TAMPA — The year was 1978.
Awakened by her parents’ screams and cheers, 7-year-old Chevelle Hallback crept inside her parents’ bedroom to seek out the cause of the ruckus. It was a boxing match on television, Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks.
With her eyes fixated on Ali, Hallback found herself standing in the doorway, bobbing and weaving her head.
“I wish I could do that,” she told herself. “I know I can do that.”
More than 30 years later, Hallback, a Plant City native, has become what that 7-year-old girl dreamed to be.
During her nearly 20 years as a professional boxer, Hallback, nicknamed “Fist of Steel,” has captured four boxing titles, including the Women’s International Boxing Association super featherweight and light welterweight world titles.
As the No. 1-ranked female fighter in the world in 2008, she captured the Women’s Boxing Archive Network title, the first women’s boxing independent title belt. In 2013, Ring Magazine listed Hallback among the top 10 women’s pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
Hallback’s career record is 29-8-2 with 12 knockouts.
“She’s one of those superior athletes that not only stayed in top condition but was extremely talented,” said former boxer and WBAN founder Sue Fox, who has chronicled Hallback’s career. “She’s fun to watch. She stayed at the top of her game in the sport.”
Though she became intrigued with boxing in 1978, it wasn’t until 1996 that Hallback stepped into a boxing ring. While watching the Mike Tyson vs. Frank Bruno bout on pay-per-view, Hallback saw Christy Martin fight Deirdre Gogarty in an undercard match.
Before that moment, Hallback knew nothing about women’s boxing.
“That was a Saturday,” Hallback said. “That Monday, I went to Calta’s gym on Bearss (Avenue). I walked in and said, ‘I want to fight, I want to box.’ They looked at me, a female, and didn’t take me serious. As a matter of fact, I said not only am I going to box, I’m going to become a world champion. I said that the first day I walked into the gym.”
Six months later, she made her professional debut, a first-round TKO against Connie Plosser in Miami.
Now 42, Hallback shows no signs of slowing. On June 13, she fought as the co-main event in the “Thunder at the Forum,” knocking out Dominga Olivo a minute and 50 seconds into the second round.
Surprisingly, Hallback hadn’t fought in two years before that bout.
“I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m 42 years old,” Hallback said before her fight with Olivo. “And they say, ‘Hey, you’re too old to be fighting, you don’t have it anymore.’ Don’t let anyone tell you what’s the age to do what you can or can’t do. I’m here to represent. You can do whatever you want to do. It doesn’t matter what the number is, it all depends on how you feel and how your body feels.”
On Thursday, Hallback, as one of two WBAN world title holders, will be a special guest at the inaugural International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Fort Lauderdale. One of the inductees is Christy Martin.
Fox, also founder of the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame, said she’s not surprised Hallback continues to fight at a high level.
“In women’s boxing, we do see women fighting in their 40s, and she’s doing just fine,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise me. And the fact that she is still such a talented fighter on top of that.”
When Hallback decides to finally retire, a Hall of Fame induction won’t be too far behind. Until that day, her plan is to make women’s boxing history.
“A female has never fought on HBO,” she said. “Not Laila Ali, not (Joe) Frazier’s daughter, not George Foreman’s daughter. No female has ever fought on HBO.
“I’ve been fighting since 1997, and I was told, I went to HBO myself, and they don’t believe there is a female good enough to fight on HBO. That it would never happen.”
Officials with HBO confirmed the cable network has not aired a women’s prize fight to date.
“The sport of women’s boxing is still very young and developing,” said HBO spokesman Ray Stallone. “We are monitoring the progress.”
Said Hallback: “Well, it’s a first thing for everything. I really believe I’m going to make history. I want my name written down that I did the unthinkable. I did something they said could never be done. I did it. I broke the barrier.
“I’m going to keep going until my body says, ‘No, that’s it,’ or HBO says, ‘You know what, we’re going to give you a chance.’ ”