Outside the Ring: Luigi Olcese
No other sport parallels life quite like boxing does. It takes perseverance, courage, belief and a lot of faith to succeed in the sport…
Sports and Philanthropy: A series of articles dedicated to those who’ve given their all and still give more. Each article will feature a different community champion; no belts, no medals, no ratings… just good people passing it on.
No one today would think being involved in woman’s boxing was philanthropy. Finally, these athletes are hitting TV in the USA and their skills and determination have catapulted with time. This is thanks to the dedication of the athletes and the encouraging interest by good trainers and promoters.
For years, being a female boxer was a lonely journey. Even today, selling-out a venue, being the main event, having a global presence, doesn’t guarantee a future. It’s a tough road. So is boxing. So is it more so for them. Most women understand that to compete, they must work a day job, even after becoming a World Champion. The purses and benefits they receive simply don’t compare to their male counterparts.
So, at a time, before Showbox said yes, and Fox, and ESPN, there was a man who was passionate about promoting women in the ring. In fact, he put a ring one of his protégées. Luigi Olcese isn’t an activist. He’s simply a boxing guy who respects talent; regardless of gender.
What is your background?
I am a retired law enforcement officer who has had the good fortune to work alongside many great boxers. It has given me the opportunity to travel the world. I started out as a kickboxer who trained in boxing gyms to improve my hands, but the reality is that boxing really was a love of mine. Before I knew it, I was training amateur boxers, and one of my first two boxers was a female amateur. When I started working with professional boxers, they had either been mismanaged or needed management, so I wound up taking on that aspect of the business as well. Now I am focused on the promotional side, but I also took on that role to be able to give more opportunities to the boxers that I work with.
What drew you to boxing?
In the 70’s, I remember watching Muhammad Ali’s fights. The enormity of his events and the challenge of the sport drew me to boxing. No other sport parallels life quite like boxing does. It takes perseverance, courage, belief and a lot of faith to succeed in the sport.
Why do you focus on working with women athletes?
I believe that females belong in the sport and I am convinced that there is a market for females in the sport. They are athletes, just like anyone else, and they deserve to be taken seriously. I want to develop world champions and be there as this market grows.
What are the obstacles?
Lack of television in the United States is the main obstacle. But second to that, very few promoters were willing to give the ladies an opportunity. That is changing however, now that Showtime has shown interest in featuring female bouts. Claressa Shields has been featured on Showtime, Jennifer Han has drawn over 5,000 in El Paso as a headliner, Golden Boy just signed a female and Mayweather will also now feature Layla McCarter on a Showtime card. I believe that Stephen Espinoza and Showtime will be part of that change.
I also believe that there must be some creativity in the process of building female boxing. The fights that we all want to see need to be built up, not just thrown together and buried on someone else’s undercard.
Do you think things are improving for women?
Today, female boxers in the United States are not being developed as professionals. And it is an important market for female boxers throughout the world. The pool of talent has lessened, and perhaps because MMA and the UFC got a jump on the boxing world, much of the talent in combat sports have gone to MMA. But, the future is bright. I believe that Showtime, as a premier network now committed to females in boxing, will force promoters to look at the market. There is talent out there just waiting to be showcased. I truly see an opportunity today that unfortunately should have been there 10 years ago!
How would you like to see the sport improved?
Female boxers should be taken seriously in all aspects of the sport. Three of the major sanctioning bodies rank the females and have rules in place so boxers have a path to try and challenge for a World Championship, it is no different than the males in the sport. It must be that way for fairness and opportunity and every major sanctioning body should function as such. There should be a fair process of opportunity.
What television executives and promoters need to understand is that females fight up and down in weight classes. They are not as protected as male boxers coming up and you find very few undefeated female boxers. But if matched well, there are some great fights to be made, and that has to be the focus. What I’d like to see is more promoters feature females on their cards, whether televised or not. It is a major issue that promoters are not featuring females as much as I remember seeing 10 years ago. Talent needs to be developed and television needs to support the good fights, and they need to look beyond their records. One of the top females that the sport has seen is Alicia Ashley, and she has 7 losses on her record that she lost by majority or split decision away from her native New York! But purists love her technique in the ring and she is highly respected for her skills.
Who do you work with?
I have been fortunate to work with several top female boxers, but of the current professional boxers that I work with Maureen Shea has been with me the longest. I still remember her as a brash young amateur who told Lou DiBella that she would fight on his cards when she turned pro. She turned out to be the first lady that he ever put on Broadway Boxing and I believe that she opened a lot of doors in the important New York market.
Alicia Ashley is just an unbelievable two-time WBC World Champion who is a tremendous competitor. She has fought all over the world and has fought all the top names in the sport, with most of her losses coming on the road in split or majority decisions. It is an honor and privilege to work alongside Alicia.
Jennifer Han is the current IBF Featherweight World Champion and truly a superstar in her hometown of El Paso, Texas. We featured Jennifer in an outdoor ball park in April of last year and we had to open upper tier sections as the stadium filled up to over 5,000 fans. The support she receives in her hometown is unreal and her boxing just keeps getting better and better.
I am very excited to now be working with Melissa St Vil and I look forward to her challenging for a World Title sometime this year. I am also working with Raquel Miller who was a tremendous amateur and I expect big things from her. She is quietly building her career and is already a great draw California’s Bay Area. I am currently in talks with a few other top female boxers and will hopefully have the privilege to work with them in the near future.
Do you think women approach the sport of boxing differently than men?
Women just want to be taken seriously as athletes. A boxer is a boxer. That’s all they want. But I also believe that they have to recognize that they have the ability to expand their market beyond the usual boxing market.
When it comes to the actual boxing, they have to approach the sport slightly differently because they box two-minute rounds. It calls for less time to get your punches in, and therefore, it can create more action. But that can be an advantage in marketing the sport, it just must be recognized. It also allows them to stay more active as they can come back to fight faster than they otherwise would if they were fighting three-minute rounds. It is advantageous if they recognize how to leverage their careers with the advantages of two-minute rounds. It is my opinion that the differences in how they approach their careers and the sport can be beneficial to a female boxer.
An exciting story to share?
Some of the most fun I’ve had in boxing is developing amateurs, and I really enjoyed watching my now wife Jody Ann box in the amateurs. I have so much respect for her as I remember how she worked full-time, went to school full-time, and managed to train and box competitively at the national level. She didn’t have it easy preparing for local tournaments as she would often focus on the national tournaments, but it was in those tournaments that we enjoyed some great competitive times together. I watched her get some great wins.
But I’ve also enjoyed developing World Champions. I brought Ann Marie Saccurato to her first WBC World Title. Alicia Ashley has won the WBC Title on two occasions. Maureen Shea has been a WBC interim World Champion. Jennifer Han is the current IBF World Champion. Those have all been great moments for me as I feel I was part of achieving someone’s professional dream and I’ve had great moments with all these boxers.
Your vision for the future?
I am convinced that females in the sport of boxing will make good money and be mainstream. I want to be part of the solution and I want to be there when the big fights come to fruition on the big stage, not just a female featured on cards but with good competitive and intriguing bouts. The key is to make sure they get financially compensated on a higher level when the sport grows into the big fights.
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