For this edition of Up Close and Personal I’m really pleased to catch up with a true battler, both inside and outside the ring, Marianne ‘Golden Girl’ Marston, ahead of her upcoming bout against Masa Bacanov on the Dave Murphy Acourtier Events promoted NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS mega event at York Hall in Bethnal Green, London on Friday 4th October.
With all the press Marianne has received over the years, especially during her time in America, I am sure most readers are already aware of Marianne, but whilst she attracts a lot of column inches, invariably it’s about the superstar boxers that back her to go all the way, her visa woes, or her efforts to encourage more women to box, which is great, but I want something a little bit different, I wanted the real Marianne Marston.
As such following a recent sparring session, with former British and European Bantamweight Champion Ian ‘Dappa’ Napa, at the TRAD TKO gym I managed to persuade Marianne, who also coaches at the gym, to take a few minutes out from her busy schedule to answer a few questions.
But before we get to the interview itself, I feel a little scene setting is in order.
Marianne was discovered by late, great Heavyweight Champion of the World Smokin’ Joe Frazier in 2007, Joe was so impressed that not only did he sign her on the spot but asked her to relocate to America to train full time with him, his son Marvis Frazier and Val Colbert at his North Philadelphia landmark gym.
She did, but within months of relocating to Philadelphia Frazier’s Gym closed, which was the first major setback to her career.
About a month later Marianne relocated to the James Shuler Memorial Gym in West Philadelphia, within a month or so Livvy Cunningham, the wife and manager of two time IBF Cruiserweight Champion Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham invited her to join their team.
Later that year, following a sparring session with Christina Leadbeater, promoter Ivan Cohen approached Livvy Cunningham with an offer to sign Marianne and debut her early in 2009.
Pennsylvania Boxing Commissioner Greg Sirb, who was also present, was equally impressed and agreed to license Marianne, subject to her obtaining a P1 Professional Athlete Visa.
In February 2009 Marianne returned to the UK, to obtain the visa that would enable her to fight, on the undercard of Brian Cohen’s WBC Continental Americas title fight in South Philly on the 9th May that year.
Unfortunately the American Embassy in London refused her application, as she hadn’t fought in an international competition here in the UK.
What followed next was a full on media campaign, initiated by a Philadelphia journalist Kerry O’Connor and supported by some of the biggest names from the City of Brotherly Love.
Within days the campaign went global, almost instantly the American Immigration service was inundated with e.mails and phone calls from tens of thousands of boxing fans, calling for them to allow Marianne to return and fight.
Needless to say, bureaucrats being what they are by nature, they refused to change their decision.
However, that wasn’t going to stop Marianne’s promoter, the aforementioned Ivan Cohen, who came up with a plan, code named ‘Team America’, with the intention of bringing over a team of Philly based boxers, comprising of Hammerin’ Hank Lundy, Daphir ‘No Fear’ Smith, Brian ‘Bionic Bull’ Cohen, Gerald ‘The Jedi’ Nobles, Eric ‘The Outlaw’ Hunter, Tim Witherspoon Jnr, Nathalie Brown and Christina Leadbeater, to take on a UK team that would include Marianne.
Supporting ‘Team America’ on this mission were some serious ‘Big Guns’ in the form of World Champions, Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham, ‘Terrible’ Tim Witherspoon, Buster Drayton, Robert ‘Bam Bam’ Hines and the man who ‘discovered’ and brought Marianne to America in the first place, Smokin’ Joe Frazier.
However, the British Boxing Board of Control soon put an end to that plan, by refusing to license Marianne.
BBBofC General Secretary Robert Smith stated to me personally that he didn’t see any reason why they should license her, as she would have just one fight here and then return to America – a valid point in one way I suppose, Marianne did have an unprecedented twelve fight contract awaiting her return Stateside, but surely a license should be issued based on someone’s boxing ability, not according to where they would be fighting for part, or even all, of their career.
However everything became crystal clear shortly after, as Mr Smith then went on to say that he doesn’t approve of Women Boxing (I considered writing everything that he said to me on his thoughts about Women boxing, but I feel it would be way too offensive to ALL Women.)
