As dramatically intense as the Clint Eastwood film Million Dollar Baby, this compelling biography chronicles Anissa "The Assassin" Zamarron's victory over mental illness to become a two-time world champion in women's boxing.
Reaching the top in any sport requires a long, hard climb. But when you start with the baggage of years of family dysfunction and incarceration in a hellish mental hospital, the climb is especially steep. Yet even with such weights to carry, Anissa Zamarron won not one, but two, world championships in women's boxing. Her story, as dramatically intense as the Clint Eastwood film Million Dollar Baby, is one of tremendous courage and determination to overcome the odds against her as a Latina and as a woman working through mental illness and addiction—a fight in which Zamarron has been as powerful and successful as she has been in the boxing ring.
In this compelling biography, acclaimed author W. K. "Kip" Stratton collaborates with Zamarron to tell the story of her unlikely rise to the pinnacle of women's boxing. With searing honesty, Zamarron describes how the chaotic breakup of her childhood family caused her to develop "demons" that drove her to aggressive behavior in school, an addiction to self-destructive habits, including cutting, and eventually to a corrupt for-profit mental hospital in which she spent eighteen months tied to a bed. She explains how boxing became her salvation as an adult; she learned how to turn her anger and aggression into motivation to train hard and excel at her sport, not only becoming the first woman to fight as a professional in a sanctioned fight in New York, but also fighting more ten-round fights than any other woman in history. A gripping account of Zamarron's 2005 upset win over Maribel Zurita to claim her second world championship caps the book.
- Chapter One
- Chapter Two
- Chapter Three
- Chapter Four
- Chapter Five
- Chapter Six
- Chapter Seven
- Chapter Eight
- Epilogue: Never Knocked Out
In her darkest days, before her life took direction, she lay pinned to a bed under a Posey net, which stretched from her neck to her feet, with leather cuffs for the upper arms, wrists, and ankles and cross-straps securing all the binding to the sides of the bed. The restraints prevented her from cutting herself, so she mastered biting the insides of her mouth until her blood flowed. That was one thing that gave her a high, seeing her own blood. The Posey net never stayed clean for very long. Soon it would be caked with her blood and soaked with her urine. Naturally, the bed and the net reeked. She stank, too. The techs didn't seem to care. As she lay bound to the bed, they'd leave her in the same bra for months on end and eventually there'd be layers of dead skin under it. And she had bedsores, just like a geriatric patient in a substandard nursing home who seldom gets turned in bed. No one cut her hair and it now crept all the way down to her waist, ratty and filthy: witch's hair. Because she couldn't move her feet, skin grew over her toenails. But none of that seemed to be a big deal to the staff at the hospital.
And so she lay there, trapped and scheming—scheming about ways to hurt the people who were doing this to her. And scheming about ways to hurt herself.
It hurts to box. People look at you and say, "Well, you're in shape, you're ready to box." It's more than that though.
* * *
A rambunctious San Antonio fight crowd turned out for the card at the Roseland Ballroom that November night in 2005. The venue is situated in the Estrella Mall in the shade of an Interstate highway junction in a rather nondescript section of the Alamo City. Anissa Zamarron, a former world champion boxer, was not impressed by the ballroom and the surrounding area. In fact, it seemed pretty shabby to her. But that's how it is in women's boxing. Championship fights often occur in settings far removed from the glitz associated with, say, top-flight women's tennis or ice skating competitions.
Indeed, tonight a world title was on the line at Roseland Ballroom. At thirty-five, Anissa would be entering the ring against the talented hometown favorite, Maribel Zurita, who was nearly a decade younger than Anissa. They had fought twice before in close matches, and Anissa had scored victories in both meetings. Yet it was Zurita who currently held the Women's International Boxing Association's world junior flyweight (108 pounds) title, which she had captured three months earlier by defeating Japanese boxer Sachiyo Shibata in a fight at San Antonio's Municipal Auditorium—it was the first women's world championship boxing match held in the city.
Anyone betting on the fight had to consider Zurita the clear favorite, never mind Anissa's earlier victories against her. Zurita's career was ascending, while Anissa had just lost four fights in a row. In those fights, Anissa had seemed to be a mere shadow of the boxer she'd once been. Her lifetime ring record had fallen to 16-14-2. Friends concerned about her physical well-being began to whisper behind her back that she should retire before she suffered serious injury in the ring. If not for her health, their reasoning went, she should quit before she frittered away her winning career record, since she now had only two more victories than defeats.
