|Lucia Rijker: Hey Laila, "I’m not officially retired"
INTERVIEW By Dan Horgan (Sep 5, 2006) Photo © www.luciarijker.net
It’s 12:55 on a Thursday afternoon, and I make my traditional final rounds over everything I need to conduct a successful interview. Is the phone fully charged? Check. Is the recording device hooked up to the phone? Check. Do I have all my questions down pat? Check. “Okay,” I say to myself. “I’m finally ready.”
At 1:00, boxing superstar Lucia Rijker calls and says she is ready to conduct the interview. We do the whole “Hi, how are you” thing, and it seems as though all systems are a go. However, just a second later, a huge problem presents itself: Lucia had mixed me up with a reporter from the Netherlands calling about a film festival. “Oh great!” I think to myself. “This interview is going to be a wash.”
So after the initial misunderstanding, I ask Lucia a question, and to my surprise, she gives a lengthy answer. That answer leads to another question, and all of the sudden, the interview is going great. In total, the conversation lasts twenty-five minutes, and as I listen to all of her incredible accomplishments, I realize what an amazing person I am talking to. Here Lucia was, completely unprepared to answer questions about her fight career, and she was still able to provide answers better than I could have ever expected. She has so many dimensions as a human being. It’s remarkable how many talents and aspirations one person can have.
A boxer, a kick boxer, an actress, a trainer, and a motivational speaker, Lucia can pretty much do it all. One of her qualities that people may not like however, is her elusiveness from the public. It seems that every boxing fan wants to
know what’s up with ‘The Dutch Destroyer’. After more than a two year absence from the boxing ring, people everywhere are asking the million dollar question: Is she retired?
“I’m not officially a retired fighter,” said Rijker. “I still have a few offers on the table, but none are official when it comes to signing any deals. I‘m just waiting for a big opportunity.”
Alright, with a perfect pro record in both boxing and kickboxing, it’s fair that such a great warrior can wait for a big fight. But just what kind of offer would define this “big opportunity?”
“I’ve always reached for the stars, and when I reach for the stars, it is Laila Ali. At the beginning of this year, I went to Berlin to challenge her. And it’s interesting, we offered her the fight before we did Christy Martin, and she turned it down. She doesn’t want a piece of anything, but to make as much money as she possibly can, and I don’t blame her. I think she’s making a smart move not to fight me. If I were in her corner, I would tell her, you have to fight somebody. If you just fight opponents, your credibility will go down. From a Hollywood perspective, you can make your name off your dad, but as a fighter, you have to fight somebody.”
For Rijker, a fight with Ali would mean a chance to take out a frustration that’s been haunting her for years. After nearly a decade of trying to lure Christy Martin into the ring, Rijker had to reluctantly watch as Ali ended up getting the fight.
“I kind of felt that what she did was cheating. I had worked for many years for that fight and I thought that she should have created her own opponent, but no, she took mine. That was a business fight for both of them. My motivation to fight Laila is that it is an opportunity out there even though there is a weight difference. On the other hand I’ve never run after any fighter like I did Christy Martin.”
So what if the fight with Ali never came off. Would Rijker be interested in challenging the other super middleweight standout in women’s boxing, Ann Wolfe?
“I love Ann, she is a lovely woman. I have a lot of respect for her and she’s a terrific fighter. I think she’d be the perfect fight for Laila. I have a past with Laila, not with Ann.”
With all of her anger toward Ali, one would think that Rijker would at least stay active to keep some of the ring rust off. However, Lucia insists that ‘stay busy’ fights can be dangerous, and that she has done her best to avoid them.
“This is not a sport where you just hang around. I always take my work very serious. I’ve always had the goal to become a world champion, I have. I’ve always had the goal to be the best out there, I have. Fighting just to fight is not what I do. Fighters who do that end up getting hurt because fighting can become an addiction. If you get hooked on the fame, money, the fortune, the rush, then it is easy just to take fights for fights.”
Another main reason that Lucia isn’t “fighting just to fight,” is because she is a woman of many interests. After coaching an amateur team in Colorado Springs this past March, Rijker plans on sharing her wisdom regularly.
“I think I have a lot of talents and one of them is being a teacher and a coach. I have more passion in my heart to pass on my knowledge which I feel is part of the natural cycle when it comes down to age. To help other women out there who are trying to be the best they can be is something that gives me great satisfaction.”
One of the first steps Lucia plans on taking toward the life of a trainer is starting her own gym, or in her words, a base where she can help out others.
“I would like to start a center where I can pass on my knowledge. I’ve been developing my ideas and looking around for a location. Motivational speaking, helping out young children and troubled teenagers, teaching people how to be more assertive and mentally strong, that’s more where my heart lies. And I’d like to have my own center where I can put it all together.”
Another plus of Rijker starting her own gym would be the opportunity to contribute to women’s boxing, a sport she feels is improving.
“I think women’s boxing is doing great. I think there are a lot of women out there right now that are getting that amateur background and getting that experience and ability before they turn pro. So I see a good future for women’s boxing, but most importantly, we need to be in the Olympics. When a worldwide audience can view women’s boxing, that’s when they will wake up. Then they will see what we can do. For years and years both men and women have competed in the same Olympics sports. But when it comes to boxing, men are still viewed as animals and women are viewed as having no place in the sport, so there is still a lot of work to be done. Women’s boxing just needs to keep building and building. There needs to be a following. When there is a following, there is television, when there is television, there is popularity.”
So aside from the training, what has Lucia been up to the past year?
“I’ve always stayed really busy physically, but last year I traveled the world. I did a lot of fundraising. I did some speaking and fundraising in Bangladesh for battered women and for young boys who are being trafficked and exploited as jockeys. They are being shot up with hormones so they won’t grow. I raised money for women and children in third world countries so they can have a future. That was my focus for a while just because last year was such a challenging year for me with the injury and the cancellation of the fight, which I did not expect. Then my mother passed away, so it was just one thing after another and it was quite challenging. I did a few television shows where I raised money for the Red Cross. For the first time in my life, I could really contribute because I had the time from my injuries. Helping others is way more satisfying than anything I could accomplish on my own.”
That’s saying a lot from a women who feels boxing has been a gateway to the world’s greatest riches.
“Boxing has given me the opportunity to travel. The opportunity to become a healthy person, to polish my life, to overcome obstacles, to overcome hardship. Boxing has given me the opportunity to meet and work with powerful, successful people all over the world. I’ve met Lennox Lewis, Sugar Ray Leonard, Macho Camacho, Mike Tyson, and Oscar De La Hoya. I worked with an amazing director in LL Cool J. I shot an amazing movie with Clint Eastwood. I met Stevie Wonder. I sat down and had hours of conversation with Muhammad Ali. I met with Whitney Houston. I trained and hung with Mr. T. I met Eminem. I’ve trained under Freddie Roach, Emmanuel Steward, and Joe Goossen. I’ve trained Adam Sandler. Donald Trump has stopped on the red carpet and said hi to me. I’ve met with Elizabeth Taylor. I’ve had dinner with Oliver Stone. Those are opportunities I’ve had through boxing. I am grateful and honored that through my dedication and hard work for twenty-four years, I’ve made it to where I’m at today. Through all of those experiences I’m able to create value for other people, and that’s what I like best.”
Not bad for an unprepared interview.
Special thanks to Monique Ward for setting up this interview. Be sure to visit Lucia’s website http://www.luciarijker.net/
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