The diminutive fighter now known as world
champion boxer and kickboxer Kim "Fireball" Messer
wandering with no identification in a train station in Chechon, South
Korea as a
four-year-old orphan. After this, she lived in
in Chechon until 1971. Her Korean name ... Kee-Soon Baek ... was given
to her in the
orphanage. Adopted and brought to the USA by John and Marlys Sanford,
up in Silverton, Oregon with a new American name ... Kimberly Sue
While Kim was in high school,
her athleticism found conventional outlets in
ballet, volleyball, softball, tennis and gymnastics. She also played
piano and was a cheerleader.
"I’ve always been a borderline tomboy,"
But in college at Chemekata Community College in Salem, Oregon, she
discovered her affinity for martial arts and sport karate.
She began by studying
Tae-Kwon-Do for seven years. While doing so
she met her future husband and manager, Mark Messer. Looking for
greater challenges (and
for more contact, "we were kindred spirits", she
Kim and Mark both took up kickboxing. Kim parlayed her skills into
ring careers, the first as a world champion kickboxer, and the second
world champion pro boxer.
As a kickboxer, her fast,
aggressive style earned her a solid reputation and world
championships in the International Sport Karate Association (ISKA) and
the World Kickboxing Association (WKA). Kim's leg kicks were
she softened her opponents up with her punches before launching them
... so her
success as a pro boxer was not a surprise.
Her short stature encouraged
develop a weapon few opponents can counteract. "I'm able to
generate power from the
ground because of the speed I have," Messer says. "My
height actually works as an
advantage. Leg kicks can take away the vehicle of movement from my
have been working out pretty good for me."
Kim fought Naoko Kumagai of
Japan in Tokyo on July 18, 1992. The fight saw Kim
unable to overcome a taller opponent.
She used her boxing skills and movement initially against Kumagai's
powerful kicks, which Kim eventually tried to control with clinches,
in a messy fight. The outcome was close and the decision could
be seen as favoring a "home town" fighter.
"I was paid virtually nothing," she
"but it was a pivotal moment in our lives and even
though I didn’t win, I did well and actually
managed to kick her in the head. Since we all knew that Kumagai was one
of (if not the best)
female kickboxers at the time, then we figured that meant I must be
world class material
if I could deal that well with her on my first time out."
Kim won the ISKA light-atomweight world title by defeating Lisa Smith
ten-round unanimous decision on July 18, 1994 in
Santa Cruz, California in what promoter Scott Coker described as
"one of the best kickboxing fights I've seen in all my years". [Video]
Kim Messer (left) vs. Aya Mitsui in 1994
Kim fought Aya Mitsui in Japan
on October 14, 1994, during the
DESTINY IX event. Mitsui had the advantage in weight, height and reach.
well and shook Mitsui with a great punch in the fourth round, but
physical advantages allowed her to control the action for most of the
Kim defended her ISKA light atomweight title
against Yvonne Trevino
from Pheonix, Arizona at the Civic Auditorium
in Santa Cruz, California on March 13, 1995 in another bout that has
repeatedly on ESPN2.
Kim dropped Yvonne with a head kick in the fifth and dominated the
before the fight was stopped in the ninth. Messer advanced to 10-2-1 (1 KO) while Trevino fell to 8-2-0 (0 KO). [Video pt1] [Video pt2] [Video pt3]
On May 13, 1995 in San Jose,
California, Kim won a ten-round unanimous decision over
Angelica Bogdanova of Russia.
On August 26, 1995 in Reno,
Nevada, Kim dropped a points decision to
Britain's Toni Taylor but rebounded from this in Los Angeles on
November 11, 1995 by dispatching Japanese star Sugar Miyuki with a
body kick 00:30 into the first round.
Kim (right) vs. Lisa Houghton in 1996
On June 6, 1996 in Belfast,
Ireland, she took on
Britain's Lisa Houghton.
Kim dropped Lisa twice
in the first round but the British girl hung tough and took Kim the
rounds on the way to a unanimous decision in Messer's favor.
On September 21, 1996 in San
Juan, Puerto Rico, Kim won a
ten-round unanimous decision
in a full contact karate bout
for the WKA title over another tough British opponent, future WIBF
world boxing champion
Former kickboxing champion Joe
Fay, who trained Messer in the
early stage of her career, says, "Kim is very determined. She
has a lot to offer kickboxing,
and I think it's only a matter of time until she brings something new
and exciting to the table.
