The Afewee boxing gym in Brixton Rec is home to many great fighters. Ben White spoke to one of them – Annamaria Cordella
Women’s boxing has come to the fore of late with Matchroom Boxing a key ingredient behind its growing success.
Female fighters’ names are on the lips of the hardcores who were previously unaccepting. These strong, independent women are finally getting the recognition and opportunities they rightfully deserve.
There’s an array of hungry fighters coming through and one of them goes by the name of Annamaria Cordella, an Italian amateur who sits among the hunting pack.
Annamaria is another fine example of how boxing can change lives.
From a troubled relationship, to low self-esteem, her independence has taken her on paths both right and wrong, but she fights each battle alone and for each one she overcomes, she can proudly boast one thing … that she did it her way.
She grew up in a small city in the South of Italy; a city she felt was too small for her.
She explains: “I knew that I was waiting for something bigger, but I didn’t know what it was or when it would come.”
When London came calling four years ago, it answered all her prayers, but getting there was anything but easy.
Before life started taking shape for Annamaria, she had a fight on her hands; she had to face the hardships of life.
“My parents divorced when I was 10 so my mum was always working to provide for us. I ended up in a toxic relationship from 14 to 17 and, after leaving it, I made some bad life choices. Smoking, drinking and sometimes mixing with the wrong people, but I did enjoy life.”
Looking back, Annamaria has some words of advice that she would give to her younger self who, she admits, was too naïve.
“I should have put myself first and done whatever I could for others after that.
“I would make everyone happy, apart from myself. I would like to have learnt how and when to say no. And most of all I would like to have found that inner peace that I was looking for in someone else.
“We girls/women don’t need a man. My culture makes me think the opposite. But I’m my man now!”
Now living in a big city and chasing even bigger dreams, Annamaria has found comfort and purpose, through an unlikely source in boxing.
When she stepped foot into a London gym that very first time, her intentions were to keep fit, never to punch anyone nor to get punched herself.
She hired a personal trainer for box fit sessions and used the punch bag as a stress reliever; there was nothing more to it, or at least that’s what she thought.
But the gym later became a home away from home as it does for so many, whilst boxing took another lost soul, gave her direction and changed her way of life.
Reflecting on those changes, she admits: “I used to be extremely impatient, upset and stressed all the time. I had zero control of myself.
“I was still very friendly and smiley but something deep inside was boiling and with the smallest crumb I would get emotional. I was also complaining a lot, about almost everything.
“My senior coaches at the Afewee Boxing Club in Brixton, Georges N-Katalay and Simon Stacks, are really strict and they have instilled in me a great discipline.
“I had to forget about complaining.
“My main coach Paul Santamaria, has been teaching me how to stay calm and collected, it’s a long process but the improvements are crazy.
“In my everyday life now, I can breathe. That boiling feeling is now calm water.
“If I get stressed or upset, it lasts for little time and I just get on with life. I see it like this: it’s like getting punched, I can’t get upset about it because I need to keep going if I don’t want to get punched more. ”
It was the opportunity to spar that lit the Italian’s spark for boxing.
She recites: “One day I was on my own working away at the bag when a skinny guy asked if I’d like to do some sparring.
“He explained to me what it was and I said ‘yes’. I honestly loved it.
“From that moment I felt that I needed to find a coach and have a fight.
“And here I am two and a half years later, having gone through one white Collar fight and three amateur fights with my coach, Paul.”
Before having her first White Collar fight, Annamaria had never watched a fight before, only Rocky, which caused her confusion when the fight was waved off, before her hand was raised in victory.
She recalls: “When I had my first fight, the referee kept stopping me from punching my opponent and the third time he said that the fight was over.
“I remember being so upset, I couldn’t breathe and I couldn’t understand what was happening.
“Even if my coach had told me that I’d won, I had way too much adrenaline to have heard him.”
In some cases, half the battle to becoming a boxer is getting the nod from your loved ones.
For Annamaria, it was never in question whether they were sceptical or not. “My family are always supportive of me, with every decision I make. Also, they don’t have a choice because I’m stubborn and I’ll do what I need to do for myself.
“My grandparents are very old school and they are trying to change my mind about fighting. They think it’s dangerous and want me to do the training without competition.
“But what’s the point of training and pushing myself to the limit, if I can’t compete?”
Annamaria is highly regarded by those who train her and their praise and hopes for the young Italian have confirmed to her that boxing is the career path she wants to pursue.
“My first coach made me realise that I was actually good at boxing, he would often tell me how good I was.
“He really believed in me and that helped my self-esteem, something I still struggle with today.
My second coach and Georges have seen and believe in my potential too.”
Annamaria insists that boxing is the most challenging sport she has ever taken part in, listing her two amateur victories as the proudest moments in her career to date.
But after her third fight ended in defeat, she questioned everything in her life.
“I took the loss badly; I questioned everything in my life because I felt that I was doing something wrong.
“My fitness was great but my mind wasn’t there, I had to work my way up and get stronger.
“My life is like a rollercoaster, I get down quite often, but I will always pick myself up and go higher than I was before.”
To succeed in the sport of boxing, you need to be a certain type of individual. Hard work and dedication is a must, but equally is the ability to listen and take on any advice given to you.
For those considering a career in the sport, here’s Annamaria’s advice to you: “Keep an open mind. Have no expectations and always be the student. Stay humble and push through the challenges.
“Commitment and discipline are the keys to succeed, put in the work and you’ll see the results. Be ready to sacrifice and, lastly, forget about perfection.”
Annamaria thrives on being independent; it’s one of her biggest assets, along with the sheer determination she displays in her everyday life.
You can picture her beaming smile, when she says to me: “I made it”, referring to her times of struggle which she fought through to get to where she is today.
She will only take in what she believes is positive to improve her persona; a strong and independent woman is who she is and what she will continue to be.
For that reason, she doesn’t really have any role models. However, she admires the likes of Mayweather and Katie Taylor for what they have achieved in life through boxing.
But she insists that her best qualities come from her family, her little brother, her mum and her dad.
The Italian fighter is very much your gym rat; she works in it, trains in it and basically lives in it.
In her spare time she likes to swim, shadowbox underwater, do Zumba, squash, anything that is different and fun but, at the same time, a way of developing as a fighter.
If her hard work, dedication and determination match that of her weighty ambitions, then in Annamaria, boxing has found a star.
“I’m working with the aim to go professional. I’ve got my eyes on all four belts.
“I would love to one day have my own boxing gym, teach everything I can to anyone who is willing to learn.
“I can’t wait to invest some of the money that I make as a professional, into charity.
“I’d like to settle down, have a family, buy a house by the sea and … dream about driving a Lamborghini.”
This post first appeared on Ben White’s own website, BWTalkingSport
Afewee, a registered charity based in Brixton Rec, offers football and boxing classes for kids and adults