Born one of eight siblings, there might not have been another choice for 31-year-old super welterweight Raquel Miller (2-0, 1KO) but to become a fighter.
Always boxing enthusiasts, her family would gather around the television and like most of the rest of the world in the late 80s, would watch the “baddest man on the planet” Iron Mike Tyson knock out another no-hoper in a matter of seconds.
“My first memory of boxing was watching Mike Tyson. My mom was really into boxing so we used to all gather around the TV and watch Tyson box,” the eloquent Miller remembered. “I watched Christy Martin on the undercard and that is when I fell in love with boxing and I said I want to be a boxer. That is like my first real memory of boxing and my first boxing match was in 2010. My first match was in 2010 and I trained for about eight months before I had that fight. I tried a couple of times before that but that was the first time it actually stuck.”
After an extensive amateur career, Miller went pro in May of 2016 with a stoppage of fellow first timer Sara Flores in the first round. In August, Miller was taken the four round distance by Gabby Holloway who she defeated via unanimous decision on the undercard of Andre Ward vs. Alexander Brand.
Honest with herself, Raquel takes blame for her false starts, naïve of what actually transpires to become a fighter.
“I actually tried two times before I actually stuck with. The first time I was too young, I wasn’t really too disciplined. I didn’t really understand to become a boxer you have to train and develop technique, it wasn’t just about walking into a gym and you spar. First time I walked into a gym I trained for about a week or two and then I said when could I spar? They told me there was no sparring yet, that it was a privilege. You have to train first. So I quit,” said Miller. “The second time I tried I trained right and I was ready but the coach I had at the time he didn’t really think women should fight, so it discouraged me so I stopped going. The last time I started thinking about how excited I was seeing Christy Martin in the ring and how exciting she was as a fighter so I said this time I am not quitting. So I went to the gym with a really nice guy who took me under his wing. It wasn’t a boxing gym but a boxing class at a local recreational center. That is when I said I am not going to stop this time. I am going to get in shape at this rec center and then I am going to go to a boxing gym, I’m not going to stop until I actually have a fight.”
Some months later Miller had her wish as she stepped into the ring as an amateur for the first time. That first fight would be the first step towards an extensive and successful amateur career. Ms. Miller amassed 71 fights, only losing eight while capturing a number of titles and medals including three national titles, the National PALS and the National Golden Gloves. She won a bronze medal in the Continental Games and a silver medal at the World Championships. She added a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics trials and another at the 2016 Trials. She traveled to London for the 2012 Olympics as part of Team USA as a sparring partner.
“What I remember was being really nervous. I trained really hard, I lost a lot of weight and what I remember was getting warmed up and I forgot how to box,” Miller says with a chuckle regarding her first amateur fight. “I remember telling my coach I don’t really remember how to box anymore. I just remember how to fight. I have always been a fighter so I was like I don’t really remember how to box but I am going to go in here and fight. I am going to fight my way to this ‘W’. I remember as soon as the bell went off I went out there and threw punches from the first bell to the last bell.”
“As long as I scored more than she scored I was going to win. I just went out there and never stopped punching and I won fight of the night. It was a really exciting fight. I fell in love with boxing because it was such an emotional adrenalin rush. From finally going in there and having your hand raised, it was really exciting. With all your family there screaming and cheering, it was just like a total rush. It was really, really exciting. I was hooked, I couldn’t wait to do it again.”
It is no secret the crown jewel of her amateur career is her experience as part of Team USA with the London games in 2012 being the best of those times. “It was really, really exciting and fun to be a part of something when it first took off. I was fairly new to boxing, I had only been boxing at that time for about two years and so it was really exciting. That was the reason why I stuck around for another Olympic quad because I was so excited and inspired by seeing the women finally get their chance to fight in the Olympics. Being a part of the games, being a part of Team USA, it was really, really powerful and really exciting to see so many women have their shot and fight in the Olympics.”
Surprisingly before her second opportunity to be part of the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil, Miller decided to join the professional ranks.
“I was just tired of the bullshit that comes with amateur boxing. I was tired of USA Boxing; I was tired of the politics in the sport,” Miller explained. “I just felt like there was more opportunity for me to grow as a person, as an athlete, as a women and I felt like the pro ranks needs women to see you can go from the amateurs to the pros, have more women there, more experience you bring from the amateurs and just start a new movement. To say, hey, we are here, pay attention to us, let us fight and let’s keep it going. Bigger and better things, I want to be a world champion and I just felt it was time.”
A good step toward that was to join forces with Luigi Olcese, well-known manager of a number of female fighters including Maureen Shea, former WBC super bantamweight champion Alicia Ashley and current IBF featherweight champion Jennifer Han. “He is familiar with my coach, Basheer Abdullah, he is pretty established in assisting women boxers and things of that sort so I reached out to him, told him what I was looking to do and he works with me as an advisor, helps me get situated and get fights. That is our relationship right now. My coach started that relationship so that is how that came about.”