Anissa, too, understood the precariousness of where her career stood. After her last defeat, she realized she was going to have to train harder and bring renewed focus to the ring if she were going to compete at the highest level of her sport. One good thing about this fight was that she'd had extra time to prepare for it. She'd not fought since March, which meant she had been training for nearly eight months.
"I'd never before trained as hard for a fight as I did for this one," Anissa says. "I'd been introduced to a trainer, Andy Pastran, and over the past few months he'd really kicked my butt to get me ready. I'm the sort of athlete who always likes to push beyond the limits whenever I'm training, and Andy always made me do more than I thought I could do. He had been brutal with me. And I loved it."
She combined Andy's ring-focused work on fundamentals with the always challenging physical conditioning regimen laid down by her regular trainer and manager, Richard Lord: running on the Hike and Bike Trail at Town Lake (soon to be renamed Lady Bird Lake) in downtown Austin five times a week, early morning weight training at Hyde Park Gym three times a week, sparring with other female boxers on Saturday mornings, workouts at Richard's boxing gym every day on heavy, speed, and double-end punching bags. And, every Sunday at eight A.M. sharp, she joined with Richard and his hard-core acolytes, including other professional boxers, to run the ramps at Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on the University of Texas campus.
Running the ramps is a particularly grueling part of Richard's training plan. The ramps, which accommodate fans walking to their seats when the Longhorns are at home for football, switchback their way up the west side of the stadium for eleven stories. Running these ramps from the ground to their peak would be challenging enough. But Richard introduces a few twists to make it even more difficult, as Anissa explains: "We do it in an up-and-down cycle that goes like this: You run up the first ramp, stop, and return to the bottom. Then you run to the top of the second ramp, stop, and return to the bottom. You keep on like that until you've followed that up-and-down pattern until you reach the end of the eleventh ramp. Then you reverse it: From the ground you run to the top of the eleventh level, then all the way back to the bottom; run to the top of the tenth level, then all the way back to the bottom. And so on. And you run it as fast as you can.
"It's brutal stuff. Every muscle in your lower body aches. But the really hard part is putting your mind in the right place so that you can continue and get it done. About halfway through, your mind starts telling you that you can't continue, that you have to stop. But you have to overcome that. I think running the ramps is very important because when you're in a ten-round boxing match, there will come a point where your mind says you have to stop, that you just can't take any more. Running the ramps teaches you how to deal with that."
Another important lesson comes from running the ramps: Lord himself is the one who usually completes the drill the quickest, even though he is in his fifties. The people he trains are in their twenties and thirties for the most part. No one needs to say it out loud, but the message is clear: If the old man is able to do this as efficiently as he does, his younger charges should be able to find it within themselves to keep up. The routine is extremely difficult to complete. First-timers are known to plunge their legs in five-gallon buckets of ice water after the drill in an attempt to squelch at least some of the searing pain guaranteed to assault the calf muscles over the next twenty-four hours.
In addition to the physical workouts, Anissa also had been adhering to a strict diet that eliminated candy and other sweets, sodas, and fried foods. Instead she focused on vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean poultry, and fish. Anissa came to view her body as something like a high-performance automobile: When you have a brand-new Mercedes, she would say, you don't burn regular in it—you fill it with premium. Likewise, she fueled her body with premium food. The one treat she allowed herself actually enhanced her training. Another trainer with whom she'd worked, the talented Flaco Castrejon, who had relocated to the Austin area from Mexico City to work with her friend, two-time world champion Jesus Chavez, recommended she drink a beer—a single beer—to help "kill the edge you get from so much training." That beer at the end of the day also helped her sleep. Boxers tend to need more sleep than most people because, as Anissa would say, "you beat the crap out of your body all day, you have to sleep to allow it to repair itself." So the beer was both a treat and a means to help her recover from her workouts.
Anissa arrived in San Antonio well conditioned, well trained, and well rested. She wasn't sure what the future held for her as a prizefighter, wasn't sure if she would win this fight. But she believed she had the preparation to do something she'd never accomplished in the dozen years that had passed since her first pro boxing match: fight at the very best of her ability. When she mentally replayed her thirty-one previous ring outings, she always was able to find defects in her performance. Those things, both little and big, that she could have done better haunted her. Before she walked away from the ring, she wanted to have one fight about which she could say she did everything as well as she possibly could.
