5'6" junior welterweight Esther Phiri was born in Lusaka, Zambia on
January 1 1987, the fourth of eight children – she has three brothers and four
sisters. Her father was a businessman and her mother stayed at home. Her father
died when Esther was in grade 6 and the family fell on hard times without his
income. Esther lived with her grandmother in the low-income urban township of Mtendere
and joined her selling groceries and second hand
clothes in the market. She dropped out of school and became a single mother
at age 16.
A turning point in Esther's life came about when
the international NGO
Africa Directions started a youth-centered HIV-awareness project in the
combining health education and sport. Esther was the only girl in a
training program that focused on boxing. She had been a tomboy
from an early age was also motivated by boxing videos
so she took the training seriously despite the negative reaction of
some of the
young males around her. Her talent for boxing
soon became obvious and she was referred for further training to former
Zambian amateur champion Anthony Mwamba, who had made it to the quarter
the 1988 Olympics. Mwamba has since prepared Phiri at his Independence
Esther's pro career did not start winningly, however.
She made her pro debut at Mindolo Dam, Kitwe, Zambia on July 23, 2005 against
Jota Sumaili of Zambia, fighting her to a four-round draw. Sumaili had won
both of her previous bouts on points, against debut boxers.
On August 21, 2005 at Moi International Sport Centre in Nairobi, Kasarani,
Kenya, Esther lost a four-round decision to the well experienced
Zarika Njeri of
Nairobi, who improved her own record to 9-1-1 with the win. Zarika had fought Sweden's
Wallberg for the WIBF Intercontinental Junior Lightweight title in Denmark
months earlier, losing by a unanimous decision.
Esther was not discouraged. In October 2005 she went to Zimbabwe, where she twice took on Monalisa
Sibanda, retiring after the first round in the first contest on October 15 and
losing by TKO in the second round of their second bout two weeks later.
Training continued on her return, and then she took on
pro debut boxer Patience Master from Zimbabwe at the Nchanga Mine Club in Chingola,
Zambia on May 6 2006, winning by a four-round split decision – her first win in the ring.
On May 27, 2006 she returned to Zimbabwe for a
rematch with Patience Master at
the International Convention Centre in Harare. This time she knocked
Master out in the second round of their scheduled four-rounder.
On October 22, 2006 at the National Sports Development Center in Lusaka, Zambia,
Phiri won a six-round decision over Patience Master in their third encounter of
Esther was then picked
to participate in the six-bout all-female "Fists of Steel" Africa vs. USA
event at the Moi International
Sports Centre in Nairobi, Kenya on December 2, 2006.
When Esther's original opponent - Michelle Linden - failed to turn up, she was matched against Kelli Cofer of Ohio at the
last moment for the WIBF Intercontinental Junior Lightweight title . Cofer had
in several full world title bouts but was returning to the ring after surgery
for a broken hand sustained in her last match. The
late pairing meant Esther was over-weight for the bout with Cofer
and she spent a few grueling hours in the gym before weighing in to shed 2 kg
and meet the target of 60.2 kg.
Esther Phiri vs Kelli Cofer in Nairobi
© Copyrighted photo courtesy JabJab
Esther (132½ lbs) went on to win an eight-round majority (79-78,77-75,77-77) decision over Cofer
who dropped to 13-4-4 (3 KO's).
“I was surprised, I didn’t expect I was going to win the fight. I was feeling like I was dreaming,”
Phiri said, adding “Maybe I didn’t know that I am talented.”
On March 18, 2007 at Mulungushi Conference Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, Esther won
an eight-round unanimous decision over Monika Petrova of Sofia, Bulgaria to
retain the WIBF Intercontinental Junior Lightweight title. Petrova, who has been
a regular (if often over-matched) opponent for top fighters in Europe at
bantamweight or featherweight (including Anita
Christensen, Esther Schouten,
Bettina Csabi, Iwona Guzowska
and Cathy Brown) fell to 1-10-0 with this loss while
Phiri improved to 5-3-1 (1 KO).
Writer Hone Liwanga reported that
"Zambia's Esther Phiri showed that women
can compete in spheres most people think least likely when she traded
explosive punches with Bulgarian Monica Petrova in an international
boxing tournament in Lusaka. Attracting over 8,000 impressed spectators,
Zambia's first ever international female boxing bout challenged gender
stereotypes as the two exhibited professional boxing skills rivaling
that of male counterparts. The staging of the prestigious event on
18 March was not only good for the two female boxer or Zambia, but for
gender activists as well. Boxing is known to be the men's sport in
Zambia, and indeed most of the world. The two women put that myth to
rest as they competed in an action-packed 8-round bout.
With each blow, one could just imagine how many people watching could
never imagine a woman in a boxing ring. Ms Phiri, who was in a class of
her own, delivered vicious punches against her challenger Ms Petrova,
whom she defeated to retain her title as the Women International Boxing
Federation (WIBF) super featherweight champion."
"In the ring, I felt very fit and fitness is the only secret", said Phiri
after the bout. "I knew I
was going to win; I had no fear of Monika as we fought because of my
adequate preparation for the fight. But I was afraid of the final
decision in case the points did not go in my favour."
The publicity following Phiri's wins made her a household name in Zambia.
