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Seattle Boxer Fights Battle Of The Mind In Face Of Olympics

Seattle Boxer Fights Battle Of The Mind In Face Of Olympics

Queen Underwood, 27, of Seattle steps out of the ring victorious at the Olympic team trials for women's boxing in Spokane. Photo by Jessica Robinson
Queen Underwood, 27, of Seattle steps out of the ring victorious at the Olympic team trials for women's boxing in Spokane. Photo by Jessica Robinson

SPOKANE, Wash. - You might remember the film "Million Dollar Baby." Hillary Swank plays a female boxer named Maggie. Clint Eastwood plays her crusty – and at first, reluctant — trainer.

Maggie: "I thought you might want to train me."

Frankie: "I don't train girls."

Maggie: "Maybe you should. People who see me fight think I'm tough."

Frankie: "Girlie, tough ain't enough."

This year, women will box for the gold for the first time ever at the Summer Olympics in London. One of the top contenders is a boxer from the Northwest named Queen Underwood.

As Jessica Robinson reports, the Seattle native's personal story shows that Clint Eastwood's character was right about one thing – being physically tough isn't enough.

Boxers will tell you that competing in the ring isn't like other sports. You're not part of a team. You're not racing the clock. You're going up against an opponent who's so close you can look her in the eye.

Right before she punches you in the face.

That's Queen Underwood, getting a shot in during her first bout at the Olympic team trials in Spokane. Here's how she introduces herself:

"I'm No. 1 Queen Underwood, Queen of the Ring, yes."

She's a 5-foot-5, 27-year-old from Seattle who works as a pipe fitter by day. And she's considered one of the best hopes for a gold at the first-ever women's Olympic competition in boxing. Pretty high stakes.

"This is history right now. This is something that's not going to happen again," Underwood says. "And just with the high expectations of everybody, I just have to do my best and perform my best and ... but I do have to win though."

And that's the other side of boxing: Boxers say sometimes, the make or break moment doesn't hinge on all the training you did for speed and strength. It's in your head.

"At the Olympic games, the difference between winning gold and silver is your mental preparation," says Basheer Abdullah, a national boxing coach who's been working with Underwood. And he's told her she has a target on her back.

"Everyone's coming after you. They are training to beat you," he says.

Underwood beat her opponent the first night, but Abdullah says the win didn't come as easily as it should have. Her next opponent would be even tougher –- a well-trained boxer named Mikaela Mayer from Los Angeles.

"I told Queen this is one of her toughest challengers. And she knows she needs to bring her A-game," Abdullah says. "She can't have an off night tonight."

Underwood's life hasn't been easy. She has a website called Living Out The Dream. On it, she alludes to living with a "fear that the door knob will turn."

Underwood recently revealed further what that means in a series of interviews with the New York Times. As children, she and her sister were sexually abused by their father. He eventually went to prison, but Underwood says she still dreams of the day that "I won't be 12 years old and feeling helpless; one day I'll be strong and unstoppable."

The night of the second bout, Underwood's older sister, Hazzauna , was in the audience.

"You see your sister up there in the ring and you don't know what's going to happen but you know her potential," Hazzauna says.

I ask her, "You've seen her fight before?"

"Oh yes," she says. "I start over every time. It feels like the first fight every time."

Round one started and her opponent Mikaela Mayer quickly started to land punches.

Boxing expert Christy Halbert did the play-by-play. Underwood's coaches yelled out directions from her corner, but Underwood's opponent kept making contact.

The score was 4 to 5. Underwood was down. Back in her corner, her coach gave her a gentle smack on the side of her helmet before she headed back in for round two. And suddenly, things started to turn around.

By the fourth and final round, Underwood was ahead. Her focus was clearly back and it was razor sharp.

Underwood won the bout, 27 to 20. Her sister stood up from the audience, holding a finger up: No. 1.

Afterward, Underwood, a bead of sweat dripping down her cheek, told reporters she was thrilled at the win. But there's only a short rest before the next fight.

"Next time, it'll be better, I promise," she says. "It's gotta keep getting better."

On the Web:

USA Boxing

Living Out the Dream

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Copyright 2012 Northwest News Network

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.