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February 20, 2004 - Image 43

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2004-02-20

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Packing A Punc




Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles


ith her blond shag, rhinestone-stud-
ded clothing and gleaming high
heels, Jackie Kallen turns every head
as she breezes into the Four Seasons
Hotel's bar in Beverly Hills, Calif. She's still got
that brash, flamboyant streak that made her the
nation's most successful female boxing manager,
and which inspired the new film Against the Ropes,
starring Meg Ryan.
Kallen's stilettos gave her a leg up — literally —
during one testosterone-soaked game in 1989.
When one of her fighters won a match in Atlantic
City, she hoisted said shoe up to climb into the
ring. "But the guard stopped me," said Kallen, 57.
"He didn't believe I was the guy's manager."
A sportswriter chimed in: "Hey, Jackie, why
don't you put on a bikini and come back as a ring
card girl?" Kallen had a better idea. "I took out a
license to work the corner of the ring, so they


couldn't keep me out," she said.
The tenacity was typical of Kallen, the former
Detroit publicist who was often dismissed as a
boxer's girlfriend when she began managing fight-
ers in 1988.
Nevertheless, she persevered and ultimately
coaxed underdog James "Lights Out" Toney to
three world titles in the 1990s. Along the way, she
managed three other champions, including Tom
"Boom Boom" Johnson, and was dubbed the "first
lady of boxing."
It looked kind of funny, this little Jewish house-
wife with those big fighters," she said. "But when-
ever I got turned down for a fight or something
because I was female, I just came back with a dif-
ferent approach.
"If I couldn't get in the front door, I'd come in
through the window or the chimney. I'd always
find a way."
Hollywood loves a good fighting story, especially
one with chutzpah. For Against the Ropes, director
Charles Dutton drew on his memories of Kallen,

whom he met at a Las Vegas fight while working in
television 12 years ago.
"She stopped me by [placing] her hand on my
chest," Dutton recalled. "She said, 'I'm Jackie
Kallen, and when are you going to put some of my
fighters on your show?' And I thought, 'Boy, what
a ballsy woman.'"
Even so, some early reviews of Against the Ropes
have said the highly fictionalized film doesn't com-
pletely capture the drama of Kallen's story, which
reads like Rocky meets Erin Brockovich.
Back in the 1970s, she was a journalist for the
Oakland Press, with two sons in a Chabad reli-
gious school and a synagogue membership at
Temple Israel.
She parlayed some sports writing into a job as
publicist for Detroit's famed Kronk Boxing Team,
and its star Thomas Hearns.
She set her sights on managing and, in the late
1980s, met Toney, a tough former street kid

PUNCH on page 46




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