Marianne appealed to no avail on a number of occasions over the following two years, before successfully applying to another European sanctioning body in August 2011.
Finally overcoming the ridiculous levels of bureaucracy, from both the American Embassy and the British Boxing Board of Control, Marianne was able to fight, or was she.
Well yes and no, because the BBBofC still wouldn’t allow her to fight in the UK on an overseas license, even though various promoters and boxing luminaries had lobbied on her behalf, but this all changed earlier this year, following the German Boxing Association becoming the second European organization, after Luxembourg Boxing Federation, to take advantage of revised European legislation that allows other European sanctioning organisations to sanction events in the UK.
So finally, in April this year Marianne made her long awaited professional debut, against Hungary’s Gabriella Roman.
The following is an extract from my report of the event.
“Soaking up every moment of the occasion Marston finally entered the ring and once again acknowledged the highly vocal and appreciative crowd until the final chord of the emotive ring walk track.
Once referee Ken Curtis had completed his pre fight rule talk it was time for action.
Marston lithely prowled her way across the ring to meet her opponent head on with a massive right hand jab, closely followed with a big left, Roman was clearly stunned by the massive early assault, but still managed to cover up just as a second double handed barrage was thrown, closely followed up with a big left to the head sending the Hungarian girl to the canvas.
Roman recovered sufficiently to box defensively against the ever forward moving Marston, however after about twenty seconds or so Marston corralled the Hungarian in her own corner, with nowhere to go Roman covered up in preparation for yet another double handed assault.
As the seemingly never ending barrage rained down Roman succumbed to the inevitable and went down for a second time.
With barely enough time to catch her breath Roman once again was forced to cover up, as Marston continued to throw massive double handed barrages.
The onslaught proved too much for Roman, who had let her hands drop enough for Marston to land a big right to the head, followed by an equally vicious left to send her reeling against the corner post.
Marston could smell blood and pounced in for the kill, first landing a massive overhand right closely followed by another wicked left hook, which shook Roman to the core.
Then, on the one minute forty seven second mark, just as Marston was about to throw yet another big left to the head of the clearly disoriented Hungarian, referee Ken Curtis jumped in to save the now virtually defenseless Roman from further punishment.
As soon as she realized it was over and she had won, an ecstatic Marston turned towards the legion of fans to her left and made an emotional statement, dedicating her victory to the memory of her mentor Smokin’ Joe Frazier.”
The victory was so emphatic that the following day World Boxing Federation’s South Africa based President Howard Goldberg contacted Marianne’s promoter, Dave Murphy, offering to fast track Marianne for a title shot, which if all goes to plan will take place in London in November, or early next year.
OK, so the scene is set, now it’s time to get on to the interview with the girl tagged ‘The Golden Girl’ by the late, great Smokin’ Joe.
Rio: Do you come from a family Boxing background?
Marianne: Neither of my parents have a boxing background.
I come from quite a sleepy village in Norfolk and attended an all girls school, so sport wise Fencing (Foil) and swimming were my forte.
I was ranked #6 in the under 16’s in Fencing and competed at swimming for the Norwich Penguins.
Rio: In that case when did you first become interested in boxing and why?
Marianne: The first time I became interested in boxing I was just a kid, I can’t remember what the fight was, it was either a Mike Tyson or a Frank Bruno fight and I wanted to box then.
My mum took me to Norwich Lads Club, I guess the local amateur club and they pointed out it’s a lads club and they wouldn’t let me box.
It wasn’t until many, many years that I started training, just for the fun of it with Choleton Senior, who’d boxed himself, and got bitten by the bug at that point.
Rio: Why did you decide to turn pro?
Marianne: I hadn’t really thought about turning pro, or even competing, until I was at Joe Frazier’s and they wanted to turn me pro quite quickly, I guess it was a combination of age, therefore how much time I would have in the amateurs and I think my style is a little more suited to the pros than the amateurs.
Rio: Who are the main ‘Team Golden Girl’ members?
Marianne: Johnny Eames is my manager and I have to name two people on the training side, I’m training with Brian O’Shaughnessy at the moment but Barry Smith has been a big part of how I box now, especially the power in my punches, so I have to credit him too.