In some ways, that had become even more important than notching a win.
* * *
Going into fight week, Anissa had followed the rituals she'd adhered to over the course of her long ring career. She'd tapered off on training to give her body time to rest and recover from the grueling workouts she'd been enduring; a successful boxer has to feel fresh and energized when she steps into the ring on fight night. She continued to eat light, nutritious meals. She made sure to get plenty of sleep. She did all she could to avoid stress and other kinds of emotional distractions; a boxer has to be focused if she is going to succeed.
On the day of the fight, she slept late, then had a breakfast of oatmeal—"good, slow-burning carbs." She took a long walk to let her food digest. Later, she had a light lunch of roasted chicken and potatoes. And she began her usual fight day routine for hydration.
Throughout her career, Anissa tried to keep her weight close to the mark she needed to hit for the weigh-in, which usually occurs a day before the fight. One criticism Anissa has of male fighters in general is that they seem to be more careless than female fighters at controlling their weight and therefore are involved in tough battles to cut weight prior to a weigh-in. But even a boxer like Anissa who tries to keep her weight under control will scale back on food and water on the day of the weigh-in, if not for two or three days before. Once the boxer has made weight, she'll then embark on rehydrating herself and replenishing electrolytes.
Anissa began her rehydration ritual that morning with a bottle of Gatorade. After she emptied the bottle, she refilled it with water and drank that. She kept refilling and drinking throughout the day. By dusk, her weight stood at close to 115 pounds, 7 pounds more than she'd registered at the weigh-in. All that water made her feel like she was going to explode, not to mention that she was urinating every time she turned around, yet she kept drinking, knowing she'd sweat away, during the ten rounds of the fight, all 7 pounds she'd gained.
Between trips to the water fountain and trips to the bathroom, Anissa tried to relax and nap a little. She left any issues that arose to Richard Lord to resolve, knowing she could trust him to take care of things. One of the worst things that could happen to Anissa—or any boxer—in the hours leading up to a fight was to get mentally distracted.
At six P.M., she, Lord, and Jesus Chavez, who along with Richard would be working Anissa's corner that night, checked in at the Roseland Ballroom. It was Anissa's first time to fight in San Antonio, which is a little surprising, given that San Antonio is a hot boxing town and Anissa had spent her career of more than thirty fights based just ninety miles away in Austin. After checking in, she decided she hadn't missed much by not fighting there.
She discovered she would be using an office for a locker room. There were no mirrors in the room, just a desk, a couple of chairs, and a blackboard. She did find a shower in the women's restroom, which was a relief: At least she'd be able to take a shower after her fight. But so far she concluded that the San Antonio promoters were living up to the reputation they had among the boxers she knew: They, like their counterparts in Houston, would try to do everything as cheaply as possible, cutting corners wherever they saw them. Because of that, Anissa had opted for a cash advance from the promoters rather than accepting a paid-for motel room of their choosing. She'd heard too many stories about boxers' being stuck in fleabag lodgings alongside a noisy Interstate highway.
As the featured fighters on the card, Anissa and Zurita would be the last boxers to enter the ring that evening, so there was no rush for her to get ready. As the preliminary bouts got under way, she found her mother and her brother, Roland. In the years since she took up boxing, Roland had been her biggest fan, saving every scrap of paper containing anything written about one of his sister's fights and traveling to be at her fights in person if at all possible or watching them on TV or over the Internet when he couldn't. Before each fight, he made a point of finding his kid sister and telling her, "No matter what happens out there, we still love you." Whenever Anissa heard those words, she felt a lot of the prefight stress slide off her shoulders. And after each fight he and Anissa went through a standard routine:
Roland: Who's number one?
Roland: Who's the champ?
Roland: Who loves you?
Regardless of the outcome of the bout, this ritual always made Anissa feel good. Also, before a fight, Roland would open his house up to Anissa to provide her a sanctuary away from telephone calls and other distractions. Whatever success she enjoyed during her boxing career, she attributed a good part of it to the support of her brother.
As she talked to Roland and her mother, she learned that the ballroom did not offer beer for sale, which astonished both of them. Beer goes with prizefighting as much as it does with a major league baseball game. Ever resourceful, they had discovered a workaround for the dry situation. Down the street was a gas station that sold beer, so Anissa's mother walked there and bought beer in cans, which they poured into paper cups. Then they walked back to the ballroom, cups of beer in hand. This inspired other fans.
