Brooklynfights.com joins World Heavyweight Champion, Sonya Lamonakis for an exclusive interview at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. A dedicated NYC public school teacher, Lamonakis speaks of turning crisis into empowerment in her own life, as well as the importance of discipline and respect inside and out of the ring.
You’ve achieved world champion status in the women’s heavyweight division and are currently ranked #2 in the US/ 3 Worldwide, according to Boxrec. What’s next for Sonya Lamonakis in boxing?
I have a May 30th match coming up which will be my second world title fight for the UBF, which is vacant. I’ll be fighting an 8 division world champion who’s got a lot more experience. She hasn’t fought in about 3 years so she’s been pretty much stagnant and I’ve been very active so I am looking forward to my next 10 round fight on the 30th of May, in St. Maarten, where I had my first world title fight.
Tell us about how you first got into the sport.
When I was 28 years old, I was at the ATM one night in Springfield, Massachusetts where I went to college. I got jumped at the ATM and they cut my throat with a knife. I wanted to basically crumble but my parents were on vacation. I went to my parents house and I didn’t sleep – I cried for 8 hours. I was shook, but I didn’t go to the police, because I didn’t know what to do. They took off – I was young, I was scared, and I didn’t know what to do.
About a week after that I went to Gold’s Gym in West Springfield where I had been training. I was telling a friend of mine who was there what had happened and she was like “Oh you should go to my boxing gym and learn how to box so you know how to defend yourself.” And I said “That sounds great.” So I went down there and fell in love with the sport the first day I was there. Three months later I took my first amateur fight.
I took something bad and made it into something good – it’s a triumph over tragedy.
As an amateur, you won 2 Golden Gloves in New England and 4 in New York with a 25-6 record. What lessons did you learn in the amateurs that have helped fuel your success in the pros?
It’s different for heavyweight women. There is not a big pool of heavyweight women. My first fight as an amateur was against a three time world champion amateur in Lowell, Massachusetts, who had 24 fights, and I had none. But I wanted to fight, so I took the fight. I lost my first fight, my first three. But it gave me a lot of drive to want to be successful in the sport. I just kept plugging through and throughout the time period of boxing in the amateurs, I learned discipline, I learned to persevere. I am Greek, so it’s in my blood, and over time I learned how to be successful in a sport that has given me so much.
If you had to pick one word to describe your mindset the day of a big fight, what would it be?
In addition to fighting, you’re well known for being a NYC public school teacher. How does your experience as a fighter help inform your mentoring of kids?
I have great relationships with my students. I think that God gave me a gift to be able to relate to them and help them to be successful in a world that sometimes can be very difficult. Since I was young, I have always loved children. I don’t have any of my own, but I have always taken care of friends’ kids and was the fun one to play with. I think that being the person that I am, being disciplined has helped me to be a successful teacher because good teachers are disciplined and they and instill that in their children. Good teachers help children to be successful in their lives, and that’s what I’ve tried to do in my 14 years of teaching.
When should kids start in boxing?
I think the sooner you start them the better. You don’t want it to consume their life, but you want it to be a healthy balance. Boxing gives children discipline, it gives them confidence. It gives them that self worth that they feel like they can survive independently. It’s a great thing, not that they have to compete at this level, but the training is a great thing for them.
Considering Ronda Rousey’s starpower in the UFC, do you think prominent female fighters are important for boxing’s future as well?
Unfortunately, managers and promoters and these big companies make their money when they get their fighter to Showtime, HBO and pay per view. Unfortunately women don’t get to that level. I am not taking away from Ronda Rousey, because she is a great fighter. But she is selling the sexy part of fighting. Boxing is a little different. Most of the boxers, we don’t really sell that. We sell more of our fight game. She came in at the right time when the sport was getting developed. She was able to sell her story and sell her looks. I wish her all the best.
I am Greek and heavyweight. I don’t have that kind of blessing in my life. It’s a little different for women in boxing. You can’t just be a boxer. You have to have another career. That’s why I always tell my kids, I got my education first, then I started boxing. Because with an education you have choices in your life and without education, you have none.
That’s what’s important to instill in the children, even the ones who say “Why don’t you just box?” I tell them teaching is my passion, and that’s what I went to school to do.
I have a great promoter, Lou Dibella, who has been very kind to me … For women in boxing it’s gotten a little better with the Olympics, but I don’t know if the sport will ever fully turn around. It’s a man-dominated sport. Unfortunately, the level you need to get to is HBO and Showtime and pay per view and women don’t get there. So, I can understand promoters – why would they invest big money when they’re not going to get a return? Boxing is a business.
What active pro boxers do you respect most and why?
I like professional fighters who act professionally inside the ring and outside the ring. I don’t really have fighters I look up to. I like watching triple-G. I like Danny Jacobs who’s a Brooklyn fighter because he overcame cancer to get back to the ring when they told him he would never walk again. Stories of these guys that I know personally are the ones that I respect – the ones that work very hard to get to the level where they are, not the ones that are given everything. I feel like if you’re professional and respectful inside and out of the ring, I will respect you too. You have to think about these children who are watching you and want to be like you. I think that’s what these boxers really need to think about sometimes. It’s not just about you, it’s about who’s watching you.
Mayweather or Pacquiao?
I pick Mayweather. Because I have never seen Mayweather go down. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s accurate with his punches. I’ve seen Pacquiao go down. You know, he doesn’t have the best chin. Marquez is a great fighter, and you know, he put him on the canvas to sleep. So I think it may be Mayweather. I also have a funny feeling when they met in the hotel alone, they may have set up a triple … Remember, the only thing square in boxing is the ring. I think these guys may be doing it for money, but it’s going to be a great fight for the fans and the history of boxing. I am looking forward to it and wish them both the best of luck and nobody gets hurt. I hope they’re both fair and put their best effort forth to be the winner.