched for that. There will be an opportunity to do a little bit of a reading because they will have speakers over the course of the weekend. So I will be one of the speakers and I will read a little bit from the book.

MA: If people can’t make it to New York but want to buy your book, what are their options?

It’s also available on Amazon and it should be able available in book shops around the country. The publishers are based in New York so it should be available on the east coast and I am hoping in major book shops everywhere.

MA: I am going have to check it out. My interest is peaked. I am not too familiar with the female boxing scene and this book sounds like something I definitely want to read.

I think if you go to Amazon you can read the first chapter or two.

MA: Any final thoughts?

Thank you very much for the interview.

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