Lucia Rijker Interview More than the Greatest Women's Boxer of All Time! Interview by Ken Hissner (March 5, 2010) Doghouse Boxing
I recently interviewed Lucia “The Dutch Destroyer” Rijker, the former unbeaten kick-boxing and professional boxing world champion. She is without a doubt the greatest female boxer I have ever seen. Her style of boxing would be one that male or female could pattern themselves after. “She is not only the best female boxer in the world but one of the best boxers in the world”, said Manny Steward. Steward trained her for several fights, but for her the past 7 years it was Freddie Roach. “She will impress you. I heard so much about her and thought she can fight for a girl. I got to realize that she can fight anybody,” said Freddie Roach. When she spoke I listened. I could imagine how she could hold the attention of a crowd not only pertaining to boxing but her thoughts on life. When the conversation is over you walk away from it a better person. She makes you think.
“It’s really a breakthrough for women’s boxing that they will compete in the 2012 Olympics,” said Rijker. She followed up with what I was thinking. “The problem is in only having three weight divisions there is a gap of 10 pounds which is a lot to overcome,” she added. I told her I recently did a story on Sacred Downing, the 6 time amateur champion from Trenton, New Jersey, who was competing at 114 and just recently moved up to 119. I told her father/trainer James, she will have to go into the 123-132 division. In professional boxing that’s like a bantamweight moving up with the lightweights.
“When I was scheduled to fight for a main event for one million dollars in Las Vegas the owner of the promoter’ gym suggested I would use the bathroom for my dressing room. A man would not have been treated like this,” said Rijker. Her career record in kick boxing was 36-0, 25 by knockout. She was a 4x champion. “I turned to boxing as a challenge for I had fought all over the world except in the US where the sport was not big for women. In 1996 I signed with Bob Arum’s Top Rank,” said Rijker. Though she debuted in March in L.A. with a 1st round knockout it would be almost 9 months before her second match in December at Reno. Several weeks later she returned to her home country of the Netherlands scoring 2 more knockouts over a 2 month period. She would return in March of 1997 to defeat Chevelle Hallback, 1-0, stopping her in the 5th round. Hallback now at 27-5-2 has only been stopped once in her career and that was in her fight with Rijker.
In her 8th fight she defeated Andrea DeShong, 13-5-1, who was the first boxer to defeat Christy Martin. In Rijker’s next fight she won the WIFB Super Lightweight title over Germany’s Jeanette Witte. She opened 1998 scoring a 1st round knockout over Mary Ann Almager, 9-1, the former super welterweight champion. Next she stopped Lisa Ested, 6-1, in 4 rounds. Later in her career Ested would go the distance with middleweight Ann Wolfe.
In September of 1998 Rijker stopped Marcela Eliana Acuna, of Argentina, for the WIBO Light Welterweight title. This was followed up by a knockout win over Britt Van Buskirk, who had 28 fights in all and that being her only knockout loss. Next up in 1999 Rijker stopped the former WIBF light welterweight champion Diane Dutra, from Canada. With only a total of 5 fights in 1998 and 1999 Rijker took some time off from boxing. “There were not enough fights out there for me back then and I flew home to take care of my terminally ill father,” said Rijker.
Rijker came back in February of 2002 stopping Carla Witherspoon, but again had a problem getting another match until 16 months later when she defeated the former WBF Light Welterweight champion Jane Couch, 20-4, from the UK, over 8 rounds. “I was on good terms with Laila Ali and hung out with her in Miami after my fight with Van Buskirk because I was friends with Johnny, her later first husband. After she laced on her gloves she became very outspoken. However I still believed that with her name value she would be good for boxing. However then she took my payday opponent Christy Martin who was in my weight class and whom I hoped to fight with both of us in our prime,” said Rijker. She basically made herself into my opponent!!!
Ali and Martin would fight in August of 2003 with Ali weighing her normal 162 and Martin who had never fought over 145, coming in at 159. Ali stopped Martin in 4. In 2004 Rijker appeared in the Oscar-winning “Million Dollar Baby”, playing Billy “The Blue Bear”. Since Rijker appeared in the movie, Arum came up with the idea of a “Million Dollar Baby” match with Martin and Rijker. Each boxer was to get $250,000 and the winner an additional $750,000. This all happened after I basically called out Laila on Friday night live ESPN2.
