Stacey McKinley has trained some of boxing’s top fighters, from Ray Mercer to Mike Tyson.
But it is a 17-year-old Broward high school girl — his first time training a female — that has him pumped up and brought him back to the amateur ring. Chasity Martin is ranked the No. 1 youth female boxer in Florida, and No. 3 in the country. She’s vying for a spot on the 2016 U.S. Olympics boxing team.
“I’m old school. I didn’t believe women should be in the ring fighting,” he said. “But when I saw how badly she wanted it and how had she worked, I decided to give her a shot and see what she was made of.”
She’s made of plenty. The rising junior at Monarch High in Coconut Creek, who sports a stars-and-stripes bandanna and hot pink T-shirt when she trains, just competed at the 2014 Women’s National Golden Gloves Championships at Pier 66 in Fort Lauderdale. With a 10-4 record, Chasity defeated Isabel Reyes of Texas in the semifinal Golden Gloves match on Tuesday night. She lost in the finals Wednesday to former national champion Anna Crutchfield, fighting hard for three rounds, but falling short in a unanimous decision.
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“I just need to train and fight more. That’s about it,” she said after the match. “Every time you fight, you learn more. Win or lose, you learn and get better.”
Chasity long has been involved in youth sports. As a child, she played softball, basketball, swam and played soccer.
But she has had her eye on boxing for a long time, idolizing Muhammad Ali’s youngest daughter and former middleweight champion, Laila Ali. She began training at the now defunct 12th Round Boxing and MMA Fitness Center in Pompano Beach. There, a coach tried to recruit her to box in strip clubs, telling her that was her only future. She was 14.
Her mother, Karen Smith, quickly quashed that idea. Smith, a single mother of three, initially tried to dissuade her daughter from boxing. But after recognizing Chasity’s passion, she helped her find McKinley, who trains her at Gold’s Gym in Deerfield Beach.
McKinley has been involved with boxing for more than 40 years and has trained more than 30 world champions, including Tyson, Mercer and Cuban Olympic gold medalist Yuriorkis Gamboa, who won gold in the 2004 Summer Olympics. He had not trained an amateur in more than 25 years. But when he heard about the coach trying to steer Chasity into strip clubs, he jumped in.
“Everything in the world could happen to her and she’s too young to work in an environment like a strip club,” McKinley said. “She could end up in drugs, prostitution and all that. Those are the type of people that these places can produce, and people prey on them.”
McKinley, 63, and Chasity have grown close, with McKinley filling the void that comes from a home with an absentee dad.
“Little girls need their fathers. They need a male figure in their lives,” said McKinley, the father of two grown children, a 43-year-old son and a 28-year-old daughter. “She kind of adopted me to be that guy and to talk to her about different things. I do the best that I can.”
McKinley said he has employed the same training methods as he does with male fighters, as well as the pros. She sprints, hits the punching bag, shadow boxes, runs up hills and goes on three- to four-mile runs every few days. She does lunges by pushing cars in neutral.
McKinley took training a step further by getting Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields to spar with Chasity on Monday. Shields, 19, was the first American woman to win a gold medal in boxing at the 2012 London Summer Olympics, defeating Russian boxer Nadezda Torlopova.
After an intense round of boxing, Shields talked about the potential she saw in Chasity.
“I tried going easy, but she just kept coming forward,” Shields said. “I really just wanted to touch her up a bit that way she’s prepared for what she has to deal with. It’s very rare that you have a girl who boxes with a style like hers.”
She is a straight-punching boxer. She moves swiftly and is not a brawler.
Chasity plans on training for future tournaments, learning from her recent loss. She says she is drawn to boxing by its workouts and mental acuity.
“It taught me discipline and how to stay focused,” said Chasity, who plans to major in physical education in college. “It’s helped me deal with outside life and people, and it reminds me to keep going and stick with something until you’re done.”
Meanwhile, her mom stands by her side, even when it gets difficult to do so.
“I’m nervous. I’m always nervous before her fights,” said Smith, moments before her daughter’s championship fight on Wednesday. “At first, I didn’t like her fighting, but she loves the sport, so now I’m more involved in it with her.’’