She doesn't have much power, but she makes up for that with tremendous
speed," he continues.
"She's been working on combining both ... when she
does, watch out!"
As a boxer she was a dangerous opponent from the very start,
but she began her pro career
with two tough matches that put losses on her record.
Kim Messer in her pro boxing
debut vs. Regina Halmich
in Karlsruhe, Germany (June 1995)
Kim dropped a split decision
to German star Regina Halmich
on June 10, 1995 in
Karlsruhe, Germany (Regina's home turf) in attempt to claim the WIBF
title in her first pro boxing bout (see Kim's own account
of the circumstances around this fight).
Her second bout was a
physical mismatch (and a loss) against veteran Teresa
who twice defeated Bridgett Riley.
Kim still sees this as her toughest loss.
"She was just too darn big", says the
"Fireball" ruefully today!
Kim's small size (she stands
just 4'11") was a factor in most of her losses, but
on a pound-for-pound basis she may be one of the most skilled female
On June 26, 1998 at Bally's Casino in Las Vegas, Kim
(106 lbs) stopped Brenda Wasilewski (109 lbs) of San Diego, California
by a TKO
at 1:31 of the first round in a scheduled four-rounder, to earn her
win as a pro boxer.
"It was really a KO," said Messer. "I
hit her with a right hand to the body,
a left hook to the head and then an overhand right to the temple that
her half way out of the ring and they had to drag her back in to revive
her, the referee
was so shocked and distracted that he forgot to count her out."
On September 17, 1998 at the
Grand Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, she
evened her pro boxing record at 2-2 with a four-round split decision
Maritza Marquez of Guadalajara, Mexico, who fell to 1-3 with the loss.
Kim vs. Valory Troike in 1998
© Copyrighted photos taken by Mary Ann Owen
On December 26, 1998 at the
Orleans Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, Kim (108 lbs) used her
experience against top competition to earn an exciting six-round split
decision over local Las Vegas favorite Valory Troike.
Kim ended the fight with a puffy right eye but handed Troike a
bloody nose and appeared stronger than her heavier (112 lb) opponent.
The bout was a crowd pleaser and there was talk of a rematch. Troike
fell to 5-2-1 with the loss.
On February 27, 1999 at the
Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington,
a capacity crowd of 1400 saw Kim (107¾ lbs) win a four-round unanimous
(108¼ lbs) of Thunder Bay, Ontario,
Canada, who fell to 0-2. Messer's speed, balance and
too much for the younger girl from Thunder Bay, who was clearly
on this occasion.
On April 30, 1999 at the
Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana,
Kim, at 106 lbs, won a comfortable six-round unanimous decision over
Lisa Houghton (106 lbs) of Leeds, England.
The tough Houghton, who had also been defeated handily by Messer as a
kickboxer, fell to 2-4 as a
pro boxer with the loss.
On May 9, 1999 at the Armory
in Pikesville, Maryland,
Kim showed she was in top form by trouncing the reigning IWBF/IFBA
flyweight champion Jill "The Zion
of New York in a non-title fight. Messer used her superior technique to
five of six rounds to earn a 59-55 unanimous decision over the
Matthews. This win established Kim firmly as a leading pro
boxer and dropped Matthews to 6-3-1.
Kim was all over Maribel Ocasio-Soto in June 1999
On June 11, 1999 at the
Horseshoe Casino in Bossier City, Louisiana
she won by a TKO over Maribel Ocasio-Soto of Puerto Rico who did not
answer the bell
for the fifth round. Ocasio-Soto fell to 3-7-2 with the loss.
Kim finally got another shot
at a world title
on December 3, 1999 at the Pechanga Center in Temecula, California
when she faced Delia Gonzalez
(108 lbs) of Chamberino, New Mexico
for the vacant IFBA Junior Flyweight title. Kim weighed in at
3/4 lbs over the 108-lb limit at the initial weigh-in but
made weight at the second attempt after running. Unfortunately,
the scheduled ten-rounder was stopped and declared a technical draw
mid-way through the third round when Gonzalez suffered an eye injury
in an accidental clash of heads. Gonzalez was taken to a nearby
hospital for treatment and the title remained vacant.