"You should see it," Roland said. "There's a whole line of people out there going down to the gas station and another line of people coming back the opposite direction to the ballroom."
They all had a good laugh. Then Anissa went back to her makeshift locker room. Along the way, she saw Zurita with her manager, Tony Ayala.
* * *
Given the close outcome of their two previous fights, Texas fans of women's boxing had come to consider Anissa and Zurita as rivals. There were plenty of side elements to make the rivalry appealing. Anissa was the older fighter, a former world champion; Zurita, the hungry up-and-comer who'd just claimed her first world title. The geographical rivalry between the two fighters' hometowns—Austin and San Antonio—figured into it as well, given that the cities are just an hour and a half's drive apart. And something of a rivalry existed between the two managers involved, Lord and Ayala, each arguably the best-known manager/trainer in his respective city.
Anissa held no strong feelings toward Zurita one way or another—"I don't really even know her. I think she'll be a great person to get to know once all this bullshit is done"—but Ayala was a different matter. A distinguished-looking man with a distinctive white mane of hair, Ayala was a familiar figure to Texas boxing fans. People who follow the sport also saw him frequently on national television in the 1980s when his son, Tony Jr., billed by some as the best prospect in boxing history, tore through nearly two dozen straight victories before a rape conviction brought his career as a contender to an end. Tony Sr. was Tony Jr.'s manager and trainer. In San Antonio, Tony Sr. operated a downtown gym, credited by many in the community with keeping poor kids off the street. He always fielded dominant teams in Texas amateur boxing competitions, often featuring his sons; indeed, Tony Jr. and his brothers Sammy and Mike all won national Golden Gloves titles, the only trio of brothers to pull off such a feat. Anissa's friend Jan Reid wrote in Texas Monthly: "To some Chicanos, Tony Sr. has earned . . . esteem and affection for the credit he brought to their young people and the city of San Antonio. But to others, it is an article of faith that the Ayala boys succeeded in the ring because their father raised them like pit bulls."
Ayala was never shy about bulldogging the press whenever he felt one of his fighters came up on the wrong end of ring judges' decisions. After Anissa's second victory over Zurita, he told San Antonio Express-News writer John Whisler, "Maribel beat this girl from pillar to post. Something's got to be done, man, this is terrible." Ayala's attempts to discredit Anissa as a fighter in print left her with a less than high opinion of the man. She also saw a measure of hypocrisy in him. When women's boxing began to bloom in earnest in the 1980s and early '90s, Ayala had been a vocal critic of women in the ring. Yet by the early 2000s, his most successful professional fighter was female.
Anissa knew that focusing on her personal feelings about Ayala—or about anyone else, for that matter—was the kind of thing that could disrupt her concentration for the fight, maybe get her into trouble. So she didn't let her mind wander in that direction. When the first bout of the evening got under way, Richard said to her, "Okay, let's wrap up."
Anissa nodded and held a hand up to him, fingers outstretched. It had become pretty much a ritual for Richard to wrap her hands during the first fight on the card. Against the muffled shouts of the fans, Richard webbed gauze and medical tape over and around her knuckles and her fingers. It's a job a trainer must do carefully, primarily because the wraps are the fundamental protection a boxer has against breaking her knuckles or fingers when she hits her opponent. Also, the wraps will be inspected by a state official to ensure they have not been layered with an object or a substance that might give a boxer an unfair advantage, just as her boxing gloves will be inspected as well. Slipping a horseshoe into a boxing glove prior to a fight seems like a gag from a 1940s Warner Bros. cartoon, but the fact is that wrap and glove doctoring sometimes occurs in real life. One example: Boxer Luis Resto acknowledged in the 2008 documentary Cornered that the tape used to wrap his hands had been soaked in plaster of Paris prior to his ten-round fight with Billy Collins Jr. in 1983. His trainers also removed two inches of padding from each of his gloves, so every blow struck on Collins was essentially nothing but fist and hardened plaster. Collins, who died in a car wreck nine months later, never recovered from the injuries he received that night.
