Boxing: Female debut "awesome" for U.S. fighter

LONDON Mon Jul 30, 2012 10:58am EDT

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LONDON (Reuters) - Six months after revealing she had been abused by her father for years as a child, Quanitta 'Queen' Underwood just wants to talk boxing, and can hardly contain her excitement knowing that she is about to be one of the first women to box in the Olympics.

The U.S. lightweight has been at London's boxing arena each day since the Games began, supporting teammates and soaking up the atmosphere. The butterflies in her stomach get more intense the closer she gets to Sunday's opening bout.

That's when the 28-year-old pipefitter from Seattle and 35 other women will break into the last all-male sport at the summer Games and look to prove wrong any remaining doubters who say women have no place in the ring.

"We're going to come out and shock and stun the whole world," Underwood, hair braided and wearing one of the biggest smiles in London, told Reuters late on Sunday after watching Errol Spence make it four wins from four for the American men.

"Everybody's thinking 'What are these ladies going to look like when they fight?'. It's just going to be awesome. This should have happened a long time ago but when we get on the platform, it's going to get a lot of respect," she adds, laughing giddily at the prospect.

Last February, Underwood detailed for the first time how, as a 10-year-old, she would lie in bed as her father molested her older sister Hazzauna in the same room.

She told the New York Times that when Hazzauna and her step-mother were out of the house, Assad Underwood would abuse her too. When she was 13, the sisters spoke out against their father and he was jailed for seven years.

Underwood doesn't want to discuss the abuse now. Her concentration is fully on the Games, so much so that she has left her beloved bulldog with dog sitters for the last few months in order to step up her training.

"There was a lot of attention on that (the abuse), I spoke about it plenty of times and I'm just happy to focus on my boxing now and make the best of my life," she said.

DIVERSE BUNCH

Underwood is one of three U.S. female boxers in London, a diverse bunch who include Claressa Shields, a teenage middleweight from the tough industrial town of Flint, Michigan, and flyweight Marlen Esparza, the 23-year-old new face of Cover Girl cosmetics.

The elder stateswoman of the team probably has the best chance of a medal but must negotiate a tough draw to get there. She first faces recent world bronze medalist Natasha Jonas of Britain before a possible quarter-final against four-time world amateur champion Katie Taylor of Ireland.

Underwood pushed Taylor all the way at the semi-finals of the World Championships two years ago and, despite jeopardizing her place in London with a shock early exit at this year's Worlds, she feels she can go all the way over the next two weeks.

Most of all though, the girl who only took up boxing at the age of 19 is just happy to be here, trying to take in the fact that she was walking side by side at Friday's opening ceremony with athletes she had been watching on television a year ago.

While others ran up to get their pictures taken with basketball stars such as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, the five-times U.S. national champion, typically cool, just let them be.

"I'm just so amped up and am getting butterflies every time I come in here and watch my teammates," said Underwood, sporting a recently inked tattoo of the Olympic rings with 'London 2012' written below on her right bicep.

"Honestly, you just don't understand how I feel right now." (Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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