On February 11, 2000 in
Kenner, Louisiana, Kim moved her pro boxing record to
8-2-1 with a six-round unanimous decision over Yvonne
Caples of Berkeley, California
who fell to 2-1. All three scorecards were 58-56.
Kim's chance for a historic
world title fight in her native Korea came because her
husband Mark, acting as her publicist, sent a press kit to KoreAm Journal,
a Korean-American magazine, who called her and then did a story
about why she wanted to return to Korea
to fight in her homeland. Shin Woon-Chul, a boxing promoter in Seoul,
saw this story
and made it happen. "I'm just really glad that one of my
dreams looks like it's
actually going to come true,", Kim said in a letter to my web
site before the
fight, adding "I've
always wanted to do this and was really excited when I heard about the
offer. To me it's pretty cool that I'm being invited back to the place
I was actually born in!"
Kim Messer won the IFBA title over Yumi Takano in 2000
Photograph courtesy Kim Messer
On August 5, 2000, Kim took on
Japan's Yumi Takano for
the IFBA Junior Flyweight
title in Seoul. Kim won the vacant title with a ten-round unanimous
decision. According to my correspondent, "both fighters
had the audience on its toes with their speed, technique and power, but
the sharper boxer, moving in for quick combinations and then keeping
Takano out with a
solid uppercut ... Messer was shaken around by some solid punches to
the jaw and was
very professional in using footwork to give herself enough time to
Takano could have used her feet to better advantage in getting around
Messer's longer reach.
The pace was furious right through to the last round, but at no point
in the fight did either
fighter seem likely to be able to knock the other down, pinning the
decision on points painfully
won during the match. The media enthusiasm was enormous, although more
for Messer's story than
the match." Takano fell to 9-4.
Messer was besieged by the
Korean media and became the subject of numerous television
shows and news reports. She also visited the orphanage where she had
lived before her adoption
and tried, unsuccessfully, to find out something more about her
parents. Her world title fight with
Yumi Takano was said to be the first professional women's boxing match
On November 19, 2000 in Seoul, South Korea,
3500 Korean fans saw Kim (107 lbs) retain the IFBA Junior Flyweight
title by majority decision in a tough ten-round bout with
(107½ lbs) of Leeds, England. The
scorecards were 97-96 and 97-95 for Messer with one card tied at 96-96.
Sutcliffe won the early rounds but Messer dug deep and made a late
charge to eke
out the win and take her pro boxing record to 10-2-1. Sutcliffe fell to
When I asked her which of the
contact sports she prefers, Kim told me: "I like Muay Thai
the most because there's so many
more weapons and combinations to use, more room to be creative."
"When I think about
everything that has happened, it can be overwhelming,"
Messer says. "At one time, I was alone in a train station,
then I was adopted by
parents and [started] living in the United States. Now I'm a
I don't think I could have asked for anything more."
Kim announced her retirement
competitive boxing on
Saturday, April 13, 2002.
On December 29, 2011, the IFBA
named Kim as its Director of Boxing Operations, “I bring a boxer’s perspective
to the IFBA", said
Messer. "My job is to
mediate the best
possible relations between managers, promoters and the IFBA, and be
part of the complex work of sanctioning and promoting high quality
female fights. The 2012 Olympics will put a worldwide spotlight on
women’s boxing, giving the IFBA the perfect opportunity to more
aggressively promote female fighters. This is the perfect time to
support competitors, develop fans and give everyone an opportunity to
fulfill their career and passion.”
Women's boxing and kickboxing
both owe much to Kim for being such a great
role model. Her dedication to excellence, her perseverance and her courage
are an inspiration to other women
who enter the
ring as professional fighters!
Kim Messer's postal address is:
The Messer Gym,
1900 132nd Ave. #A-6,
Bellevue, WA 98005,
Other Kim Messer links
- Kim "Fireball" Messer web site
- Behind the scenes in
- Kim describes her early history with Germany's Regina Halmich, who
Kim wanted to fight again
- July 1999 interview with Kim
- she tells me about her transition from kickboxing to boxing,
promoters, ESPN2, and much more!
To check out fight reports, complete up-to-date boxing records, with
huge digital photos you can go to
the WBAN Records
last updated:Sunday December 16, 2012