Rio: What’s your training schedule?
Marianne: Tough, I guess I train a couple of hours a day at the gym, all the boxing stuff, Pads work, sparring, heavy bag depending on the day and outside that on a different part of the day do a run, anywhere between three and six miles, sometimes I do sprints, it’s all about the legs.
Rio: What is your favourite part of training?
Marianne: It depends on my mood, but I suppose my favourite would be doing the floor work although I’m really enjoying the technique work on the pads with Brian at the moment, as I’m learning new skills and I always enjoy that.
Rio: Who have you been sparring for your upcoming fight?
Marianne: Ian Napa is my main sparring partner, which is an education, the man’s phenomenal, I know he’s retired but he’s still sharp.
He comes in and psyches me out by doing twelve rounds on the heavy bag when we’re not sparring, he’s as fit and difficult as he’s always been.
It really has been exceptional sparring and I really do believe if I can hold my own with him, I can hold my own with anyone.
I’ve also got sparring with Angel McKenzie and Darren Hamilton.
I’ve known Angel and Darren for years, Angel will be fighting Jennifer Retzke on October 4th, I’m so pleased Angel gets to fight here for a World title, instead of always being the away fighter.
What can I say about Darren, British Champion, great boxer and a great guy that is always happy to help out with advice or sparring.
I was also supposed to be sparring amateur Lightweight Kimberley Leah, who I train at the TRAD TKO Gym, but she badly injured her ankle last week.
Kim is seriously good, very technical, as she’s a lot taller than me sparring is always challenging. I’m hoping to turn her pro later this year or early next. She’s so talented, she’ll do very, very well as a pro, I think she’ll go all the way, definitely a future World Champion.
Rio: How would you describe your fight style?
Marianne: I’m a bit of a bully, I don’t back down, you’re going to have to knock me down and keep me down to stop me coming forward basically.
I like to attack, I guess I’m quite aggressive, I’m not playing when I get in the ring, that’s the main thing it’s not a game, it’s serious stuff and I intend to win.
Rio: Which has been your favourite fight to date and why?
Marianne: That’s an easy one, I’ve only had the one pro fight.
I fought Gabriella Roman in April on my debut. It didn’t last long at all, I think it was one minute and forty seven seconds of the first round.
I put her down quite early, after that she went very defensive so I kept up the pressure, backed her into my corner and put her down again.
After the count I went straight back on the attack and she was already on her way down again when the referee stopped the fight.
I didn’t even realize he’d stopped the fight I thought she was going to get another count, but when Dave (promoter Dave Murphy) told me that’s it, it’s over and only then it dawned on me I’d won my first fight.
Rio: Who is your all time favourite boxer and why?
Marianne: It’s Joe Frazier followed by Manny Pacquiao.
Why? Joe Frazier, he always goes forward, he was the little guy in the ring, because as a heavyweight he was a small heavyweight.
I just loved the way he just came forward, the pressure, the movement, so hard to hit, so powerful on the attack.
As an attacking fighter myself I enjoy that and enjoy watching that. I think he has the same thing that I have, you have to put him down and keep him down to stop him.
Manny Pacquiao, he’s a southpaw like me, as a southpaw you should always watch the best southpaw boxers in the world and Manny Pacquiao is definitely that guy.
I love watching his technique, the way he moves in and out, to me that’s a skill I aspire to.
I’d also like to include Keith Thurman to my list, he’s one of my favourite rising star fighters of the moment, he’s a phenomenal fighter, serious power.
I like big punchers, I’m not talking two guys just punching each other but have serious skill as well.
Rio: Keeping in the same vein, all time favourite fight you have watched?
Marianne: It’s between three fights, two were Joe Frazier versus Mohammed Ali, the one Joe won and the other is the one he won but didn’t, because his corner made him stop not knowing that Ali wasn’t going to come out anyway.
The other was Steve Cunningham versus Marco Huck, Steve Cunningham is a force to behold, it was beautiful, I love that kind of boxing, I really do.
It was all out attack, a lot of people watch fights and they say they are just bashing each other up and ok they do sometimes, but this was different this was skill even though all out attack, it was phenomenal.
