Female boxers rarely achieve the same level of fame as do their male counterparts (and even they have lately struggled to achieve the same name-recognition as mixed martial arts fighters), but there have been a handful of women who have captured both championships and the public’s imagination—among them Laila Ali, Leatitia "Baby Girl" Robinson, and Austin's very own Ann Wolfe. A dogged fighter who is considered to be the hardest puncher in the history of women’s boxing, 39-year-old Wolfe has been more or less retired since 2006, spending most of the past 10 years working as a trainer for professionals like James Kirkland, while also helping troubled youth find an outlet for their aggression in the ring.
On Saturday, March 6, at Austin Music Hall, the eight-time world champion steps back into the ring herself for the first time in more than four years, taking on Tammy Franks to raise money for her gym. (To win tickets to the fight, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.) The A.V. Club spoke with one of the toughest women alive about her one-night-only comeback, her record of putting opponents in the hospital, and why—despite what the poster says—Saturday is not “the greatest fight in history.”
The A.V. Club: How did you decide on fighting Tammy Franks, specifically?
Ann Wolfe: I was trying to find an opponent, and people were asking for, like, 10 grand. I was like, "This is an exhibition. I'm not paying you $10,000 to fight three rounds."
AVC: The poster for the fight says that it's "the greatest fight in history." Really?
AW: I think they should have put an "er" on that. That's an error. That should have been "the greatest fighter," not "greatest fight." Because Tammy—Tammy's got a losing record. This ain't nowhere near the greatest fight. I don't even consider myself the greatest fighter. I don't consider myself nothing.
AVC: Still, you are pretty famous for that knockout punch you delivered to Vonda Ward in 2004. It's been viewed on YouTube almost a quarter of a million times.
AW: That one punch didn't make Ann Wolfe. [Ward] pissed me off. That's why she ended up getting knocked out like that. She told people, "I'm gonna be outside signing autographs after this fight." The worst thing you can do when you fight anybody—even Tammy Franks—is underestimate your opponent.
AVC: You put Ward in the hospital that night. Have you spoken to her since?
AW: I went to the hospital to see her. What I do is try to end your career when I fight you, so I was hoping that her boxing career was over. But I didn't want her to be hurt.
AVC: Has it been difficult transitioning from fighting yourself to training other fighters?
AW: Yeah, a little bit. A lot of the time you have good fighters with good records, some top-class fighters, and they do some kind of crazy stuff, and there's nothing that you can do to stop them from doing it. That's the hardest part of training.
AVC: When you were first training James Kirkland he was doing really well—until he went to jail in 2009 for a probation violation. How do you deal with putting so much time into someone, only to have it all taken away like that?
AW: In a way, it doesn't bother me. That's life. When it happened with him, he was ranked No. 2 in the world. I'm the first female to ever train a male that high up to the ranking. He would have fought for a world title. But it doesn't bother me, because I've lived such a broad life. It's just life.
AVC: Is there a different sort of satisfaction you get from training other fighters, as opposed to fighting yourself?
AW: One thing I see in a lot of coaches is they try to live through the fighter. You can't live through the fighter. You gotta allow the fighter to be the fighter, and do what he do, and you just try to guide him. Why should I have to live through a fighter, when I went from eating out of a trashcan to being eight-time world champion? I stood in the limelight and did what I had to do as a fighter. I've been where that fighter is trying to go.
AVC: How do male fighters respond to being trained by a woman? Do they get over the macho stuff pretty quickly?
AW: Very quickly. I'm not aggressive. I'm just very confident in what I do. Once they see that what I do works, and I know what I'm talking about, and I can go to a tournament with 12 fighters and come back with 11 golds, and if I say, "Go run five miles," I can run it right alongside of them—when I speak, I don't speak like, "Oh, it might work." When you have two men together, one's gotta show that they're harder, more aggressive. They don't look at me like that. They listen to me better than they would a man.
I've been doing this about 10 years. And I know I get the kids that nobody else is gonna want. I get kids who violated probation five, six, seven times. Their parents don't want 'em, the police don't want 'em—nobody wants 'em. And so I say, okay, I was like that. Nobody wanted me. Once I found out that a nobody could do what I did, I took a whole bunch of nobodies. When you take a nobody, they're open to anything, so that's what I started working with. I started working with the worst kids that nobody else wants to deal with. I had a [police] officer come and tell me, "How can you get 25 males to do what you want to do, when you want, when at the same time, we can't get one to stand there and answer a question?" I had about 25 guys, and I'd go, "Get down in the push-up position! No, don't talk! Don't move! Do what I say!" And he asked me, “How can you do that?” Maybe God left me with a gift to do that.