By: Stewart Flaherty
Alycia ‘The Bomb’ Baumgardner will have her first shot at world title gold on November 13th when she travels to Sheffield to face undefeated champion Terri ‘Belter’ Harper. Residing on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan. Baumgardner is no stranger to the industrial surroundings that Yorkshire’s ‘Steel City’ will provide.
It has been a winding road for Baumgardner to this point, one that has seen five different coaches (including one very famous man of the moment), personal tragedy, a change in nutrition habits, and unerring self-belief and discipline.
Baumgardner was introduced to the professional game under the tutelage of Marcos Dominguez. A red-hot prospect in 1969, southpaw Dominguez had a 22-18 professional record and built his skills training alongside world champions such as Bobby Chacon and Danny ‘Little Red’ Lopez.
Before her professional debut against Britain Hart in 2017, Baumgardner switched to a vegan lifestyle for the six weeks of training camp. “I loved the way my body felt and I felt an increase in energy, more mental clarity, not experiencing that brain fog,” said Baumgardner of the successful experiment. The Michigan based fighter also cited increased muscle tone and a leaner physique that started to show in only three weeks because of the diet shift.
It was a successful debut, with Baumgardner stopping Hart inside of one round and going on to reel off first-round victories over Wendy Toney, Lashanda Tabron, and Brittney Artis consecutively.
The vegan lifestyle remained, with Baumgardner maintaining a strict vegan lifestyle for an 18-month stretch. While primarily motivated by athletic performance, concerns over the highly processed meats served up in the modern-day food industry also played a part in the decision. Fish was incorporated into the diet as time progressed, with sugary sodas and juices avoided. “I rely on water, with coconut water being second,” said The Bomb of hydration sources.
In her fifth professional fight, Baumgardner had her first shot at silverware when she faced Nydia Feliciano for the WBC international super featherweight title and had some help from a very familiar face in the Boxing world.
Inside the walls of the world-renowned Kronk Gym, Baumgardner trained under the tutelage of Sugar Hill, the man who is currently guiding Tyson Fury to all-time great status in the heavyweight ranks.
“He’s a great trainer,” The Bomb said of Hill, “he taught me a lot about the sport of Boxing, the technical stuff. In boxing, you never stop learning.” Baumgardner cited footwork and strategy as the two greatest lessons learned from Hill, and both were on display as she won a unanimous decision over eight rounds. With trainer Johnathan Banks in her corner, The Bomb circled the ring, picking heavy-handed shots on her advancing opponent and claiming her first career belt in the process.
Banks himself was no stranger to the elite levels of the boxing world, having held the IBO world cruiserweight title before going on to train Wladimir Klitschko and later Gennady Golovkin after retirement.
Baumgardner followed up the Feliciano win with a split decision victory over Kirstie Simmons in Louisville, before returning to the Bluegrass state and dropping the WBC International strap to Christina Linardatou
After her only career setback, Baumgardner continued to improve, fine-tuning her diet and sharpening her skills ahead of this world title showdown in Sheffield.
The diet has switched from vegan, a lifestyle that includes no animal products whatsoever (excluding eggs, honey, and dairy) to plant-based, where the intake is 80% fruits and vegetables and the remainder primarily coming from organic meats and whole grains. Raw juices that include apple, ginger, and beets are also staples in the training camp routine.
“Being an athlete is all about performance,” said Baumgardner. “You make sure your body is top tier, and make sure you get the proper foods your body needs. This lifestyle gives me that option while adding back in some foods I enjoy.”
The boost in confidence that comes from a disciplined, trained mind is an added benefit of the lifestyle that Baumgardner believes can be of benefit to everybody. Other prominent figures like NFL quarterback Tom Brady are making plant-based eating a more mainstream concept, but you do not have to be an elite-level athlete to start feeling improvements.
“Take baby steps, reward yourself. Talk to yourself and encourage yourself,” said Baumgardner as advice for anyone looking to start from scratch in improving their nutritional habits. “Maybe don’t do dairy for a week and reward yourself on Friday. It’s OK if you fail and keep trying”
Not getting enough protein is a commonly cited potential flaw of plant-based eating, but as both Brady and Baumgardner say, whole grains like quinoa and vegetables such as broccoli can be significant sources of protein.
In her return to the ring after the Linardatou defeat, Baumgardner blew away Gabriella Mezei in 68 seconds, before meeting a man who would have a profound impact upon her career and be the first to speak into the universe the reality that will play out on November 13th.
“Do you train girl fighters?” Baumgardner asked when first meeting renowned trainer Ali Salaam. “I train fighters,” was the pointed reply.
A hard-working professional welterweight in the 1980s, Salaam registered an unspectacular professional record of 11-7 before retiring and having a much greater impact on the sport as a trainer.
Salaam invited Baumgardner into his gym to prepare for her 2019 points victory over Annette Pabello, which was followed by a clash with Cristina Del Valle Pacheco. Entering the contest in the “best shape of my life,” the Pacheco clash was preceded by a camp that The Bomb describes as “without doubt” the best of her career so far. Then WBC world junior middleweight champion Tony Harrison, the son of Salaam, shared the same camp as he prepared for his world title rematch with Jermell Charlo.
Before the Pacheco fight, Salaam inspired his young charge by telling her “you trained hard, you did everything the guys did.” Not a girl fighter, just a fighter in the eyes of her coach, a fired-up Baumgardner received a hug in the corner from Salaam before pinning her opponent against the ropes and landing vicious lefts and rights before referee Gary Rosato stepped in to end the contest.
The first-round stoppage of Pacheco was the third straight win for a high-flying Baumgardner, who was about to face some of the toughest challenges of her career before returning to the ring. With less than two months between the Pabello and Pacheco victories, it would be almost two years before The Bomb would step through the ropes again in competitive action.
First, the boxing world shut down due to the world COVID-19 pandemic, and then Baumgardner was forced to undergo surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee, then came the hardest blow of all. Salaam, the beloved mentor who spoke to her of one day winning the WBC world title and made her believe the day we are closing in on as a real possibility, was gone. Passing away from complications of the coronavirus, Salaam was mourned deeply by both Harrison and Baumgardner, having been a literal father figure to one, and a metaphorical one to the other.
After a 19-month wait, and now trained by LJ Harrison, also the son of Salaam, Baumgardner returned to the ring in Orlando and outpointed Vanessa Bradford to set up the upcoming world title shot against Harper.
“We’re ready, we’re made for the big stage, I’m made for the challenge I accepted. Terri Harper was the one I wanted,” stated Baumgardner while also praising promoter Eddie Hearn for his dedication to raising the profile of women’s boxing.
“I wish coach was here to witness this!! I ain’t forget our talks though,” said Baumgardner on her Twitter account of the beloved Salaam. Few people will forget the name of Baumgardner if she achieves her goal and leaves Sheffield this weekend with a nice gold-plated reward for her discipline in and out of the ring.
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