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Photo courtesy Team Ward


6-foot-6 Vonda "All-American Girl" Ward (born March 16, 1973) from Northfield, Ohio is a former NCAA basketball star who now has her sights set on world title belts as a cruiserweight boxer.

Vonda was a standout athlete at Trinity High School in Cleveland, and was named Ohio prep girls' basketball Player of the Year. She went on to play center for the University of Tennessee, consistently one of the top collegiate women's basketball programs in the USA, from 1991 to 1995. She was selected for the 1993 US national team for the R. Williams Jones Cup international competition, and later  played pro basketball with the Colorado Xplosion in the now-defunct American Basketball League.

Ward returned to Ohio after the ABL folded saying that she was "burned out on basketball", but she kept herself in shape by working out.  Her regimen including working the heavy bag at World's Gym in Macedonia, Ohio where gym owner David Cueni noticed that she  used a perfect boxer's jab while working the bag. He asked trainer Lorenzo Scott to assess Ward's potential as a boxer. Scott, who had been working with fighters for 28 years, thought enough of Ward to become her trainer while Cueni became her boxing manager.

Vonda WardVonda made her pro boxing debut at 187 lbs on January 15, 2000 in Laporte, Indiana, knocking out Faye Steffen (192 lbs) of Oneida, Wisconsin at 0:24 of the first round. Steffen fell to 0-5 (her last four in a row by knockouts) and hasn't fought since.

On February 29, 2000 at the Indiana State Fairground in Indianapolis Vonda weighed in at 190 lbs and defeated debut fighter Mattie Brumley (5'5", 182 lbs) from Indianapolis by TKO at 1:20 of the first round in a scheduled four-rounder.  A Women's Boxing Page correspondent told me that "Vonda is 190 lbs of solid muscle. She is a delightful young lady that the audience loved. She has little body fat and is tremendously powerful. She said she is just getting into boxing and has a lot to learn, but she will definitely be heard from in the female heavyweight division and she has the kind of personality and attitude to .... contribute very positively to female boxing."  Brumley was a last minute substitute for former Laila Ali opponent Nicolyn Armstrong, who Ward would face in her next bout.

On March 11, 2000 at the National Guard Armory in Findlay, Ohio, Vonda (194 lbs) knocked out Nicolyn Armstrong (188 lbs) of Indianapolis at 1:45 of the first round. Armstrong fell to 1-5 with her fifth straight KO loss ... four of these in the first round (Laila Ali took two rounds to put her away!)

On March 24, 2000 at the UAW Hall in Parma, Ohio, Vonda (191 lbs) won by a first-round KO over Lana Jack (188 lbs) of Kansas City, Missouri, a seven-time Toughwoman champion who was making her pro debut. A Women's Boxing Page correspondent told me that "Jack came out swinging but was quickly decked by two left-right combinations from Ward. Jack tried to get up quickly but the referee handed her an eight count. Jack went back to swinging wildly, way off balance and actually fell to the canvas again. She got up again and continued to come right at Vonda while eating jabs and rights. A good right put Jack down for the count 0:52 into the round."

On April 27, 2000 at Hammerstein Ballroom, Manhattan Center in New York City, Vonda (193 lbs) got an early scare when she was knocked down in the first round by wild-swinging Genevia Buckhalter (174 lbs) of Columbus, Mississippi. Vonda rebounded quickly, however, and began to find her range at the end of the first round. She then wore Buckhalter down in the second round with her height and reach advantage.  Buckhalter took two standing eight counts and a hammering against the ropes before the fight was stopped at 1:22 in the second. The scrappy Buckhalter fell to 1-5-1 with her fifth straight loss.

On July 17, 2000 at Station Casino in St. Charles, Missouri, Vonda weighed in at 189 lbs and TKO'd 35-year-old debut fighter Lisa Redding (239 lbs) of Anderson, Indiana at 0.:31 in the first round. Redding hasn't fought again.

On August 24, 2000 in Columbus, Ohio, Vonda weighed in at 190 lbs and won by a TKO in the second round over Jeanine Tracy of Chicago.  Tracy, who had been boxing professionally since 1998, fell to 3-4 (3 KO).

On September 23, 2000 at Packard Music Hall in Warren, Ohio, Vonda won a TKO at 1:24 of the first round over Sharon Thomas (6'2", 240 lbs), who was making her pro debut.

On October 19, 2000 at the Cosmopolitan in Wickliffe, Ohio, Vonda knocked out Marjorie Jones of Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 1:02 of the first round. Jones, whose previous bout had been a third-round TKO loss to Laila Ali, fell to 2-6-1 (2 KO).

On February 2, 2001 at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus, Ohio, Vonda (189 lbs) TKO'd previously unbeaten Kisha Snow (5'10", 226 lbs) of New York at 1:05 in the fourth round in a bout seen live on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights. Snow's game plan was to wade in and hope to connect early with a knockout punch. She began the fight charging at the taller Ward and throwing bombs but Ward was able to hold her off with her jab or tie her up in the early rounds. "She was looking for the big overhand right, but every time I threw a jab or just backed up,'' Ward said. As Snow began to tire by the end of the second round she became more reckless, and Ward began to unload. Ward knocked Snow down in the third and referee Frank Garza stopped the bout when Ward clearly got the upper hand and was landing clean shots half-way through the fourth and final round. Ward flopped on her back on the canvas, and later told reporters "that was just pure elation ... I was just so excited!". Ward moved to 11-0, all by KO, while Snow fell to 6-1.

