Jessica Camara Upsets Heather Hardy, Melissa St. Vil Outpoints Olivia Gerula, Kelsey Wickstrum Topples Stevie Jane Coleman on Ladies Fight Night in Tennessee

Camara with the big win!
September 13, 2019; New York, NY, USA; WBO featherweight champion Heather Hardy and Amanda Serrano during their bout at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA

In his song “Pony” off 1999’s Mule Variations album, Tom Waits sings about being “full of wonder when I left Murfreesboro.” Jessica Camara undoubtedly knows how that feels after scoring a major upset over Heather Hardy in the main event of DiBella Entertainment’s inaugural Ladies Fight series at the Embassy Suites this past weekend.

Truthfully, not a whole lot that happened last Friday evening followed the script. For starters, the card had been postponed from its original date and location due to Hardy battling an undisclosed “non-Covid-related illness.” Instead of taking place on April 23 in Tampa, Florida, the show was put on temporary hold then migrated 675 miles north on I-75 to cross through Georgia and into Tennessee. Somewhere along the way, the bout between Natalie Gonzalez and Carina Moreno got left on the side of the road to be heard of no more. Then, the day prior to fight night, former amateur star and recent DiBella signee Mikiah Kreps (1-0, 1 KO) failed to make weight which slammed the brakes on her much-anticipated scrap with Alex Love. 

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Downsized to three women’s bouts from what should have been five, Melissa St. Vil decisioned Olivia Gerula over eight rounds in what turned out to be the Ladies Fight curtain-raiser. St. Vil, the gregarious Haitian sensation fighting out of Brooklyn, soldiered on despite a head clash early on which resulted in a significant swelling of her left cheekbone, augmented by a nasty-looking hematoma on her forehead that grew in size from the third frame forward. 

Melissa employed lateral movement and a consistent work rate of punches in twos and threes to out hustle the aggressive Gerula, a 24-year ring veteran and one-time super-featherweight world champion whose resume reads like a who’s who of women’s boxing. Kathy Collins, Fredia Gibbs, Melissa Del Valle, Mia St. John, Jessica Rakoczy, Jelena Mrdjenovich (from whom Olivia won her world title)…need I go on? Ok, I will. Maureen Shea, Fujin Raika, Frida Wallberg, Ronica Jeffrey, Kaliesha West, Amanda Serrano, and Jennifer Han round out this incomplete rogues gallery comprising Gerula’s personal pugilistic history. Maybe this helps make sense of what on the surface appears to be a rather pedestrian 18-19-2 record. It’s actually anything but.  

The 42-year-old Canadian known as ‘The Predator’ had given serious consideration to retirement back in 2017, but the bruising business is a difficult one to walk away from even when a boxer’s own physical and cognitive well-being hangs precariously in the balance and Gerula has now fought—and lost—twice more. Melissa St. Vil improved her career ledger to 14-4-4 courtesy of her third consecutive victory. This was the second meeting between St. Vil and Gerula, but the only one with an official verdict. They had previously boxed one another in a televised exhibition in Lima, Peru back in 2010, an event which was enthusiastically received by the South American fight fans.    

Twenty-year-old Columbia, Connecticut native Stevie Jane Coleman was featured prominently in press releases leading up to the event promoting the professional debut of the 2020 New England Golden Gloves Champion who sparred with Katie Taylor in preparation. But, if a flawless transition from the amateur ranks to the big time was the master plan, no one bothered to notify Kelsey Wickstrum. Thirteen years Coleman’s senior, Wickstrum was similarly entering the prize ring for the first time. While she can’t boast the same amateur pedigree, Kelsey does come from a combat sports background, having competed in two MMA bouts even though both were first-round losses, knocked out and choked out within a span of six months in 2019. 

Trained by Cory Rhoades in her hometown of Redding, California, Wickstrum is a loving mother, healthcare provider, and bodybuilder whose rigorous workouts are made more demanding still due to the effects of iron deficiency anemia. The two novice welterweights fought a good deal of the six rounds from close quarters, trading body shots and check hooks with the aptitude of far more experienced boxers which made for an exciting and closely contested scrap. Judge Joshua Conway scored the bout a draw which seemed appropriate, but he was overruled by David Hudson and Aleta McDaniel, both of whom arrived at 58-56 verdicts in favor of Wickstrum.

Fan favorite and former WBO world featherweight champion Heather Hardy hadn’t been inside a boxing ring since suffering her first career defeat at the hands of Amanda Serrano nearly two years ago—twenty months, to be exact. The Ladies Fight main event was, for all intents and purpose, designed to be a celebratory comeback for the 39-year-old Brooklynite who was making her first foray into the lightweight division. But Jessica Camara had other ideas and rained on Hardy’s parade in Murfreesboro last Friday. 

It didn’t take long for things to heat up, as Heather decked Camara with a left hook a mere thirteen seconds into the fight. Competing in her first post-pandemic fight since getting lumped up in the process of dropping a narrow decision to Melissa St. Vil last February, Jessica not only quickly shook off the flash knockdown, but more or less assumed command from that point onward. 

Although little doubt was left to ringside observers and television viewers (the card was streamed on UFC Fight Pass) that Hardy sustained more punishment than she dealt out, Heather appeared visibly dismayed when hers was not the arm raised by referee Daniel Ziemba. Camara, now 8-2,  exhibited humility in victory, thanking Lou DiBella for the opportunity to share the ring with Hardy who has served as an inspiration to her.  

While Jessica Camara, Melissa St. Vil, and Kelsey Wickstrum all rose to the occasion, it is back to the drawing board for a disappointed but immensely talented Stevie Jane Coleman who no doubt will make the most of this learning experience. Heather Hardy and Olivia Gerula, meanwhile, both stand at a crossroads where each faces uncompromising truths that will inform life-altering decisions in the near future with regards to the continuation of their celebrated fistic careers. 

Back to where we started but with all this in mind, a road-weary Tom Waits growls, “I’ve seen it all boys. I’ve been all over. Been everywhere in the whole wide world.” Chasing our dreams is a relentless give and take. “I lived on nothin’ but dreams and train smoke. Somehow my watch and chain got lost,” Waits laments. Life takes its toll on all of us and we can only hope that it comes full circle with more contentment than regret. “I hope my pony, I hope my pony, I hope my pony knows the way back home.”

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