photo: Jennifer Wolfe-Fenn accompanied by trainer Pops Billingsley to the ring in the 2009 San Antonio Golden Gloves finals, a fight in which she stopped her opponent and earned the Rosie Gonzalez honor of best female boxer of the tournament.
"At this tournament, Jennifer grew up and did it on her own. I never wanted her to be in my shadow, and it was good to see that she did it on her own. I wanted her to do the best she could do, and she really did." -- Ann Wolfe, on her daughter Jennifer's recent stellar performance.
When looking toward the future of boxing, it can be helpful to look at the progeny of today's famous boxers, to see which stable might produce the stars of the future. Floyd Mayweather, Laila Ali, Jesus Cesar Chavez Jr., all grew up within the charged atmosphere of a boxing gym. Some of these fighters have capitalized on their names and made money without facing the toughest opposition. Others, however, have used their deeply rooted skills and talents to rise to the pinnacle of the sport. Jennifer Wolfe-Fenn, daughter of 8 time world champion in 4 weight classes Ann Wolfe, just may become one of the latter.
Wolfe-Fenn is coming of age in an environment in which females have many more opportunities than they did when her mother was rising through the ranks. Women's professional fights are more likely to be shown on TV (though HBO still has a ban on televising female bouts), female fighters can now earn decent purses (though still at a level not in competition with the purses for comparable male matches), and 2012 may mark the first time female boxers are allowed to compete in the Olympics. Wolfe-Fenn plans to take advantage of all of these opportunities.
Wolfe-Fenn has been in a boxing gym since she was 8 years old, when she followed her mother into Pops Billingsley's care at Montopolis Gym. Boxing is an acquired taste, and the young Jennifer had mixed feelings about getting in the ring. Her mother has known for a long time that Jennifer has the power and aptitude for the sport. Jennifer has a build similar to her mother's, the ability to punch as hard or harder than any male of her size, and the rhythm and reflexes to have the advantage with any opponent.
Ann has had to let Jennifer take her own time, however, in learning that the grind of training is what makes a champion, in dealing with the normal rebellion every teenager goes through, and in developing the desire to do what it takes to be the best.
Jennifer fights in the gym with boys and men, not with girls. She can HURT you. Like her mother can. She has knocked me down with one jab. It must be terrifying to be on the other side of the ring from her in a fight, because she knows she can meet anybody in skill level and that she has that extra oomph that made her mom defeat everyone she ever fought. Jennifer has broken a woman's jaw, a man's nose, and who knows how many ribs, and she's only 18.
This weekend, at the Women's National Golden Gloves Championships, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, Wolfe-Fenn proved that she does in fact have what it takes to be a champion. After finishing 2nd nationally last month in the 141 lb. weightclass at the U.S. Boxing Championship, Wolfe-Fenn put in the necessary time at the gym and at home. She picked up tips from her mother and worked on her stamina, and she was more than ready for her next tournament.
This time, Wolfe-Fenn was unstoppable. In her first fight of the tournament, she defeated 2007 local champion Christina Swanson convincingly, 5-0. In the finals, she went out to destroy the only thing between her and the championship belt, New Jersey's Althea Saunders. She accomplished her goal, 4-1 by the judges' scorecards.
The fight was a beautiful thing to behold. Wolfe-Fenn relied on her jab throughout the fight, kept her cool, and owned the ring for each of the four two-minute rounds. Each jab was beautifully placed, with extension from Wolfe-Fenn's toes all the way into her fists. All of her jabs kept her opponent at bay. Many of them pushed her opponent back, once, literally, into the ropes. She put together combinations quickly, mixing up jabs, right hands, uppercuts and hooks so that she got the best of almost every close exchange with her tough competitor. She moved gracefully on her feet--always poised to throw, quick to slip punches.
And then...the belt. Jennifer's first championship belt. How did it make her feel? "I couldn't do nothing but smile," she says, smiling. The only appropriate ending for this article is a quote from Jennifer herself about the experience, "It was super, super live. I went in there and busted everybody's head in, took my belt and went home."