EXCLUSIVE: Boxing manager and promoter Kellie Maloney on hoping to put the past behind her, being 'the new kid on the block' and bidding to make history with an all-women's card headlined by Northern Ireland's Cathy McAleer
When Kellie Maloney announced she was the new manager and promoter of Northern Ireland's only female boxer Cathy McAleer, many eyebrows were raised.
The 67-year-old, who is best known for guiding former undisputed champion Lennox Lewis to global stardom in the 1990s, was one of the most vocal voices against women in the sport back then.
Britain's first fully-licensed female boxer Jane Couch spoke to NewsChain in October about the back and forth she had with Maloney over women in the sport.
And prior to her gender transition from Frank to Kellie, Maloney said in an interview in 1998: "I think it is absolutely disgusting that women are being allowed to fight. If anything happens during a women's fight there will be calls for a ban and all those left-wing, do-gooder lesbians who have been fighting Jane Couch's case will be the first to complain.
"The only women you'll find in a ring at one of my fights are very pretty ring-card girls."
Now, in an exclusive NewsChain interview, Maloney reflects on what happened back then, and explains how she feels about the views she expressed and how they have changed.
She said: “At the time when my comments were made, women’s boxing was hardly fashionable, women’s football wasn’t fashionable, women in any sport wasn’t fashionable.
“And you still see it today. Women boxers aren’t topping the bills on TV. I didn’t realise there are quite a few women’s fighters now, you hardly ever hear of them unless you’re a Katie Taylor or Nicola Adams."
Maloney issued an apology on social media recently to the 'female boxers she had no time for in the 80s and 90s', a peace offering that was batted away by Couch and fellow ex-boxer Cathy Brown.
And while Maloney is driven to correct her past mistakes, she recognises some things are beyond her control.
“There’s nothing I can do about that (Couch and Brown rejecting her apology). They’re not going to affect my life and I’m not going to affect their life.
"Time moves on. People that hold grudges are far worse than the people who can stand up and admit they were wrong. It was a different era, a different person, a different time, in different circumstances.”
“I’m motivated by achievements and putting things right in my life. So, I took on all the big promoters and won against all the odds with Lennox Lewis.
“Now I want to be the first promoter to promote an all women’s boxing show. That’s my ambition for this year, which would probably take place in Belfast with Cathy hopefully topping the bill for a title."
Maloney was contacted by McAleer via Twitter for some advice on her career, before the relationship developed to the point where Maloney was asked to become a full-time member of the team.
But the decision to get back involved in boxing was one Maloney took time to think over, given the stress-induced heart attack she suffered and the death of her fighter Darren Sutherland back in 2009.
But, after much deliberation, she agreed to return to the boxing scene.
"I said even though I’m out of boxing, there is something intriguing me here.
"So I took 48 hours to think about things. I spoke to my daughters, because they know the stress I went through before with the heart attack I had due to boxing, the death of Darren Sutherland, injuries to a couple of my boxers - and they said since I’ve been out of boxing I’ve been a totally relaxed chilled person.
“I jokingly said ‘I can get back into boxing or I can go into I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’, and they instantly said ‘I think you should do the boxing'!"
Maloney will be both manager and promoter to McAleer, although she is currently waiting for her Irish promoter's licence.
McAleer is an accomplished fighter having won world titles in karate, kickboxing and MMA.
Now, at the age of 42, she is looking to pursue a dream of securing a boxing world championship belt, a journey which starts on February 22 at the Holte Suite inside Aston Villa FC's ground Villa Park.
And the Belfast-born boxer's promoter is confident she can go far in the sport despite age not being on her side.
“I have not seen Cathy box, so until I see her box on the 22nd of February I am making no assessments," said Maloney. "But I believe what she has achieved and with her determination she can go quite a long way in women’s boxing.
“I see this as a long-term operation. We’ve signed a three-year contract and I believe as long as I do my job right and Cathy can fight how I think she can fight, I think she can go a long way.
“I don’t think age matters in women’s boxing because she’s not got the wear and tear that you get in men’s boxing. She hasn’t had a hard amateur career. She hasn’t been beaten up a load of times.
“She’s young in her outlook and in her looks and she’s a very fit lady and mentally strong. So, she can turn her age to her advantage."
As Maloney looks to try and bring more interest to women's boxing in her new found role as an ambassador for females in the game, she also criticised the media for their coverage of the sport.
“For the first time in years I bought Boxing Monthly and Boxing News," she said. "I went through them and in Boxing Monthly there were two very small pieces about two women boxers, one about Savannah (Marshall) and one about an overseas boxer.
"But there were no features on women’s boxing, no women boxers in the ratings pages, that’s why I bought it to read.
“Now, if the trade magazine is not covering women’s boxing, how can they expect it to grow?
“People attack me from the 80s and 90s. Well now we’re in 2020 and they’re still not giving it the coverage it deserves if it’s a growing sport.”
For Maloney, her rejuvenated career in boxing feels like a new start despite her decades in the sport.
And while she is looking forward to the challenges which come with being a promoter without a broadcast deal, she is aware she will not be able to rely on some of her old negotiating tactics.
“I’m learning all over again," she said. "I’m now one of these small hall people starting in boxing again.
“I can’t throw my weight around like I used to. I can’t bully people into agreeing to deals because I’ve got nothing to offer them anymore. I’m like the new kid on the block.”