Her hands secured in their wraps, Anissa put on her headphones and listened to music while concentrating on the task before her. As always before a fight, she found herself in a paradoxical situation: It was important to focus on the fight and what she would have to do to win it, but it was equally as important for her to try to be as calm as possible. "You're nervous," she says, "and you're still peeing a lot. A lot of things go through your head about your opponent. You wonder what she's been doing to get ready for this fight, how much she's improved, whether she has any new little tricks." At the weigh-in, Anissa had looked Maribel over, attempting to judge what kind of shape she might be in (she appeared to be in top form) and pondering whether she'd had any trouble making weight—a boxer who struggles to make weight often enters the ring the next day feeling weak. Those thoughts came back to Anissa now as she waited for her turn in the ring. "You always think a lot before a fight, especially wondering if tonight's going to be your night. All that worrying and thinking—it's really just nervous energy, I guess. Sometimes a less experienced fighter can also fret about all the worrying she's doing, which makes everything even worse. One advantage I had that night was that I'd been in enough fights to know everything was going to be okay once I climbed into the ring. Still, I couldn't help but wonder how much Maribel had improved since the last time we fought."
At the start of the card's third fight, Anissa put on her boxing shoes. The shoes look something like work boots, with uppers that lace high above the ankles to provide protection for the joint. But they are much, much lighter, with thin, flat soles to accommodate a boxer's need to pivot. Tonight her shoes were black. She also would wear a black sports bralike top and black trunks with ANISSA spelled out in silver across the front of the waistband. She slipped into her fight attire during the card's intermission, with two or three preliminary fights remaining before the main event.
She began warming up, loosening up slowly, rising up on the balls of her feet, shifting her weight from foot to foot, shadowboxing a little. Suddenly Richard appeared.
"The fight going on right now isn't going to last very long," he said. "We need to get you ready."
He reached for a container of Vaseline, then began to smear the petroleum jelly on Anissa's face—a standard practice for boxers to provide protection from abrasions from their opponents' gloves. Richard next tied on her gloves. Then he dug through a bag until he found a pair of mitts, which he put on his own hands. Mitts are thick pads with a glovelike attachment on the back; in a way, each resembles a catcher's mitt. Mitts are elemental tools for training boxers. A trainer holds the mitts in various positions and calls out combinations to the boxer. The boxer responds by slamming her gloves into the mitts in correspondence to the combination. Mitt workouts are vigorous, and soon Anissa had broken a sweat. She was ready to go into the ring. The timing was good, for soon a runner appeared to announce that it was time for the boxers to make their entrance.
With music thudding loudly over the PA system, Anissa entered the ring first. Zurita, as champion, followed shortly thereafter. The level of applause let Anissa know that while this was a pro-Zurita crowd, there also was a loud contingent of her own fans from Austin present.
* * *
When the bell rang to start their fight in San Antonio, Zurita came out banging, boom-boom-boom! Earlier in the evening, there had been a bout with two female boxers, both of whom were inexperienced compared to Anissa and Zurita. Their fight had been relatively lackluster and no doubt lowered crowd expectations for the next female bout. So the fast and furious exchange of blows in the first round of Anissa and Zurita's fight surprised the audience and immediately brought it to its feet. A loud chant of Ma-ri! Ma-ri! Ma-ri! resounded from the San Antonio partisans. But the large group of Anissa's fans became vocal as well, and their cheers for Anissa soon competed with the Ma-ri! chants.
Zurita's strategy became clear during that first round. She and Ayala, who was working her corner, must have believed that Zurita, the younger fighter by a decade, would come into the ring with more energy and stamina than Anissa. So, if Zurita pressed Anissa hard and fast in the early going, she would collapse under the onslaught. Anissa admits that in her first two fights with Zurita, her conditioning was nowhere near peak level, and she believes Ayala saw that as her vulnerability. Ayala and Zurita's strategy would have been sound had Anissa not worked harder preparing for this fight than for any other in her career. She was in the best shape of her life. Though Zurita's attack surprised her, she adjusted quickly.
Anissa says, "I thought, 'Okay, if that's how you want to go at it, I know how to do this.' And I started banging right back at her. It was crazy, nonstop punching from both of us. In round two, she came out banging again, and I banged right back at her. There was no way I was going to run out of gas like I did the first two fights. The third round was pretty much the same thing.
