Sunday, June 04, 2023  |



How one NJ gym is giving its female boxers a fighting chance

Yessenia Montalvo observes as two female boxers spar at Legacy Boxing Club.
Fighters Network

Yessenia Montalvo knows how hard it can be to get opportunities as a female boxer. The former robbery detective for the Newark police department got into boxing at age 21 as a way to manage her work-related stress and stay fit, but found it difficult to get matchups for fights.

She only had four total amateur fights, and hung up her gloves for good after the opponent for her fifth bout no-showed on fight night. That’s when she turned her attention to training boxers, hoping to pave a way for other young women who want to step between the ropes.

She opened up Legacy Boxing Club in Wayne, N.J. three years ago, and has worked hard to even the playing field through the fundraiser amateur shows she promotes, once matching eight different women’s bouts on a card of 16 bouts.

“It has always been one of my greatest goals to recruit more female boxers because we are not highlighting boxing in New Jersey as a sport, especially as an Olympic sport,” said Montalvo, who is a USA Boxing certified Silver Level coach, plus a judge and referee. “It is not promoted in the schools as a sport, it’s only there for people who look for it. It’s not in your face as a sport that girls can do.”

Even with the best efforts, matching women’s boxing bouts in New Jersey can be difficult. At this past weekend’s Golden Gloves open class finals, only one women’s weight class was scheduled to be contested. That bout didn’t take place, as Sarah Flood won the 125-pound title by walkover after her opponent missed weight.

The best bet for getting fights is to go to USA Boxing Women’s Championships, which take place from July 22-29 in Toledo, Ohio. That’s why Montalvo is raising funds to bring three of her boxers to the tournament, where they can get up to four bouts and acquire national rankings, which can earn them bigger opportunities for fights.

Montalvo created a GoFundMe page last week, and as of Tuesday, has raised $605 towards their goal of $3,000, which will go towards hotel, food and transportation expenses.

The boxers who Legacy Boxing will send are Corina Talavera, 31, who has five bouts, plus 14-year-old Jaylene and 11-year-old Athena. Montalvo says she has trained Jaylene for four years, and says she has noticed her confidence and ability to focus have improved. She has had two fights, a win and a loss, but has had to get her opponents to come from as far as Pennsylvania to get matched.

“She has wanted to keep competing but it’s been hard to get her fights,” said Montalvo. “The hunger to become a national champ has been there and that’s why we’re gonna take her to the nationals.”

Talavera was preparing for the Golden Gloves, but was unopposed in the 178-pound novice category. Like Montalvo, Talavera experienced being brushed off by a previous coach who prioritized his male fighters, and came to Legacy Boxing looking for a coach who would take her seriously.

“There are women who want to devote their time but they also want a coach who will put in their time and not just put them to the side where they’ll train by themselves,” said Montalvo.

“Male coaches shouldn’t be afraid of women stepping into their gym and saying I want to be a boxer. They should be welcoming and dedicate their time just as much as they dedicate to the male boxers.”

Montalvo isn’t just asking for the boxing future she wants, but is helping create it. 

In addition to being a coach, she also oversees the Legacy Youth Empowerment Organization, a non-profit 501c3 organization which teaches children from the ages of 8 to 17 how to box. The organization often pays for hand wraps and boxing gloves for those who can’t afford them. The organization also offers an annual weekend camping trip, where participants are obligated to put down their phones and interact with one another in an outdoor setting.

(READ: The Ring’s Guide to New Jersey Boxing Gyms)

Legacy Boxing Club is the North Jersey hub for women’s boxing, with female boxers coming from around the tristate area to spar on Sundays. Montalvo says she has ten other female prospects coming up in her program who she hopes will compete on one of her amateur shows in November.

Montalvo is far from the only woman who is making an impact in New Jersey boxing. Jackie Atkins, who owns the Gleason’s Gym Jersey Shore, is the President of the NJ Association of USA Boxing, which oversees amateur boxing in the state. Shadasia Green, an unbeaten super middleweight professional from Paterson, was recently named mandatory challenger by the WBC to face undisputed champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn, while 18-year-old Elise Soto of Randolph, N.J. asserted herself as one of the best young amateurs in the nation by making it to the finals of the 2023 USA Boxing National Qualifier last month.

Montalvo is a hands-on coach who teaches large classes at her gym.

Montalvo’s competing days may be over, but she continues to fight to give women their time in the ring.

“Women just want to feel empowered and to be treated equally. Having the same opportunities as men is one of the things that we want, feeling that we can accomplish anything is another, and just the opportunity to reach out to more girls is one of the things that I wanted to do,” said Montalvo.

“We need more female coaches, we need more women in boxing in New Jersey, period.”

2023 NJ Golden Gloves winners

The New Jersey Golden Gloves recently concluded, with the finals being held on Saturday, April 15. Here is a list of open class winners who will compete at the National Golden Gloves from May 8-13 in Chester, Pa.

125 pounds: Keith Colon (Ironbound Boxing)

132 pounds: Justin Penaranda (Bayonne Recreation)

139 pounds: Xavier Correa (True Warriors)

147 pounds: Daniel Gonzalez (Park Elite)

156 pounds: Isaiah Mack (Ike & Randy’s)

165 pounds: Jean Pierre Valencia (Unattached)

176 pounds: Tyric Trapp (Gleason’s Jersey Shore)

203 pounds: Malachi Georges (Different Breed)

203-plus pounds: Kevin Delarosa (Ringside)

125-pound women: Sarah Flood (Lou Costello)

Ryan Songalia has written for ESPN, the New York Daily News, Rappler and The Guardian, and is part of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism Class of 2020. He can be reached at [email protected].