All Liz Parr Wanted to Do Was Box in the Olympics, But That Dream Was Knocked Out
Liz Q. Parr’s professional boxing career lasted all of three rounds, ending in a technical knockout after the ringside physician advised the referee to stop the fight.
Afterward, according to boxing newsite The Sweet Science, Roy Engelbrecht, the promoter who staged the bout, shook his head and said of Liz, “She just may be too good. Nobody is going to want to fight her.” The prediction sounded promising at the time.
The year was 2007. Liz was 23 and hungry for a world title.
The Mexican-American bruiser from South Gate had gone pro after spending more than five years duking it out in the amateurs. Measuring in at 5 feet, 10 inches, with a nose-breaking left jab, she was a force to be reckoned with, winning four consecutive U.S. National Women’s Amateur Boxing gold medals.
The sport become a near obsession for Liz in high school. After stints on the volleyball and tennis teams, she joined the weightlifting team, which met after school. But when her dad, who she describes as “really old school,” found out she was the only girl among a bunch of boys in the weight room, he forbade her from ever going back.
“I was absolutely devastated,” she says.
As a compromise, her dad began taking her to a boxing gym at Rosewood Park in Commerce.
“He would only take me the days he played handball, but once it started to get serious he had to take me everyday,” Liz says.
After a few months, she convinced Robert Luna, one of the coaches, to train her.
“I need to fight,” she told him.
Because there weren’t very many female boxers around the gym, she found herself mostly sparring with the male pugs. Having grown up with three brothers, she wasn’t one to shrink away.
Even when men made misogynistic comments such as “Wouldn’t you rather be a ring girl?” her attitude was always to shrug it off and let her gloves do the talking.
Adversity fueled her fire.
It was fitting then that Liz’s first-ever fight was against a woman 15 pounds heavier than her.
“That’s a huge difference in boxing,” she says. “It’s a completely different weight class, and it might have even been two weight classes.”
In order to qualify, Liz weighed in with all her clothes on and coins in her pockets.
By her account, the match was a sloppy one, more like a street fight.
Regardless, she pulled out an easy victory in three rounds. Asked how it felt, she says, “Fucking amazing. I was addicted.”
But her addiction became increasingly hard to feed. Being a welterweight of such a large stature, it was a constant struggle to find local women to fight.
“If there were any girls my weight, and if they found out how tall I was, then their coaches would say no.”
To stay competitive, the fight-thirsty scrapper had no choice but to enter tournaments.
In 2002, at the age of 17 and fresh out of high school, she competed in her first U.S. Nationals in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She had only six fights under her belt and a record of 5-1. All the fighters she faced had much more experience than her, boxers from places like New York where there was a larger pool of female fighters to face-off against.
Even with the odds against the young upstart, Liz showed she was up to snuff, managing to make it to the 147-pound final where she faced Atlanta-based boxer Natalie Brown.
It was a close match but after the final bell rang, Liz was pretty sure she’d won. When the scores were tallied, she was thrown for a loop. She’d lost by a single point and came away with the silver.
“I was really pissed off,” she huffs.
After the loss, she recalls Luna telling her that she would only win from then on, that she would never get silver again.
And she didn’t. She won gold at the Nationals the next four years in a row and was ranked No. 1 in the country. She qualified for the U.S. national team and got to go abroad with them, fighting in places like India, Taiwan and Norway.
“I had to buy a passport. It was my first time out of the country,” she says.
One of her most memorable fights was in 2003, when she beat world champion Irina Sinetskaya in her hometown of Moscow.
But throughout her amateur career, what she wanted more than anything else was to be an Olympian. There was only one small problem: Women’s boxing had never been included in the Olympic program.
When the International Olympic Committee decided to exclude the sport in the 2004 Games in Greece, even after much petitioning, Liz remained optimistic. She’d heard there was a good chance the 2008 Games in China would be the lucky year for her sport. By that time she’d be 24, still a competitive age.
What’s more, the Olympics had already allowed women to compete in judo, wrestling, and taekwondo.
So when women’s boxing was blackballed again in the 2008 Games—becoming the only sport of the 26 total that year not to include women—she was crushed.
“I waited, I waited, I waited. It fucking never happened. It was like going to university for a really long time and them saying, ‘Sorry you can’t have your diploma.’ ”
The day the decision came down was one of the worst days of her life, Liz remembers.
“Your life is passing you by and you’re growing up. I was like, ‘I can’t live at my mom and dad’s forever.’ ”
She was splitting her time between a minimum wage job at a flower shop and the gym, training for 3 1/2 hours a day, barely able to make ends meet.
She couldn’t wait another four years. She took a calculated risk and decided to go pro.
After winning her first professional fight, Liz was unable to find suitable opponents who were willing to face her. Those with a few pro fights would find out about her extensive amateur record and turn down the bout. Her other choice was to offer herself up as a sacrificial punching bag to an experienced fighter who would relish the chance to beat an up-and-comer.
“It was a catch-22. I either got no fights or had to fight women who had 40-something fights. It was just a big fucking circus.”
What promoter Roy Engelbrecht had said at the end of Liz’s first professional fight had not been hyperbole but prophecy.
The long hours of training and working out, mornings and nights, finally began catching up with her. By then she’d also picked up another job at a Beverly Hills gym as a physical trainer.
One day in her boss’s office, she broke down crying, not from sadness but from utter exhaustion. She went on this way for a few months. With no potential fights on the horizon and struggling to pay the bills, her back was up against the ropes.
To add insult to injury, she’d heard the Olympic Committee had finally included women’s boxing in the 2012 London Olympics. But going pro had disqualified her from ever being part of the national team. She cried for two days straight when she learned of the news.
Her boxing career had flatlined.
“I woke up one morning and felt like throwing myself off a balcony, and I was like, ‘That’s not normal,’ ” Liz says.
Finally, she threw in the towel. She stopped working out cold turkey. She didn’t lift a weight or throw a punch for three years. For the first time in her life she did a lot of T.V. Watching. It was nice to take a break from the gym, she says, but eventually she started feeling restless and getting violent nightmares. Something wanted to get out.
In 2013, Liz started working at the Long Beach United Boxing Club where today she manages the gym, teaches classes and holds private training sessions.
Nine years after her first and only professional fight, Liz, now 31, finds herself at a crossroads. For the last few years, she’s entertained the idea of getting back in the game.
“I feel like I have some unfinished business in my chest,” she says.
Liz admits it’s still hard for her to watch women’s boxing on T.V. or even look at the medals and trophies she’s earned, which are displayed in her mom’s home. In her head there’s still a big blank space in her boxing career that was never filled.
Her husband Yas hopes she decides to lace up and climb into the ring again. He was supposed to fly in on the day of Liz’s first professional fight but changed his flight last minute, afraid he’d be a distraction. He never got another chance to see her in action.
On the other hand, Liz has dreams of opening up her own gym and sees herself settling into the role of a trainer, bringing up a world champion fighter from scratch. And then there are the maternal urges to contend with.
“I know that if I pop one out, that’s the end. How will I ever have time to do anything?”
She’s not quite sure what road she’ll take but knows the count’s nearing eight on a comeback.
“If I don’t decide by this year,” Liz says, “It’s done.”
Editor’s Note: This story was first published March 2, 2016