"In boxing, we say that a world championship fight doesn't really start until the fourth round. A championship fight is not just another fight. It's all nerves and willpower, and you just don't know how things are going to turn out during those early rounds. But one thing you do know is that what matters is how you finish up. The judges base a lot on who finishes the strongest, who is 'there' at the end of the fight. I've been told that I've fought more ten-round fights—in women's boxing, title fights last ten rounds—than any woman in history. I don't know how you prove that, but I can say I don't know of any woman who has fought more than I have. I've been in enough of them to know that what matters in terms of the decision is which boxer can take the fight all the way through to the end. And who is going to be able to take it all the way through begins to show in the fourth round."
Sure enough, Anissa noticed that Zurita slowed down a little in the fourth round. Anissa threw a straight right that connected hard to Zurita's chin and Zurita staggered backward toward the ropes. Anissa couldn't tell if Zurita was off-balance because of the blow itself or if she'd tripped over her own feet while backing out of the "pocket"—that is, where a boxer is standing close enough to her opponent to be able to hit her. Anissa was momentarily confused. If Zurita was unsteady on her feet because of the blow, she should go into full attack mode and pummel Zurita, hoping to score at least a knockdown if not a knockout. On the other hand, if Anissa attacked Zurita who was unsteady because she stumbled on her own feet, the referee could charge Anissa with a foul. Her position in the ring didn't allow her to see the referee and she could not really tell what was happening with Zurita. So, in that split second, Anissa opted to do what she thought was prudent. She held back. She learned that she legitimately had Zurita in trouble only at the end of the round, when Richard and Chavez chastised her in the corner for not sticking it to her opponent when she had the chance. "To tell the truth," Anissa says, "I didn't know what was happening. I didn't know if I legally could go across the ring and smack her, although now I know I should have jumped on her. So Maribel stayed on her feet and there was no knockdown."
Worse from Anissa's perspective, Ayala had a chance to revive Zurita with water and ice as she sat on a stool in her corner for the minute of rest between rounds four and five. Zurita came back throwing down hard in the fifth round, although she lacked some of the aggression she'd shown in the earlier rounds. Anissa saw Zurita breathing with her mouth slightly open: a sign of fatigue in the boxing ring. Moreover, a boxer fighting with her mouth open is risking a broken jaw, since she's sacrificing the protection provided by clamping down on her mouthpiece with her lips sealed. Anissa tried to exploit what she read as a weakness in Zurita. But Maribel proved to be resilient, showing a toughness Anissa had not seen in earlier fights with her. Anissa went to the corner between rounds wondering how much longer Zurita could keep this up. And a small part of Anissa fretted about how long she herself could continue.
"You got to stop brawling with her," Richard said in the corner.
"Box her," Jesus implored as he splashed water over her mouthpiece. "If you want to win this, you have to box her."
The message rang true. She and Zurita had been in a slugfest through the early rounds, throwing punch after punch. Anissa's best strategy was to start employing the classic elements of boxing, showing the sweet science of the sport as opposed to brawling. There's an old adage that holds that the boxer will defeat the brawler every time. Maybe so. What is true (at least most of the time) is that the boxer looks better to the judges scoring the fight. Boxing rather than brawling would win her rounds.
Anissa began employing the fundamentals she'd worked so hard on with Andy. Sticking and moving. Throwing combinations. Feint, feint, slip, slip. Counterpunching. Keeping better control of the ring with her foot movement. And above all, staying busy.
"I boxed the shit out of her, to tell the truth," Anissa remembers, "although there were some rounds that made me wonder if I'd done enough to impress the judges. I kept busy, staying inside as much as possible, scoring, pow-pow-pow! Now the crowd can't really see a lot of this. A lot of the scoring goes on inside where only the referee and the judges at ringside have a good view. I'm sure a lot of the people in the crowd thought Maribel was winning because she was the hometown girl and she was still throwing and looking impressive. But I knew I was scoring a lot when I got in the pocket and started delivering."
But she had no idea how much of this had registered with the judges when the bell rang to end the tenth round. One thing was certain: The crowd loved the show she and Zurita had given them. The fans were on their feet and the San Antonio partisans started up their deafening Ma-ri! Ma-ri! Ma-ri! chant again. It reminded Anissa that she was on Zurita's turf. Usually the champ wins the benefit of the doubt in boxing matches determined by decision instead of a knockout or technical knockout. This is especially true when the champ has the benefit of homecookin': fighting in her hometown with judges selected by a hometown promoter. In most cases a local champion has to be beaten convincingly in order for her to lose her title belt.
