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Kim Messer
Copyrighted photo provided by Team Messer


The diminutive fighter now known as world champion boxer and kickboxer Kim "Fireball" Messer was found wandering with no identification in a train station in Chechon, South Korea as a four-year-old orphan. After this, she lived in the Holt Agency orphanage 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, she grew up in Silverton, Oregon with a new American name ... Kimberly Sue Sanford.

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," she says. 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 says) Kim and Mark both took up kickboxing. Kim parlayed her skills into two successful ring careers, the first as a world champion kickboxer, and the second as a 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 devastating but she softened her opponents up with her punches before launching them ... so her later success as a pro boxer was not a surprise.

Her short stature encouraged her to 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 opponents. They 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, resulting 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 said, "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 by a 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. Kim attacked well and shook Mitsui with a great punch in the fourth round, but Mitsui's physical advantages allowed her to control the action for most of the fight.

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 been shown repeatedly on ESPN2. Kim dropped Yvonne with a head kick in the fifth and dominated the later going 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 full ten 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 Cheryl Robertson.

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 flyweight 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 Arnold, 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 fighters ever.

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 first 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 literally knocked 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 over Maritza Marquez of Guadalajara, Mexico, who fell to 1-3 with the loss.

Kim vs. Valory Troike in 1998
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 (107 lbs) win a four-round unanimous decision over Tracey Stevens (108 lbs) of Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, who fell to 0-2.  Messer's speed, balance and aggression were too much for the younger girl from Thunder Bay, who was clearly over-matched 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 junior flyweight champion Jill "The Zion Lion" Matthews of New York in a non-title fight. Messer used her superior technique to win five of six rounds to earn a 59-55 unanimous decision over the hard-charging 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 that 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 (96-95,97-94,99-94) decision. According to my correspondent, "both fighters had the audience on its toes with their speed, technique and power, but Messer was 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 recover. 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 in Korea.

Kim dukes it out with Michelle Sutcliffe 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 Michelle Sutcliffe (107 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 4-5-0.

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 professional boxer. I don't think I could have asked for anything more."

Kim Messer

Kim announced her retirement from 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 Karlsruhe
    - Kim describes her early history with Germany's Regina Halmich, who Kim wanted to fight again in 1999
  • 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 Member Site

Page last updated:Sunday December 16, 2012


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