Feb. 10, 2012
SOMERVILLE, Mass. — If you know anything about boxing, you know the Somerville Boxing Club. It first opened its doors in 1978 and produced some of the city’s best boxers, including a world heavyweight champion. A few years back, the club fell on hard times, couldn’t make the rent and closed, leaving a hole in the young, aspiring boxing community. But now the Somerville Boxing Club is back — with a secret weapon that could earn it another world title.
Step inside the newly reopened space and it’s like the boys' club of old: speed bags spinning, punching bags swaying and shirtless men jabbing at thin air.
But when one fighter takes the ring, the entire gym stands still. This isn’t just any fighter. She is 16-year-old Rashida Ellis and she’s taking the boxing world by storm. Undefeated, Ellis is snatching away titles from women twice her age and at the height of their careers.
“I won the USA New England Championship. I beat the number one girl in the U.S. The girl was 30 that I fought. Liz Leddy. She was 30,” said Ellis, laughing.
She said she’s always been a tomboy, playing football when she was younger and tagging along when her older brother took up boxing. But it was her behavior in school that landed her in the ring.
“My dad, he just saw me fighting in school and then he was like, you need to come to the gym. So he brought me and that’s how it started,” she said.
Every day, Ellis travels from Lynn to train at the Somerville Boxing Club in the basement of the Edgerly School. Over the years, the club's location has often changed, but it’s always been a safe haven for inner-city youth, including one famed boxer, John “The Quiet Man” Ruiz.
“We had taken this kid from Somerville Boxing Club all the way to the heavyweight championship of the world, which is an unbelievable feat in itself to get that — the ultimate prize,” said Ruiz’s long-time manager and trainer Norman “Stoney” Stone. He now runs the boxing club and said when he looks at Ellis, he sees history repeating itself.
“She’s unbelievable. She’s going to be a world champion,” said Stoney. “She’s going to be a world champion.”
She’ll have her chance to be national champion when she competes in Colorado at the end of February. If she wins, she’ll be the youngest female national champion ever and will head to China for the world championship. She was two months too young to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.
“I feel good that I can do this because I train with boys. That’s why I’m like this now,” said Ellis.
With a punch that can level almost any opponent, Ellis and the Somerville Boxing Club could see another title come their way in the next few weeks.