LAS VEGAS – Maricela Cornejo is living a dream, and that she’s alive and on the verge of a world championship only makes her story that much more amazing.
It wasn’t that long ago that Cornejo, who for years had been tormented by a sexual assault as a five-year-old child that she told no one about, was sitting on the floor of the kitchen in her home, fondling a knife.
Like many victims of sexual abuse, she kept her story secret and blamed herself. A recurring nightmare ran through her head, and she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, tell anyone about it.
It was so much to bear, it seemed for a moment that the only way to find peace was to plunge that knife into her body and end it all.
She’d been through so much and anything that could make the hurt and the pain go away seemed like a better alternative.
She developed a drug addiction and spent time in jail. It was as low as she could possibly go.
Now, she feels like a winner. She fights Franchon Crews Dezurn Thursday night at the Hard Rock Hotel for the WBC women’s super middleweight title in what might be one of the most rags-to-riches stories in a sport built on rags-to-riches stories.
“I have been through a lot in my life and had a lot of hard times, very difficult times,” she said. “But if I can inspire someone by my story, I feel like it will all have been worth it.”
Cornejo might be one of boxing’s most unlikely champions ever. She began to fight not because she dreamed of becoming the next Lucia Rijker or the next Christy Martin, but rather because she wanted to lose some weight to prepare for a small part she’d gotten in a movie.
As fate would have it, she bought five sessions for $100 apiece at Freddie Roach’s Wild Card Gym in California. She discovered that she not only liked to fight, but that she was good at it.
That set her off on a journey which landed her in Las Vegas, where she’ll challenge Crews Dezurn. She had only four amateur fights before turning pro, and fought Kali Reis on April 16, 2016, in New Zealand for the middleweight title, in just her sixth bout.
She threw herself into boxing, moving first to Los Angeles and then to Las Vegas, where she trained at the Mayweather Boxing Club. Later, she moved to Miami.
“I decided that I wanted to be a boxer and it didn’t make much sense to not give everything I had to it,” she said. “I just moved around to try to learn as much as I can.”
When she lived in Las Vegas, members of Floyd Mayweather’s “The Money Team,” would invite her to join the group and go out. She would routinely decline, because her only focus was on making herself the best she could be.
It was a military-style existence, moving from city to city, pushing one’s body to the limit and not having the benefit of family or friends around for comfort and support.
“I wouldn’t change my story because it’s made me who I am,” she said. “I gave everything I have to this to become the best version of me.”
Tonight, she’ll get the chance to unveil to the world what those years of toil in the shadows did for her, and hopefully, will inspire others to believe in themselves.
“That I’m here now and in this kind of a fight, I’m an example of what you can do if you believe in yourself and you dedicate yourself to something,” she said. “That’s a message a lot of people, especially kids, need to hear.”
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