By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"The girl boxers, which is strange, are more aggressive than men," the trainer Emanuel Steward tells me, looking puzzled. "But Lucia doesn't fight like a girl. She doesn't come out and just go nuts. When the bell rings, she comes out and takes control. Naturally Christy Martin's never going to fight her. If she do, it'll be the end of Christy Martin. The problem is there's nobody around who can give her the challenge to really bring out her talent. It's just unfortunate that she's not able to fight as a man, because she would be the Sugar Ray Leonard of boxing right now in that weight division."
Steward, who's trained everyone from Tommy Hearns to Oscar De La Hoya, first saw Lucia box when he was wrapping Lennox Lewis' hands in the dressing room before a fight. "Emanuel," Lewis said to him, indicating a television set tuned to a women's boxing match, "turn around and look at that girl there. She is so smooth!" So Steward did. And at that moment, he says, Lucia "made a move and knocked a girl out with one left hook, and it was so professional - not for a woman, but for anybody. So here's the heavyweight champion of the world, and he just said, 'Whoa, I've never seen anybody fight that good!' And when they showed the rerun, the whole dressing room stopped to watch her."
At the Wild Card, not everyone stops to watch Lucia. In fact, she blends in to the point of invisibility. Whether she's shadowboxing, jumping rope, doing sit-ups, punching the heavy bag, negotiating the slip bag, rattling thunder out of a speed bag or sparring or training with the mitts, she simply melts into whatever she's doing. There's a humility about this, an existential loneliness, as if character were embodied wholly by action. There is no break between one action and another. As soon as she finishes one part of her training routine, she starts another. Her concentration is absolute.
This can make her seem - as one of the gym regulars told me - aloof, even unfriendly. The gym regular put it down to her being European (her background is Dutch-African), and left it at that. He liked her anyway. Still, I could see what he meant. What he saw as aloofness, of course, was really dedication, the elite athlete's "tunnel vision" in extreme form - and Lucia rarely leaves the tunnel for long. Over the years, it's a place she has grown quite comfortable in.
The fourth of four children, she was born in 1967 into a working-class family in Amsterdam. Her mother, a blond Dutchwoman, was a waitress; her father, a black immigrant from the former Dutch colony of Suriname, worked in a Heineken beer factory. The family apartment was small, and Lucia grew up playing in the street. She did well in school, protected her friends from bullies, and excelled in sports - not so much because she wanted to win, she says, but because she needed to be noticed.
There was a judo club in Lucia's neighborhood, and someone took her there when she was 6. At 13, she took up fencing, and went on to become the junior Dutch champion. At 14, she started kickboxing. At 15, she knocked out the reigning American kickboxing champion, Lily Rodriguez, with a ferocious combination of low kicks. (Ask Lucia today what her best punch is, and she will smile and say, "My right low-kick.") A year later she turned professional. By 1994, she held four different titles, with some of her victories coming in as little as 15 or 30 seconds. Eventually, seeing no challenges left in women's kickboxing, she decided to fight a man - a Muay Thai fighter named Somchai Jaidee - and was knocked out in the second round. Shortly afterward, she moved to Los Angeles and took up boxing.
Half an hour after their sparring session, Lucia and Sammy Stewart get together in a corner of the gym to go over their moves. Gloveless now, they spar with open hands, heads bobbing and weaving in silent conversation. Afterward, they hug: Sammy, shirtless and sweaty, wraps his arm around Lucia's waist while Lucia drapes her own (bigger) arm over his shoulder. Lucia smiles broadly, but it's "the little Sammy" (as she calls him) who, in an almost comical way, looks cute.
For Lucia, training isn't always this much fun. When she arrived in L.A. four years ago, and trained at Joe Goossen's gym, she needed to prove herself. When she sparred, men would heckle her male sparring partners if she was beating them, which she usually was. It got worse when she knocked them down. "It was awful," Lucia recalls in her lightly accented English (she speaks four languages). "I remember I sparred with this kid, and there was blood all over the place. They were screaming at him, because I knocked him down three or four times in a round. 'Are you a chicken? Are you a man?' I hate that. It's a sport, it's not about that. But when I started, it was about that. 'A woman, kicking your butt?'"