boxer in corner
Image: Bryce Boyer

ON AUGUST 13, 2009, QUEEN UNDERWOOD was working as a sprinkler fitter in Seattle when she got the news that women’s boxing would be a medal sport at the 2012 Olympics. She called everyone in her cellphone, and work went out the window. Underwood has been training as an amateur fighter for 10 years, and this summer the 27-year-old Seattle native is the odds-on favorite to bring home gold for the U.S. in the 132-pound weight class. First she’ll have to fight through the Olympic trials in Spokane this February, but no one, including Underwood, is worried about that. This is, after all, a fighter whose motto is “Can’t stop, won’t stop.”

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I get a lot of people who say, “Your name’s not Queen. What’s your real name?” Actually, it’s Quanitta. A friend of mine gave me the nickname in school, and it stuck. But now I always tell people my name is Queen. And, come on, it just works to say “queen of the ring.”

You win and you lose. Someday, someone will take the crown away from you. But that’s not going to happen anytime soon for me. Everybody else is gonna have to wait.

I try not to get so psyched for a fight that I get angry. One person tried to explain to me that when you get in the ring it’s supposed to be your celebration, it’s your time to show everybody what you can do. You shouldn’t feel super anxious or super aggressive. You should just be ready to dance in the ring. Someday I hope that I can make it more like a celebration, but right now it’s more like a I gotta do this, I have to win kind of thing.

I love it when a fight starts to turn. We’re so protected by the headgear that when you hit somebody you don’t really feel their jaw move. You see their head go back, so that’s something. But once you see their nose start to bleed or their legs get weak, that’s when you start to feel powerful. You think, This is my fight now.

You leave it all in the ring. Walking down those steps after the bout, your legs are shaking and you’re just like, I want to make it down without falling. That’s my big fear: being so nervous beforehand that you trip up the steps or being so fatigued after the fight that you fall down them.

You have to be able to transform. There’s Queen Underwood, the queen of the ring, and then there’s just Queen. I’m not really that fierce and mean person outside of the ring. I’m laughing, I’m joking around. So I guess if you met me outside of the gym, you wouldn’t be able to tell I box just by talking to me. But looking at my physique, you’d be like, “Girl, what do you do? You must do something.”

When I look in the mirror I feel like a girl. I know it’s a tough sport, but that won’t change my definition of being a female. I’m just a tough girl.

Anybody who says that boxing is a man’s sport hasn’t witnessed a female fight. And with the Olympics coming up, they’re soon to be shown that it’s not just a man’s sport, because they’re going to see some girls actually kicking butt. And because we’re not going to be wearing bikinis or lingerie, like those football players, we should get some respect for how athletic we are. I think some guys are just scared of girls who can beat them up.

I like the attention. I like the hype. Look at how everybody looks up to individual athletes like Manny Pacquiao and Tyson and Muhammad Ali. That’s where I want to be. I want my name to stand out like that.

This sport is year-round, so you can’t stay out of the gym for months at a time and come back next season. You’re training all the time. You’re traveling all the time, so being in a relationship is hard. You can’t get pregnant. I turned my life over to boxing. But if I do what I have to do now, then I’ll be able to do what I want to do later.

A lot of people try to go to the gym to get out their frustrations. That’s not me. I entered the sport of boxing to become a champion. There’s no way I would go to the gym and get beat up on just to get out some frustration. If this isn’t going to work out for me, then I’d rather have a normal life, you know what I mean?

I am the one to beat, and everybody knows it. I’ve proven time and time again that I’m number one. And going to this trial in February, I’m going to continue to be number one. I worked too hard. I came too far.

But I’ll be generous. I’ll give someone else a shot after 2012.