Most women put on heels and a business suit when they head out to break the glass ceiling.Lisa “Too Fierce” Cohen pulled on a pair of 8-ounce boxing gloves.
When she was small, she and her brothers watched Muhammad Ali on TV, and she tried to mimic his moves. She even boxed at summer camp, and learned to admire the tactical aspects of the sport as much as the toughness. But she never imagined boxing would become her career. After all, as her brothers put it, she was “just a girl.”
Years later, while her family watched a pay-per-view bout on TV, the married mother of two was elated to see two female fighters on the undercard: Christy Martin and Brittany Payne. It was 1996, and Cohen knew she had to get into the ring herself.“When I told friends I wanted to be a fighter, some reminded me, in case I had forgotten, that I was a mother, and they asked me what my husband thought about it,” says Cohen, author of the memoir “Being Too Fierce: One Woman’s Incredible Journey from Foster Child to World Championship Boxer” (www.beingtoofierce.com).
“None of those comments bothered me. I knew I was around people who looked at life through a pinhole, and trying to change their attitude would be a waste of my breath.”
It took persistence, but she found a gym, a manager and the resolve to fight her way up in a sport that wasn’t exactly welcoming to women.
She knew Ali turned pro at 18, after winning gold at the 1960 Summer Olympics. Another idol, Sugar Ray Leonard, was 20 when he won gold in 1976, and turned pro the following year. Cohen was 29, and “hypersensitive” about her age, when she had her first pro bout.
She lost that fight in a unanimous decision, but was “proud to be standing when it was over.” And she’s been standing up for women, and pushing them to go for their dreams ever since.
Here are some of her tips for getting ahead:
• Be confident in the people in your corner. As a foster child, Cohen learned to quickly assess who was being straight with her and would help her. Over the years, she built a support system, from court-appointed counselors to fellow fighters, she could count on.
• Ask for what you want. A family court judge once asked Cohen, a third-grader, if there was anything special she really wanted to do that year. She didn’t think the judge was serious – she’d learned not to expect any extras – but she said she’d like to take dance classes. The judge made sure she got them. As a fighter, when she knew she needed to move on to another manager to keep growing, she did – even when leaving was hard or uncomfortable.
• Believe in yourself. Cohen was a shy child with a learning disability. One foster mother called her names and told her she would never even graduate high school. “I knew instinctively that I was better than what her cruel words described,” she says. Later, when boxing promoters belittled her or tried to take advantage of her, she stood up to them, eventually taking charge of her own career. And at 45, Cohen received her bachelor’s degree in English.
“No matter how your life begins, you make the final decisions about its outcome by taking chances and making good choices,” she says. “When I saw that first televised bout between two women, I couldn’t believe it was real. I wished I was one of those girls.”
Six years later, in 2002, she was the IFBA Junior Featherweight champion.
About Lisa P. Cohen
Lisa P. Cohen is the author of “Being Too Fierce: One Woman’s Incredible Journey from Foster Child to World Championship Boxer” (www.beingtoofierce.com). She grew up as a ward of the court and lived in 13 foster homes. In 1996, at age 28, she began boxing and turned professional the next year, competing under the name Lisa “Too Fierce” Foster.