In only her second fight Miller was given the opportunity to be part of a major card this year as she took part of the undercard for Andre Ward’s defeat of Alexander Brand on HBO.
“It was really exciting, it was really exciting to fight at home, very exciting to fight at the Oracle Arena, Andre Ward was really a nice guy and he is definitely a legend especially in the Bay Area,” Miller said. “My first fight was actually in his home gym so a lot of respect for Andre Ward and I look up to him. It was awesome. A lot of my family came out, a lot of my friends came out, I had a lot of support. I felt very thankful for the opportunity but I also felt that we as women fighters don’t get the support we deserve, we fight as hard, we are exciting to watch and I felt we deserved that opportunity. I think we are more talented than half of the guys that I see on the TV.”
Miller’s first fight was at 156 pounds while her second at nearly 165. Just like in the amateurs, it has not been easy to find opponents and it is a known fact as you go higher in the scales in the female fight world, the tougher it is to find women to get in the ring with you and because of that, heavier female fighters get opportunities for a world title much sooner than at the lower weight classes. Miller has decided to campaign between 154 and 160 pounds.
“There is a couple of good girls there, Christina Hammer, there is Kali Reis, they are actually going to fight on November 5th, I believe,” Miller said of possible future opponents. “Those are two girls I am actually eyeing and checking out their careers. There is also a girl out of New York, I think her name is Alicia Napoleon, we competed in the amateurs. She is has been doing her thing and I am excited to getting in the ring with her eventually. I think there is a couple of good girls who are up and coming and I am just keep doing my thing and making my way. There is also talk of the amateur girls coming over to the pros so I think it is an exciting time for women’s boxing.”
Another fighter who Miller is keeping an eye on, as she puts it, is twenty-nine year old WBC International super middleweight champion Maricela Cornejo (5-2, 2KO) of Los Angeles, CA. Cornejo is coming off an impressive six round unanimous decision over veteran Eliza Olson earlier this month. The fight, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions and televised on Estrella TV, was contested in the super middleweight division.
Miller was not too impressed.
“I think that would be a great fight, I would love to fight her,” Miller said regarding Cornejo. “I don’t think those type of fights are good for women’s boxing, to be truthful with you. Eliza Olson, she is a friend of mine, I know a little about Maricela as well. I think its time for the fresh girls to fight each other. Eliza Olson is not really a 168 pounder or even a 160 pounder so that wasn’t really a fight I was excited to see. I think it was pretty one-sided, I think Maricela should fight up and coming women in exciting fights that people want to see to get them excited about women’s boxing and not fights like that which I don’t think are good for the sport. I wasn’t all that excited watching the fight to be truthful but I am hoping she wants to get in there with me or other girls that are up and coming and I hope Eliza goes down to the weight class she is better suited for and she does her thing there.”
Refreshingly, Miller understands a big part of a female fighter’s success as far as their pockets, falls on them. Understandably a first step for the success of any other fighter, male or female, is to actually be put on cards but for Miller she knows that for her to make a living from the sport, she must look out of the box for answers.
“I definitely think that we as women fighters we need to really explore our options and look to make money outside the purses from the fights,” Miller explained. “I think it is important to establish ourselves as a business first. Establish other means of income definitely because you are not just going to make it at this point and time even a fraction of what is comparable with the men. If women really got together and supported each other and began our own movement where we are supporting each other, some of the big promoters that can actually support women like Al Haymon, or Richard Schaefer, Golden Boy, can really get behind us.”
“I am really thankful Golden Boy are the first ones that are taking that step and putting women on the card, being consistent with it, giving them TV slots, then you can see us on one of the PBC shows, where they allowed the two women to fight, I think they are out of New York, so I thank the promoters getting behind the women, really showing we have the skills, we have the poise, we have the professionalism to go out there and put on a good show,” she continued.
Speaking of skillful woman, Miller was around Claressa Shields during the 2012 Olympics in London, the Bay Area native saw first-hand how you can do everything to win a gold medal but then come back home and not be able to generate revenue as depicted on the 2015 documentary “T-Rex” which follows Shields’ journey from a then 17-year-old high school student to Olympic gold medalist. Upon Shields’ return to the states, the documentary shows how difficult it is for her to secure sponsorships. Miller, who is also seen in the film, thinks things need to be seen different.
“I think things are definitely are going to turn around. I can’t really speak on her (Shields) situation because I don’t know her situation, but I know for me, I am putting myself in the position where I need to be business-wise before boxing is business. To make sure you are able to get revenue from different avenues and also keep pushing the envelope to get more money, get support, get on TV, possibly get a women boxing reality TV show where people can see how much we train, see us as people, as women, as mothers, as businesswomen, so that people can understand we are talented, we are in exciting fights and we are exciting to watch. Hopefully we get the support we need to get to the next level like the women in MMA.”
Miller is looking to fight early next year back at home in the Bay Area on a local promoter’s card.