“LA Diva” Maricela Cornejo Learns On The Job
By Felipe Leon
By all accounts and purposes, former WBC International super middleweight champion Maricela “La Diva” Cornejo (8-2, 2KO) is ready for whatever is next in her boxing career. The 30-year-old, originally of Washington state but now fighting out of the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, Ca. wants the biggest fights and she wants them now.
Obviously, if it makes financial sense.
The biggest name for her out in the not-so-vast 160 or more pounds divisions is none other than Claressa Shields, the 4-0, 2KO, wunderkind who earlier this month captured her first two world titles with a dismantling of WBC 168lb champion Nikki Adler. The vacant IBF strap was thrown in for good measure.
Working towards that, Cornejo is coming off a six round decision over unheralded Vanessa Rodriguez (3-2-1) in Cancun, Mexico, earlier this month. Cornejo’s original opponent, Angelica Lopez Flores (8-0, 5KO), fell out the week of the bout due to unreported reasons.
“I have been used to that,” Cornejo said in an exclusive interview with the 2MinRound Podcast. “It wasn’t my first rodeo not knowing who I was going to fight or not knowing her style. It was fine.”
Cornejo mentions the battle, a very particular one to female boxing, was more with a possible wardrobe malfunction in her fight against Rodriguez than anything she had in front of her actually throwing punches.
“It wasn’t really a fight with her; it was a fight against my breasts coming out. I made a mistake. I don’t have the experience to know what not to do, what to do, things I wasn’t able to learn in the amateurs. This was the first time not wearing a double bra so I learned a huge lesson. If I would have been fighting somebody else, I probably would have not come out with the victory because my mind wasn’t there at the fight. I was more worried about my bra adjustment from round one. Once in the corner I wanted to tell my coach Joel Diaz to tape me all around but I wasn’t sure if that was legal. I learned a huge lesson, it was the big mistake. I kick myself for it because I was disgusted for my performance. It was disrespect to my trainer, my team, and for something so non-boxing, it was just a mistake of a bra. I knew what I could have done and I had to focus on something else.”
In early summer Cornejo was expected to face the aforementioned Adler as the mandatory challenger. As she waited for the official announcement, shock instead of elation went through her mind when the former Olympian Shields was announced as the next opponent for the previously unbeaten former champion from Germany.
“I have no idea. What was said to me before wasn’t done, I don’t expect anything,” Cornejo says of the change. “I am just going to take whatever fight they put in front of me that my team and my promoter agree to. Right now we are in the middle of some negotiations so when that is done we will see where to go from there. In regards of the Nikki Adler and Claressa Shields fight, I say that was supposed to be my punching bag.”
Cornejo expressed happiness for the Shields vs Adler championship bout to have been in the United States which shows the sport is on an upswing in the country.
“I’m glad that bout was in the US. I am very happy for Claressa. It is amazing what she has accomplished. No other woman was born in the time, it was the right timing she was able to attend the Olympics. No other woman has ever been able to do that. It is awesome women are now able to go to the Olympics. Lucia Rijker, Mia St. John, other women before did not have the opportunity to create history and she did. That is amazing.”
Within her boxing journey, Cornejo found herself training in different gyms through the Los Angeles area but now has found a home a bit farther east, in the gym of former fighter Joel Diaz for her last two fights. Diaz, better known for taking Timothy Bradley to multiple world titles as his trainer, is considered one of the best coaches in the west coast with a vast stable of professional fighters.
“It has been awesome,” she says with a smile on her face. “I love it. It is all family. Everybody is good people; everybody wants to help each other become better. The mentality of the Diaz brothers is awesome; I feel I am learning from the best. I am very grateful for them accepting me. I am the only girl there.”
The future looks bright for popular Cornejo who despite not being signed to a promoter has been able to keep herself busy fighting five times in the last eighteen months. Much of that credit can be given to her manager Nancy Rodriguez.
“She has four opportunities right now,” Rodriguez said regarding her client’s immediate future. “As a team we need to discuss but she can fight for either the Silver or world title at 160 or the Silver or world title at 168. We need to see which weight she feels more comfortable at. We are under negotiations with a promotional company here in the states, a pretty big one, based in the west coast. We want to seal that before we move on to the next opponent.”
According to Rodriguez, the much anticipated fight between her charge and Shields could have happened much sooner than expected except for what was offered wasn’t enough.
“I did reject the offer to fight Claressa next because we are negotiating with a promotional company. I actually asked them to give me a week because we are in negotiations. There are 23 girls in their weight class so regardless of which promotional company they are with; they are going to have to face each other. I am sure it will be within the next six months to a year.”
“The date offered by the Shields camp was in early December,” Rodriguez continued. “It is actually a conflict because if it all works out with the ongoing negotiations, Maricela has been promised a fight in late November in New York under their banner. Showtime was not mentioned to me and the offer was pretty low so I am thinking it was just a local title defense.”
The fight could be so big for her, for me and for women’s boxing. Why would we take it in a ballroom?” referring to the last venue where Shields fought in the MGM Grand in Detroit, MI. “It can be so much bigger and we could gain so much for her hard work and my hard work.”
Despite campaigning north of 160 pounds for her whole career, the hard working Cornejo states she is willing to move to any weight class where a fight is offered including the super welterweight division.
“It has to make sense,” Cornejo said. “Whatever gives me a respectable number. If somebody is offering me crap obviously I am going to have to make a little bit harder to make that weight so everything has to make sense.”
“I believe she can make 154 and Mari does too,” Rodriguez said. “In New Zealand I saw her make 160 easy. I think it would be a huge advantage at 154 and there are more fights out there. At the end of the day it is at the weight she feels comfortable at. At the end of the day I think she is stronger at 160.”
At the end it all goes back to the possible Shields fight and despite the disparity in overall experience, Cornejo says she is ready, willing and able to face Shields the sooner the better.
“In the fight I will not back down,” Cornejo said. “I think she said and I have heard others say it as well, the level of competition will bring out the best in you. If they could hand over a respectable number and get the fight somewhere where the fans can also enjoy it and make it so much bigger than just fighting in a ballroom, I would take it. It is not just my decision, I have a team behind me and just like they respect my work, I have to respect their work as well and it all has to make sense. Now or later I’m fine with it.”
(Photo by Al Applerose)