She stings like a bee: why a former national champion is turning pro

Raquel Miller works the heavy bag like a full-time job. (Courtesy of Raquel Miller)

Q&A with boxer Raquel Miller

By Grant Miller

Raquel Miller was the greatest-or at least she was in 2012, when she was the welterweight U.S. national boxing champion.

Miller hoped to qualify for the Olympics then and again last November, when she finished third at the Olympic team trials. The silver lining: middleweight boxing champion Steven Nelson dropped to one knee and proposed to her in the ring that day.

This spring the 31-year-old plans to go pro.


Miller takes a selfie with Nelson. (Courtesy of Raquel Miller)

Miller traveled a long journey to reach this point, one that started with getting into more than 50 brawls while growing up in San Francisco.

“School, outside, parties,” she said. “You name it, I was fighting.”

Miller had the desire to box but not always the right circumstances. At 19, she picked up boxing but quit after two months when the trainers at her gym wouldn’t let her spar. Three years later, she tried again but stopped after, she said, a trainer “came onto” her. At 23, she had surgery on her foot, and at 24, she had surgery on her wrist and gained 50 pounds from inactivity.

But she never gave up on her dream to fight in a real boxing match.

In 2010, while working as a legal secretary, she returned to the gym, lost the weight and won her first amateur fight. The next year, she placed first at the Desert Showdown in Palm Desert, California, after dropping from 165 pounds to 152 pounds literally overnight using what she described as “a lot of water and a lot of prayer.”

After that, she won silver at the Women’s World Championships.

In a phone conversation from her San Diego home, she discussed her attempt to represent Ghana in the Olympics, her experience as a female boxer, and her views on the opportunities for women boxers in the United States. Excerpts:

Q: I understand you were quite the fighter growing up in San Francisco. What was your record outside of the ring?

I’m undefeated outside the ring.

Q: And you fought at welterweight to beat Danyelle Wolf 10-5 and win the 2012 U.S. Nationals. You’re 5-foot-8. She’s 5-foot-11. What was it like fighting her?

She honestly doesn’t fight really tall. She fights like crouched down. I don’t know if that makes sense, but it didn’t seem like she was that tall when I fought her. I think she had a problem fighting someone who knew how to move and box. It was fun for me, and I got to execute my game plan.

Q: So why did you try to represent Ghana for the 2016 Summer Olympics?

I felt like, as an African-American woman, there was no better place to represent than Africa. You can have the choice of applying for any boxing federation. I felt like tying back to my roots. [Editor’s note: Miller found a connection to Ghana through her aunt’s marriage, and she’s still looking for biological ties.] It was powerful for me and important. I hear so much about Africans not being accepting of our culture there. I felt empowered that they even allowed me the opportunity because I’ve always wanted to go back to Africa, but sometimes I feel like we’re the only race that has a disconnect to our heritage and ancestry. Latinos can go back to El Salvador or Honduras. They can go back to where their ancestors are from and compete. I feel like with the disconnect between African-Americans and Africans, we have a hard time doing that. But countries in Africa are open to letting you represent them.

Q: But you won’t be competing for Ghana this summer. Why not?

[The International Boxing Association] denied my request. They said because I had competed with USA internationally in the last two years, that I wasn’t able to change my federation for at least another two years. If you’re an elite boxer, and you’ve had the opportunity to represent your country, then they will not allow you to represent another country, but if you never competed at the high level, you can. I feel like it’s a way to prevent the elite boxers from having other opportunities.

Q: Any regrets?

I think if I had the chance to do it over, I might have stopped competing for Team USA and represented Ghana sooner.

Q: What in the sport of boxing do you think can be done better for female fighters?

Give us equal opportunities. There’s no reason why, as a woman, you should have to cram into three weight classes when the men have 10 weight classes. [Editor’s note: The Olympic games only allows women to compete at flyweight, 112 pounds; lightweight, 132 pounds; and middleweight, 165 pounds]. That’s unfair because it makes our chances to make our Olympic dreams harder. There’s no doubt in my mind, if I was fighting at 152, that I would be in the Olympics. No excuses, but there’s politics in the sport, and everyone’s competing for these smalls spots. Then you turn around on the pro level, and there’s no opportunities in the U.S. It feels unfair, but if I’m not one of the trailblazers, and if I don’t say enough is enough, then who will?

That’s why a lot of women don’t go pro. You have men who have less experience than I do who can get signed. [Then] you have women like me who have a lot of amateur experience who have no support. You have promoters like Al Haymon, Oscar De La Hoya, Top Rank, who don’t support women fighters at all. They don’t even put women on the card, but you have these guys who get opportunities because they’re men. So you don’t even want to represent the U.S. because why? You want to fight overseas because my country doesn’t support me.

I thank God that I’ve been blessed with good men in my life like my coaches and my gym. They don’t look at me like a female fighter, but a lot of women don’t have that. There are other promoters who are inappropriate and don’t want to support you unless you want to mess around. So it’s like, what do you do? Who do I reach out to? Who can support me on the way to the next level? There’s a lot of female boxers, but they’re not out in the mainstream.

Q: By the way, congrats on the engagement to Steven Nelson. When is the wedding date?

Thank you. We’re thinking sometime next year. We don’t have a date set in stone. We keep going back and forth on the destination because our families are in different parts of the country. We don’t feel like we’re rushing into anything. We’re just excited.

Q: Any plans on taking him to Ghana at some point?

You know, given the opportunity, he wanted to compete for Ghana with me. We’re thinking of going to Ghana this summer. I’ve been in communication with the President and told him I still want to come and teach a boxing clinic, get to know the people of Ghana, and build those relationships. I’ve been bugging Steven to please come, and he’s excited and more than willing to come with me.

I just want to leave my legacy and say I’m more than just a boxer.

Photo at top: Miller works the heavy bag like a full-time job.(Courtesy of Raquel Miller)