Have you ever thought that boxing is just a male sport?
Well, don’t say that to Brooklyn-born professional boxer Vanessa Greco, because you might wind up with a fist in your face!
“Women have been boxing for years,” said Greco. “If you look back to the early 1900s, women have been boxing. It just hasn’t been recognized as a sport.”
What started out as an activity for self-defense has evolved into a way of life for Greco. The Bensonhurst/Bay Ridge native and current Park Slope resident has been boxing for 14 years and turned pro in November, 2007.
Growing up, she made her first communion at Regina Pacis parish, Bensonhurst, and was confirmed at St. Dominic’s Church, Bensonhurst. Greco later went to New Utrecht H.S., Bensonhurst.
Starting in 1998, she was interested in kickboxing and began training with her coach, Lee Shabaka, who saw potential in her as a boxer and began training her for a career in the ring. Come 2001, Greco focused solely on boxing.
“Boxing has made me a different person,” Greco said. “I think it’s made me a better person. Boxing gives you more discipline in your life.”
Her year-round training schedule involves a great deal of cardiovascular exercises to build endurance, spring classes to improve flexibility and shadow boxing and sparring to prepare for the feeling of being between the ropes.
Enjoys the Challenge
“As time goes on and you keep training and sparring, it gets in your blood,” said Greco. “I like the challenge of the sport. I feel that with boxing, you can be more versatile than you can be with kickboxing.”
Boxing is the definition of a contact sport, so having a mental toughness has come in handy for Greco. She feels she has an extra edge due to her Brooklyn background.
“Growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, you had to be able to defend yourself,” she said. “There are people that if they know they can abuse you, they will abuse you everyday.”
Though being tough in the ring is important, boxing also requires an intense skill set. A casual fan may not appreciate the intricacies associated with the sport.
“A lot of people see boxing as a brutal sport…people just going in there and punching each other,” said Greco. “But that’s not really what it is. That’s why they call it the ‘sweet science.’”
For boxers like Greco, this science involves the act of hitting someone without being hit themselves. While the average person may just see a flurry of punches, a trained boxing eye can spot all the techniques that make the sport great.
In fact, boxing is a form of martial arts, which stands for the “art of war.” In addition to being a healthy activity, the sport also pits one fighter against another in the field of combat.
Appreciation of Violence
“In my eyes, if more people did some kind of martial arts, I feel like there would be less violence in the world,” Greco said. “Once you know what it’s like to be at war one-on-one with someone, you don’t want to get into unnecessary confrontation.”
Though this combative nature can turn boxing into a violent sport, it hasn’t stopped Greco. Not only is she confident with her skills in the ring, but her passion for boxing trumps any risk for injury.
“If you’re going to be worried about getting in the ring and getting hurt, you’re better off not getting in the ring,” she said.
From the beginning, Greco was inspired by Mike Tyson’s style of boxing. Though her style as a boxer/puncher differs from Tyson’s reputation as a bruiser, Greco still tries to emulate Tyson’s moves.
“He (Tyson) was so explosive and so exciting to watch,” said Greco. “He was definitely my favorite fighter.”
Greco considers herself an unpredictable fighter and will respond to whatever her opponent throws her way. She relies on her overhand right punch and body shots to give her the upper hand in competition.
Before turning pro, Greco experienced much success as an amateur boxer. She is a National Golden Gloves champion (2003), a three-time New York Golden Gloves champion, a three-time Empire State champion and a two-time Metro champion.
Though her most memorable win was her first-ever victory at the National Golden Gloves, the highlights of her amateur career have been the times she’s boxed at Madison Square Garden. Every year, the championships of the New York Golden Gloves – which features boxers from the five boroughs and Long Island – are held at the world’s most famous arena.
“It’s exciting for people just to go to the Garden, but when you’re actually being featured in the Garden…how many people can say they were featured at anything in the Garden?” Greco said.
Since she’s a professional, Greco is no longer eligible to compete in the Golden Gloves. However, she is the assistant coach and team captain of Team Freeform – a six-member boxing team based out of Green Fitness Studio, Bushwick. Greco has been a boxing trainer at the studio for the past eight months.
Team Freeform started fighting in the New York Golden Gloves Jan. 19, with Greco providing ringside assistance and coaching. The championships of the tournament will once again be held at the Garden in late March/early April.
Life as a professional boxer differs greatly from being an amateur. As a pro, Greco is responsible for finding a promoter and arranging her own fights. She’s fought two pro fights and is currently looking for a third.
But even so, it’s the balance of competition and recreation that keeps Greco motivated. She’s been asked if she truly likes boxing to which she always responds: “You don’t let somebody punch you in the face if you don’t like it.”
So if you’re still thinking boxing is only a male sport, why don’t you spend a few minutes in the ring with Greco? She’d be happy to knock some sense into you!