On May 16, 2001 at Ameristar Casino in Kansas City, Missouri, Ward won by a TKO of Carley Pesente (216 lbs) at 1:08 of the second round. Pesented fell to 0-2 with the loss.

On February 22, 2002 at Jerome Schottenstein Center in Columbus, Ohio, Vonda (185 lbs) remain undefeated with 13 straight KO's when she won by TKO over Gigi Jackson (238 lbs) of Columbus at 1:48 in the fourth round. Jackson,  making her pro debut, was outboxed by Ward and had gone to the canvas 30 seconds into the opening round. A local report said that the fight was "perhaps the most entertaining fight of the nine held as part of ESPN’s Friday Night Fights." Jackson’s trainer, Mike Johnson, said that it was just "inexperience", and that when a boxer throws only one punch at a time,  a boxer is not going to beat a fighter like Ward. Ward initially weighed in at 179.5, and was asked to reweigh after putting some weight on. Although the card was covered by ESPN2, this bout was not aired.

Monica McGowan faces Vonda for the IBA belt
(Photo courtesy Team Ward)

On July 16, 2002 at Civic Center in Canton, Ohio, Vonda (190˝ lbs) passed a big test against Monica McGowan (195 lbs) from Rusk, Texas, as she advanced to 14-0-0 (13 KO) and earned the IBA Heavyweight title in her first pro bout to go the distance. McGowan took the fight to Ward in the early going but and worked past Ward's jab with hard shots and plenty of aggression, but Ward stepped up the pace and began to trade with the hard-hitting McGowan in the second. It was a brawl until the sixth, but then both began to fade. Ward hung on better to get a unanimous decision at 99-91,98-92,98-92 as McGowan slipped to 6-3-0 (4 KO). Both gave it their all in a first-rate tussle that may have been the best female heavyweight battle yet according to my correspondent.

Vonda with the IBA Heavyweight belt
(Photo courtesy Team Ward)

On December 6, 2002 at Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, Vonda retained the IBA heavyweight title when she won by a TKO over  Kathy Rivers (6'0", 195½ lbs) of Woonsocket, Rhode Island at 1:41 in the eighth round. Ward got off to a slow start but began to take over the fight after getting the better of a hard hitting slugfest in the fourth. As the fight went on, Rivers couldn't do enough to negate Ward's reach and strength advantage as Ward pressed forward with a steady, if mechanical, style. The fight ended with an exhausted Rivers cowering against the ropes as Ward fired a two-fisted barrage of leather to her head. Rivers looked a little out of shape and overweight in a bout where she needed to stay busy and to use her movement and ring experience to stay close and outwork the lanky and hard-hitting Ward. There were no knockdowns but Rivers was clearly getting the worst of the action for several rounds before the stoppage. Rivers slipped to 13-3-1 (4 KO). The bout was carried live on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

Ward's purse for her fight with Kathy Rivers has been reported as $20,000, or 10 per cent of what Christy Martin expected to be paid for fighting Mia St. John at the almost-empty Pontiac Silverdome that same night. Live attendance was 3,416.

On March 1, 2003 at Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, A late substitution for Valerie Mahfood pitted unbeaten Martha Salazar (5'9", 230 lbs) of San Francisco against Vonda (6'6", 179 lbs). Ward was bloodied and seriously tested by Salazar in a four-rounder but she escaped with a (39-37,39-37,37-39) split on the scorecards (the bout had been reduced from an expected six rounds to four rounds at the last moment). Salazar was stymied by Ward's trademark jab at first, but her hefty looping (but well-timed) overhand rights were a big threat to the (usually) steady and straight-punching Ward as the fight progressed. Ward took one of these rights on the temple near the end of the third round and looked stunned. The burly Salazar stepped up the pressure in the final round and hurt Ward with several more big rights, but Ward's control of the early rounds had earned her the decision on two cards. Ward had been training to face Carlette Ewell and then Mahfood, who was unable to get away from her job as a prison guard in Texas. "I was training for someone about 175 pounds," said Ward, who got a 30-day suspension from the Nevada commission because she had trouble walking after the bout. "I've got a lot to learn," said Ward. "Maybe we'll do a rematch." Despite being somewhat thick around her midsection, Salazar moved well and had good timing and hand speed, and she might have pulled off the win over the lanky and more athletic-looking Ward in a longer bout. Salazar slipped to 5-1-0 (0 KO).

On March 14, 2003 at Avalon Event Center in North Royalton, Ohio, Vonda (182 lbs) advanced to 17-0-0 (15 KO) with a TKO of unranked Jeanine Tracy (192 lbs) of Chicago at 1:12 of the third round. Tracy fell to 3-7-0 (2 KO) with this loss.