Billboards with her picture line streets and she is now rich by Zambian standards, Phiri, her daughter, and her mother
are able to live in a middle-class Lusaka neighborhood, and Esther, previously illiterate,
is being sponsored to finish her
On June 30, 2007 at Woodlands Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia, Esther TKO'd winless
Radostina Valcheva of Bulgaria in the second round. Valcheva fell to 0-1-1
after an obvious mismatch.
On December 1, 2007 at
Woodlands Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia, Esther won a controversial eight-round
split decision over Belinda Laracuente of New York
to retain the GBU Intercontinental Junior Lightweight title. The Lusaka Times
reported that “few may agree that the verdict was fair as America’s Belinda
Laracuente was a trifle better and could claim the glory as well.” They
reported that Phiri was slower and could hardly match the technique and power of
Laracuente, described Laracuente as “sharper, cleverer, and more aggressive”
and opined that “an ordinary eye” could have given her at least five out of the
A rematch was reported to be in the works.
Laracuente fell to
23-19-3 (9 KOs).
On April 26, 2008 at Woodlands
Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia,
Esther (59 kg) won a ten-round unanimous decision over 21-year-old Elina
Tissen (57 kg) of Warendorf, Germany for the GBU Inter-continental Junior
Lightweight title. Tissen dropped to 6-2 (3 KO's)
On October 4, 2008 at
Woodlands Stadium in Lusaka, Zambia
Esther Phiri won by a fifth round TKO over Hondi Hernandez of Chandler, Arizona,
USA in a scheduled ten-rounder for the GBU Junior Lightweight title. Hernandez dropped to 5-4 (3 KO's)
On April 25, 2009 at Hood
Restaurant in Nairobi, Kenya, Esther Phiri won by a fourth round TKO over an
"unknown" boxer whose name was variously given as Ratree Kreakae of
Thailand or Filipina
Viparat Lasuwan of the Philippines, who appeared to have little boxing experience and was knocked
down in the second, third and fourth rounds. The promoter and local media such
as the Lusaka Times initially
reported that Phiri was fighting for a WIBA title but WIBA President Ryan Wissow
told WBAN that his organization had nothing to do with this bout or its
promoter. The promoters subsequently stated that the fight was for a GBC title.
On November 28, 2009 at the Mulungushi Conference Centre in
Lusaka, Zambia, Terri Blair of Louisville, Kentucky,
USA fought to a 10-round draw (98-96,96-96, 94-96) with
Esther Phiri for the vacant WIBA Junior Welterweight title. Blair, who had
pressured Phiri for the whole fight,
stated after the fight
“If you want
to know the winner of this fight, give us another two rounds just now and see
what I am gonna do to her. I have been cheated. I'm ready to fight her again any
time, anywhere including now." Phiri's right eyebrow was cut
and the fight was halted temporarily in the sixth round to clean the blood.
Phiri appeared to be in difficulty for several rounds in mid-fight but later
rallied. Blair moved her record to 11-14-3 (6 KO's). The WIBA is
reported to have sought a title match between Phiri and
Duda Yankovich, not a rematch with Blair, because Yankovich had been the
intended opponent for Phiri until her nose was broken in a loss to Holly Holm.
On May 29, 2010 at the Mulungushi Conference Centre in
Lusaka, Zambia, Esther Phiri (137¾ lbs) won a ten-round unaimous (100-91,100-95,100-92) decision over
(139 lbs) of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the vacant WIBA Junior
Welterweight title. Yankovich fell to 11-2-0 (5 KO's) with her second
straight title loss.
On January 29, 2011 at the Mulungushi Conference Centre in Lusaka, Zambia, Esther Phiri (140 lbs) won a 10-round unanimous (97-90,97-93,100-91) decision over Lely Luz Florez (136¾ lbs) of Monteria, Colombia for the WIBA and
WIBO Junior Welterweight titles. Florez fell to 15-5-0 with the loss while Phiri improved to 12-3-2 (4 KO's).
While Phiri has yet to be tested at the top level outside Africa, her progress
is sending new messages about gender issues
and sport equity to her countrywomen. President Levy Mwanawasa praised Esther
for demonstrating her capability to succeed regardless of the many challenges
and obstacles that are currently prevailing in the area of sport in Zambia and
also announced that Phiri would be given a fully furnished three bedroom house
for retaining her title against Petrova.
Phiri has encouraged adolescent Zambian women to engage in sports not only to guard against unplanned pregnancies
and have sexually transmitted disease but to become disciplined and focused. ”I would advise my fellow young Zambians to engage in sports as it would take up
most of their time which they would spend drinking and engaging in many antisocial
vices”, she says.
Phiri says that she enjoys boxing, and "gets a buzz" out of being fit. Her
new-found success has brought added pressures as she is now
the main breadwinner in her family.
Mwamba says that Phiri trains every day, running 21 km and then working on her
boxing skills in the gym. She also tries to eat a healthy diet with Zambian
staple nshima - a corn flour porridge - and boiled chicken. Mwamba is now hoping
to raise sponsorship to further Esther's career.
Other Esther Phiri links
To check out fight reports, complete up-to-date boxing records, with huge digital photos you can go to
the WBAN Records Member Site
Page last updated:
Saturday December 15, 2012