Within 10 days of the July 30th date at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in 2005 Rijker had to cancel with a ruptured Achilles tendon. “There was a lot of stress not only on the fight but other things,” said Rijker. In September Martin was defeated by Holly Holm, who is possibly the best female boxer in the business now. Rijker had a million dollars within her grasp and has never fight again. She was 36 at the time.
Rijker stated only a match with Laila Ali would bring her back. That fight never developed. Arum brought in Mia St. John as his next attraction. “Mia took my space. In ’98 Arum turned someone into a boxer with that pink outfit who looks good instead of who can fight good,” said Rijker. Adding, “Bob (Arum) called her the butterbean of women’s boxing. However later I learned to respect how far she has come with her determination. She made the sport into a profession and she took her losses to Martin and Holm not fearing her limitations”. Rijker would retired with a 17-0, 14 by knockout record, winning two titles. Arum never got the most out of someone who should have been in the limelight. I asked if she ever dealt with Don King. “He was too difficult to negotiate with and he said the same about me,” said Rijker.
I remember seeing Rijker doing commentating on the boxing series “Thunder Box” that Cedric Kushner promoted his heavyweights. She was a natural. She had the brains and the beauty to pull it off. She speaks four languages. Today she is hosting the Strikeforce MMA shows on Showtime and giving lectures and seminars to athletes and people from all walks of life. “I don’t put a title on something because it will lose its effectiveness,” said Rijker. I had mentioned being Christian knowing she is a Buddhist. “You will lose half your listening audience while limiting the power of this universe by giving it a name,” she added. A light went on for me. How right she is. When I think of most of these commentators on the networks who know so little and have never put on a pair of gloves compared to her I have to shake my head. Rijker and Manny Steward would be a pair I know I would listen to and not turn off the sound like I do with most commentators.
We may have spent the next 20 minutes of a 30 minute conversation talking about everything but boxing. She has such insight on the world around her. She makes you think. I had a similar feeling when back in the early 80’s I met Cus D’Amato. He talked about Zen, and “mind over matter”. He was a genius who had a 16 year old kid living in the house in Catskill, New York, named Mike Tyson at the time. I don’t have to tell you what happened in his career. “People need to go to a silent retreat. There is not enough quiet time. They lose a part of their body awareness when they are distracted by so much noise around them,” said Rijker. “There should be no idols in their life. Look at Tiger (Woods) and (Bill) Clinton,” she added. She went on to say there are not enough physical, mental and spiritual challenges for people today with all their desires met at every corner. The internet and video games have kept the youth of America inside their head instead of their body.
Besides having a major role in “Million Dollar Baby” Rijker has done other film work and Stars in a Documentary called “Shadow Boxers”, “Lucia Rijker a Boxer a Buddhist”, Lucia Rijker among troubled youth”, Lucia Rijker nd the challenge of Romantic Love”, “A New beginning” that Thousands of non boxing fans have enjoyed. In an interview over WPKN with Binnie Klein, the host remarked Rijker is a “deep, thoughtful and respected athlete.” Jesse Reid, one of the top trainers in the business and recently assistant to Freddie Roach at the Wild Card Gym had this to say about Rijker. “She is a real sweetheart. I met her several times at the gym,” said Reid.
Rijker became the first female boxer to enter the International Hall of Fame in November of 2009. Prior to her introduction a video called “Fight Science” shows her punching power compared to a male boxer. She delivers a left hook to the face of a car dummy popping out the back of its head and scores with 922 pounds of force which is about 200 pounds more than the male boxer delivered. I think whatever network runs the 2012 Olympics should have her there commentating not just the female but the male boxing, too. I’ve had conversations with some of the most interesting people over the years such as Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, Jim Jacobs, Eddie Futch, Manny Steward and can now add Lucia Rijker to that list of the most interesting people I’ve talked with in the sport of boxing!