Rio: Which current match-up would you like to see happen this season?
Marianne: Well one of my favourite boxers is Steve Cunningham, obviously I have a real soft spot for Steve, he worked with me when I was in Philadelphia, the man is phenomenal, it really is something special to see him in training or fighting.
Of course there is one fighter that avoided him at Cruiserweight, moved up to Heavyweight to get away from him, so I think that now Steve has gone up to Heavyweight they should meet.
There’s nowhere to run now Mr. Haye.
Rio: What’s your fight day routine?
Marianne: Very, very quiet. I have very small meals up until the weigh-in.
Generally just keeping my head clear, keeping myself relaxed.
Then Steak and chips straight after the weigh-in, well you need plenty of protein for the fight.
Rio: That takes us right into the next question, what is your entrance track?
Marianne: For the last fight it was Move by Thousand Foot Crutch.
I first heard this when I was part of Steve Cunningham’s team training at Shuler’s Gym in Philadelphia, Steve had a promo video made for the first fight against Tomasz Adamek and Move was the soundtrack.
It really fires me up every time I hear it, so it really is the perfect entrance track for me.
I quite like the track that goes ‘I got 99 problems but the bitch ain’t one’ which kind off sums up many things for me, but I’d probably stick with Move as I am reluctant to change things, I’m stupidly superstitious like most sportspeople.
Rio: What are your ambitions as a boxer?
Marianne: Well it would be nice to win a title, but other than that I would like to be remembered as someone who had good skills, a proper boxer not someone that just coasted.
Rio: Outside boxing, what is your favourite sport?
Marianne: Football, is the sport I enjoy watching the most, closely followed by Ice Hockey.
I’m a huge Arsenal fan, I never used to even watch football until I moved to Highbury a few years ago, Arsenal won the league and the victory procession went right past my home, so I went out to watch them pass by, don’t know why but it made me want to go and watch them play one day.
I watched their first game of the new season and was hooked, after watching Thierry Henry play for the first time.
Before I went to America I used to regularly go to Highbury and watch them play and later at the Emirates, but since I’ve been back haven’t really had the chance to go and watch them, mainly because I run a female only boxing class at the TRAD TKO at three o’clock every Saturday.
When I was in America I became hooked on Ice Hockey, especially the Philly Flyers, who I’d go and watch at every opportunity.
You have to admire a sport where you’re allowed to beat the crap out of the opposition.
For me to partake in, it’s shooting or fencing, as I’m pretty good at both.
Rio: How do you relax outside boxing?
Marianne: I read, I cook and I walk my cat.
I love reading, just not enough time to read enough to satisfy my insatiable appetite.
Cooking’s my passion, if I wasn’t hitting stuff I would probably be whipping, beating, mixing, stirring and baking.
The cat likes to attack foxes, one of these days he’s going to run into a fox that is too big to handle, so I take him for walks on a lead in the evening, he’s a bit like me, he doesn’t know when to back down.
Rio: Favourite book?
Marianne: My favourite author is Terry Pratchett, he is for me the perfect writer, I have a whole host of second favourites, which I couldn’t begin to name.
I love reading and will read almost anything, as long as it’s not romance.
At the moment I’m reading James Lee Burke, it’s really annoying he’s written twenty odd books and I’m desperate to read them all, but I’m reading them out of order, which is driving me nuts as I have to rely on the library.
Rio: Favourite music?
Marianne: Heavy, Heavy Rock, Heavy Metal, just heavy, heavy, heavy, by bands like Hed Pe, Earth Crisis, Soulfly, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Sepultura type heavy.
Rio: Favourite film or TV show?
Marianne: I watch films and TV but there’s nothing that stands out.
Rio: Finally is there anything you want to say to your fans?
Marianne: Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Marianne Marston, against Masa Bacanov, will feature on the Dave Murphy Acourtier Events promoted ‘NIGHT OF CHAMPIONS’ event, headlined by Michel Trabant vs TBA and Jennifer Retzke versus Angel McKenzie World title clashes, at York Hall in Bethnal Green, London on Friday, 4th October 2013