Photo Courtesy of Chronicle
OLSON IN A RING OF HER OWN
THE HISTORY of American boxing champions and the history of American immigration have beaten congruent paths.
Ethnic groups at the bottom of the American socioecomonic spectrum have historically sent forth fighters to achieve both individual and group acceptance in the American mainstream by winning championship belts.
Irish boxers dominated American pugilism in its early years, during the transition from bare-knuckle to modern gloved fighting.
Immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe supplanted the Irish throughout the first half of the 20th century as Slavs, Jews and Italians dominated the sport, much as blacks and Latins have done in the second half of the 20th century, and on up to the present.
What all those groups had in common was lack of opportunity and a hunger to succeed.
Who is the next group to make it big in boxing?
They have certainly lacked mainstream opportunity in regard to the sport. And some, like San Mateo County's Eliza Olson, most definitely display the hunger.
Women's boxing goes all the way back to London in the 1720s, but has been coming on like a sledgehammer in America since 1996, when Christy Martin won the first women's fight on pay per view. Leila Ali gave the sport a recognizable name when she turned
pro in 1999. Now there's a local rooting interest on the boxing scene for County fans. Olson, who graduated from Capuchino High in 1994, has gone 7-3-2 as a pro. She's already had three title bouts with two ending in controversial losses and a third in a hard-fought draw.
Her last time out, Olson dropped a unanimous decision to Agnieszka Rylik on April 10 in Manchester, England, for the WBF Junior Welterweight title.
To hear Olson tell it, the fix was in.
"Her boyfriend was the promoter," Olson said. "She ran away from me. In the sixth round she actually ran through the ropes, and that's something I'd never seen before."
Olson is the granddaughter of Carl "Bobo" Olson, the former middleweight champion and a legendary fight figure in the 1950s. Olson, dubbed the "Hawaiian Swede" even though he was primarily of Portuguese descent, fought many of the greats of the time, including Sugar Ray Robinson on four occasions. He won the title in 1953 with a win over Randy Turpin.
Eliza grew up with boxing. Her dad, Carl Jr., has worked in her corner.
"I feel like I'm in his footsteps," Eliza said of Bobo Olson. "I'm an inside fighter like my grandfather. He was a great body puncher. I have a great uppercut. A lot of girls aren't used to fighting inside. When they get hit in the chin, they're not a happy camper."
She lists Marvin Hagler, Boom Boom Mancini and Julio Cesar Chavez among her favorite fighters: "Fighters who were fighters, like 'Macho' Camacho when he was a kid, tough guys."
But don't get the idea from her comments that she's strictly a puncher.
"I am a boxer," she says, her voice getting serious and quiet, full of conviction.
That's because she loves the sport. To be typecast as a brawler without boxing skills cuts to the quick.
"Boxing for me is everything," she said. "It's spiritual, I love the competition. I'm a warrior, especially when it comes to physical competition."
Olson was a standout athlete at Capuchino, playing softball, soccer, basketball and track, and went to work as a plumber after high school. Boxing was never a viable opportunity. But that didn't stop her from working out, sometimes on the sly, on the speed bag and heavy bag at her home.
"I'd say I was doing the speed bag for rhythm and training for softball," Olson said.
She was a union plumber for four years before taking her father's advice and deciding to give boxing a try. She moved to Los Angeles to train with Freddy Roach, and after three months won her first fight.
Olson, who now trains in Redwood City under Eloy Ramirez, has had to travel far and wide for most of her fights. Before the Rylik fight she met Sunshine Fettkether in front of 5,000 fight fans in Kinder, La., for the IBA junior middleweight title.
That fight ended in a draw. One judge had the fight 96-94 for Olson, the other two had it 95-95.
So far Olson has been denied a world title. But she thinks her best days are still to come, that she'll be the second member of the Olson family to bring home a world title.
"Nobody's been able to kick my (butt)," Olson said. "I haven't seen anybody take it to me. I've only had 12 fights. I'm going to start knocking girls out.
"I love the sport, it's something in my heart. Nothing's going to stop me."
She's going to make another trip to Louisiana for her next fight on May 22. What she would really like would be to find a promoter interested in staging women's fights in San Francisco. There's some talk of that happening in June.
"I hope they start having fights in San Francisco, so I can be the hometown girl," Olson said. "It would be beautiful, an exciting and new experience. It would be a great idea. I would bring in a lot of people."