Vonda Ward vs. Martha Salazar
© Copyrighted photo by WBAN Senior Editor Brian Ackley

On July 11, 2003 at Memorial Civic Center in Canton, Ohio, Vonda (188 lbs) advanced to 18-0-0 (15 KO) with a clear unanimous (99-91,98-92,97-93) ten-round decision over Martha Salazar (5'9", 234 lbs) of San Francisco. With her IBA Heavyweight title on the line, Ward controlled most of this rematch by boxing from the outside while the shorter, heavier Salazar tried to work inside with overhand rights and left hooks. Ward used her reach and jab to set up the early action but Salazar began to get to her in the fifth, landing a series of punches to the head with Ward against the ropes. After the fight, Ward admitted that she was in trouble in the fifth, but she recovered her composure and went on to control the late-round action. ``I could tell (Salazar) was tired. After I didn't go down, I think that deflated her.'', said Ward. Salazar fell to 6-2-0 (1 KO), both of her losses coming to Ward.

On May 8, 2004 before 5,000 fans at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum, in Biloxi, Mississippi, Ann Wolfe of Waco, Texas (5'9", 172 lbs) scored a spectacular first-round knockout over Vonda (170 lbs) to win the vacant IBA Light Heavyweight (175 lb) world title. Trainer Emanuel Steward had advised Wolfe to attack the much (nine inches) taller Ward inside. Wolfe followed a vicious left hook to the body with an overhand right that caught Vonda squarely on the chin and snapped her head back midway through the opening round. Ward fell to the canvas unconscious and lay there motionless for several minutes while the ringside physician and EMS technicians attended to her. She was removed from the ring on a stretcher wearing a neck brace and being given oxygen and was taken by ambulance to Gulf Coast Regional Medical Center for a CAT scan. She was diagnosed with slight concussion and was kept overnight for observation. Ward didn’t land a punch before being felled by Wolfe's right hand for the KO at 1:08 into the fight. Ward fell to 18-1 (15 KOs) with the loss, while Wolfe improved to 17-1 (10 KOs).

On December 10, 2004 at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, Vonda (185 lbs) TKO'd Canadian-born Marsha Valley of Los Angeles, California at 1:47 into the fourth round of a scheduled non-title10-rounder. Valley was knocked down twice in the round before the fight was stopped. Ward used a constant jab effectively to set up power punches and dominated Valley from the opening bell. In the fourth round, Ward landed a lead left-overhand right combination to drop Valley for the first time. Valley beat the count and continued to fight, but Ward quickly got her against the ropes with a barrage of combinations. When Valley dropped to one knee, the referee stopped the fight. Ward said she had known the end was near. "I hit her with some hard shots," she said, "I could see it in her eyes. I knew it was a matter of time. I used the jab for the first time in my life." Valley fell to 10-10-4 (4 KO's).

On April 29, 2005 at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio, Vonda (183 lbs) retained her IBA Heavyweight title by stopping Elizabeth Kerin (178˝ lbs) of Chicago in the second round. Vonda was knocked down by Kerin's first right hand of the first round and struggled to get back to her feet, barely beating the count. She looked unsteady for the rest of the round but recovered well and began to land heavy combinations as she backed Kerin into her own corner in the second. Kerin went down from the flurry of punches and referee Earl Jewell stopped the fight at 1:33 in the round. Ward improved to 20-1 (17 KO's) with the win while Kerin fell to  3-4-1 (3 KO's).

On July 15, 2005 at the Gund Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, Vonda (187 lbs) won the IBA World Cruiserweight belt when she easily defeated Cassandra Geiggar (179 lbs) of Arkansas by a unanimous (100-88) decision.  Joe Maxse of the Cleveland Plain Dealer said that the fight was nearly ended late in the seventh round when a series of punches forced Geiggar to one knee, and she got up after the 8-count from referee Jim Villers.  Maxse added, "but that's about all the good you could say for her underwhelming effort."  Geiggar fell to 6-6-0 (6 KOs). 

On February 10, 2007 at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, Ohio Vonda (182˝ lbs) returned to the ring to win a majority  (97-93,97-93,95-95) decision over Martha Salazar (234˝ lbs) of San Francisco, and became the new WBC and WIBA Heavyweight champion. Martha Salazar fell to 11-4-0 (3 KO's) while Vonda improved to 22-1-0 (17 KOs).

On February 23, 2008 at Chapparells Community Center in Akron, OH, Vonda won a clear unanimous (100-90,100-90,99-91) 10-round decision over 5'8" Carlette Ewell of North Carolina. Vonda improved to 23-1 (17 KO's) while Ewell fell to 12-6 (9 KO's).

Asked about her boxing career, Ward says: "I'm enjoying it. It's a new challenge. I'm learning something every day and it's fun. The training is just so much more intense than any other sport I've ever participated in. I actually use boxing as part of my workout. I'm a personal trainer so I use it then."

Ward credits legendary University of Tennessee basketball coach Pat Summitt with some of her success as a boxer. "Coach Summitt instilled a mental and physical toughness in me and helped me develop a strong work ethic,'' Ward said. "I don't think anyone trains as hard as I do, and that always gives me an edge.''

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Page last updated: Thursday, 13 December 2012


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