ATLANTIC CITY— Lisa Garland never needed a reason to fight.
But now the 33-year-old former Millville resident is putting up her dukes for a cause near and dear to her heart.
Garland, the Women’s International Boxing Council Junior Welterweight champion, is poised to make New Jersey boxing history today as she bumps up weight to take on Kita Watkins for the WIBC Welterweight crown during the “Summer Super Brawl” at the Tropicana casino in Atlantic City.
Their 10-round showdown will be the first women’s fight in state history to feature three-minute rounds. Normally, women fight two-minute rounds.
Garland, nicknamed the Guillotine for her trademark chopped-off overhand right, wants women’s pay to rise in the sport and believes fighting the same amount of time as the men warrants the increase.
“I really want women to step it up and raise the bar so we can raise our paychecks,” said Garland, who now lives in York, S.C.
Garland, formerly Lisa Williams, won her current belt in March after earning a unanimous decision over Kerri Hill in Tennessee in the first-ever women’s title bout to feature three-minute rounds.
After tonight’s fight, Garland wants to present her case to the Association of Boxing Commissions and extend fights to 12 rounds, just like the men.
“I just want to be treated like a fighter, not a man or woman,” she said. “I can only fight 10 rounds now, but after I do this for the second time, what I want to do is go to the ABC boxing commission, the federal commission, and ask for the last two rounds.
“If women run a marathon next to a man, they don’t stop 2/3 through it because they don’t think we can finish. I deserve it. It’s my right as an athlete.”
Beat or get beat
Garland developed her fighting disposition at an early age.
She grew up poor in Millville along with her three brothers, Donnie, Tommie and Timmy. The four siblings were picked on frequently within the neighborhood, until their father had enough.
“My dad said the next time we come home, and one of us is beat, you’re all getting beat, you’re getting a whupping,” Garland recalled. “So if anybody picked on one of my brothers or picked on me, we all had to stick together, which brought me and my brothers (closer together).”
Garland loved to fight thereafter, but it wasn’t a healthy obsession.
She said she was suspended multiple times every school year between the eighth and 12th grades, ending up in night school every March — three suspensions in a year resulted in night school.
After receiving a rape threat her junior year, Garland said, she got in such a bad skirmish that she was sent to night school at Cumberland Regional to finish out the semester.
She said she was even kicked out of Millville two weeks before graduation.
“Sometimes I was picked on, and sometimes I picked on other people,” Garland said. “I was a fighter. If I had known about boxing as a teenager, I would be a retired fighter (today).
“When I started boxing, I stopped fighting.”
Garland left New Jersey at age 18, moving to South Carolina.
Garland worked various odd jobs during that time, but also continued to get in occasional altercations as well. That is until 2006, when she started doing toughman competitions.
She quickly found success in the amateur boxing showcases, winning her first three fights — for a total of $5,150 — in a six-month span.
In her last event, Garland knocked out three of the five women she fought, but also had four quit the contest because they were afraid to fight her. She and the promoter even had to promise one girl $50 to stay in the ring and put on a show. Garland lightly knocked her out in the second round.
Garland never wanted the plastic surgery reward that came with victory, so she wound up taking the cash instead. But the promoter eventually had enough.
“One promoter put on a show and his exact words were, ‘There’s something wrong with you. You’re scaring people. Go get a federal ID (to be a professional boxer) or don’t come back,’” she said, adding later, “He wanted me to go pro.”
So Garland did.
Match made in heaven
Garland won her professional debut with a referee technical decision over Stacey Farmer on Feb. 28, 2008.
However, she only went 2-3 in her first five fights, her last loss in that stretch coming via TKO against Olivia Fonseca at South Philly Arena, her only fight near her hometown.
But she hooked up with a trainer in Charlotte, Adam Garland, a New Jersey transplant as well, and he taught her the finer points of the sport.
“Before I met him, I didn’t know how to box,” Lisa said. “I just loved to fight, and then I found out the hard way that even though you love to fight, boxing is a sport, not the same as fighting. I had to learn how to box.”
She said the most important thing he taught her was to play defense.
“How not to get hit,” she said. “Keep your hands up, bend your knees, catch and shoot, throw the first punch, don’t wait to get hit.”
The two quickly developed a connection and after nearly 2 ½ years of training, they married a year and a half ago.
“We went all the way to Carolina to find each other,” Lisa joked.
Her improvement with Adam was no joke though.
She won five of her next six bouts after starting 2-3, is currently 9-6 in her career and ranked as the world’s No. 7 welterweight by the boxing website, boxrec.com.
Garland isn’t looking to make a leap up to No. 1 with her fight Friday.
In fact, at 33, she knows her time is winding down.
She has a 6-year-old son, Tommy Bolin Jr.; owns Champ’s Gym in Sharon, S.C.; and is a junior at Winthrop University, getting her degree in sports management.
But before she hangs up her pro gloves, she’s adamant about making women’s boxing a more demanding sport, and believes her fights are a step in that direction.
“As far as I’m concerned, the (International Boxing Federation) is the title everybody wants, but if they are only going to fight six or eight two-minute rounds, my belt goes way over top of their belt because I’m fighting a lot longer and harder than their champion,” she said.
That’s why getting 12-round fights approved is so important to Garland.
“I want my last two rounds before I retire,” she said.
Tonight’s fight will amount to another step in that direction.
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