While the uncertainty of the decision vexed her during those long moments in the ring as the judges tallied their scorecards, it dawned on her that she had just accomplished something significant—at least for her. She'd never performed in the ring quite like she had tonight. If she'd brawled during the early rounds, it was because that was the appropriate response to Zurita's onslaught. She made adjustments as the fight went on, letting her boxing skills come to the forefront in the later rounds. True, she had not pursued Zurita when she was in trouble in the fourth round, but that had been a judgment call, and a correct one, given the circumstances. Better to exercise restraint than to act rashly and incur a penalty that could affect the outcome of the scoring. Whatever the judges' decision might be, Anissa had notched a victory for herself. She'd just fought the best fight of her career.
Against the crowd pandemonium, the announcer collected the judges' scorecards. She could see Zurita's fans were already celebrating. Even though the roar from the audience made conversation impossible, Anissa somehow heard Richard say to her, "I don't care what happens with the decision. You did a great job." Then he repeated it: "You did a great job."
Finally the ring announcer stepped up to the microphone and called the boxers and their seconds to the center of the ring. The crowd grew quiet as he delivered the decision: "Judge Roy Ovalle scores the fight 97-93 for Maribel Zurita." Wild applause erupted briefly from the Zurita fans. "Judge Anthony Townsend scores it 96-94 for Anissa Zamarron." Now cheers came from the fans of Anissa mixed with a few boos from the San Antonians. "Judge Joel Elizondo scores the fight 97-93 for the winner . . . and new WIBA world junior flyweight champion, Anissa Zamarron!"
Jeers and cheers competed with each other from the crowd, but Anissa felt overwhelmed. She'd done it. She was world champion again. A photograph from that night captures her emotions. The referee lifts her hand to designate her as the winner. Anissa's other hand shoots up and she is standing on the balls of her feet. Her mouth is open, an expression of stunned disbelief on her face. Zurita, on the other hand, is registering her own sort of disbelief. She is staring up at the ceiling, a look of I-can't-believe-this-is-happening-again forged on her face. Anissa says, "I just went, 'Holy shit!'" That shocked, holy shit feeling stayed with her for a month.
But the decision stirred controversy, at least among the San Antonio fans, as soon as it was announced, and controversy continued for days to come. At ringside shortly after the bout's conclusion, Zurita told a reporter that she didn't know what fight the judges were watching. "It was a good fight, but I thought I landed the stronger, harder punches. I'm very disappointed." In the days that followed, rumors circulated in San Antonio that the fight had been fixed. The hullabaloo became substantial enough that San Antonio sportswriter John Whisler devoted a column in the Express-News to it. Had he been a judge, Whisler wrote, he would have given the decision to Zurita, although he added that with the number of punches thrown, several of the rounds could have been scored in favor of either boxer. "Conspiracy theorists might not like that conclusion any more than they liked the judges' scorecards that night. There were some unusual circumstances that clouded an unpopular decision. But there were no attempts to deceive or manipulate the outcome. It was the good, the bad, and the ugly of the sport all in the same night. It was controversial. But it wasn't corrupt. In short, it was just boxing."
The conspiracy theory storm centered around the two judges who ranked Anissa as the winner on their scorecards, Townsend and Elizondo. The conspiracy theorists mentioned in Whisler's column claimed that Townsend, who is from Austin, had been one of Richard Lord's fighters and thus would have been inclined to show favoritism to Anissa. In fact, Townsend was associated with a competing gym in Austin. "When he was a fighter, he lost to a couple of kids from my gym," Lord told Whisler. "When I heard he was one of the judges, I was worried he'd be biased against us."
As for Joel "World Famous" Elizondo, it was true that he and Jesus Chavez were friends, and it was true that he had sparred a few times at Lord's gym in Austin. It was also true that Lord never trained or managed him. World Famous told Whisler that he judges fights the way he sees them, that friendships don't matter once the bell rings. "I have no doubt Elizondo did just that," Whisler wrote. "And for that matter, I'm sure Townsend did the same."
Eventually the brouhaha receded and life for all the principals got back on track. The controversy never even crossed Anissa's mind a couple of months later when Lord presented her with the championship belt at a boxing event at the Austin Civic Center. Fans who had followed her career for years stood and applauded as she held the belt above her head. Outside, it was damp, cold, and miserable, and sleet pecked at the windows of the Civic Center. But Anissa never felt warmer or happier.
For her, it was a great night.