June 1, 2013

KO Digest Interview: Shelito Vincent - "Boxing saved my life"

Shelito's Way is Manfredo's Way
In many ways, boxing is a microcosm of life. At its purest, the “Sweet Science” is a beautiful sport, an art form in which the smartest man typically triumphs. While the reward is gratifying, the path to success is bumpy, filled with obstacles—myriad twists and turns that can lead away the meek and unworthy. The cream always rises to the top in the end, but the rise can be slow and awfully unsteady.

The life which led Shelly "Shelito" Vincent to boxing was hardly filled with sunshine and suburbs. Before entering the ring, she was already molded into a fighter, battling off emotions, temptations, and the demons both outside and within. Compounded by the death of her mother from leukemia, a detour into drugs, and even a jail stint, Shelly lashed out like a predator to adapt to her surroundings, where circumstances she deemed to be out of her control preyed on her and drained her emotionally.

It’s no exaggeration to say boxing is all that's kept the 34 year old Vincent alive. Winning The Nationals as an amateur gave her a sense of achievement and pride that fueled her fire to get on the right track and stay there. Armed with a continually improving skill set and upper echelon conditioning - a strong start to a boxing career under the guidance of Providence, Rhode Island's Peter Manfredo Sr has given Shelly something even more important: a second family. “Shelito’s Way” is about more than pushing harder than anyone else in the gym and striving for a world title while compiling a 9-0 professional record and obtaining the WIBA super bantamweight title—it’s about giving back, helping the community, and making every effort possible to be a positive role model.

KO Digest's Joel Sebastianelli: You’ve been boxing professionally for over a year and a half now, debuting when you were 32 years old. When and how were you first drawn into the ring and why make the decision to turn pro when you did? How long was your career in the amateurs?

Shelito Vincent: Ten or eleven years [in the amateurs] but I took a few years off at a time. I got into some trouble, did a little time, then my mother passed and I needed to beat depression. I stopped there for a while and it took me a bit to snap out. When I won The Nationals, I figured I was getting older, and that [turning pro] would be the best thing to do. I finally got back in the sport and started taking it seriously. I always thought I would be a better pro than an amateur anyway because of my style.

In the gym with Peter Manfredo Sr
KOD: You've trained with Peter Manfredo Sr for most of your career. How has working with one of the most prominent trainers in New England helped you progress as a fighter? How has your career and fighting style changed from the first bout of your professional career up to now?

SV: The style I had before, I was using my feet to step back and counter a bit more, but now he’s got me more inside and like an aggressive fighter. I throw thousands of more punches now. I still use the head movement and the foot movement, but I’m more aggressive and he’s made me a stronger fighter. From the minute I started working with Peter, every single fight I got better and stronger. That’s actually the trainer I wanted to start with, but they told me he didn’t really like dealing with females at that point. I decided to go and ask him myself, and ever since he just keeps escalating my skill. I’m blessed to have Peter.

KOD: What’s a typical training camp like for you?

SV: Crazy! They’re always crazy and emotional, but the boxing part is the easy part. My conditioning is always great, I always feel good, the weight always comes off good, but it seems like somebody always dies during camp. Emotionally, it gets crazy. I deal with a lot of emotions in my head. I dealt with a tough childhood and I’ve been through a lot of stuff that most people would probably be dead from. I deal with that part a lot, but I go and speak to kids about this—anything for the kids and cancer. I deal with those demons every day, and I think that’s the hardest part.

KOD: Outside of prizefighting, you spend a lot of your time working with kids. What do you do with them and why do you do it?

SV: I train kids, I give back to the community, and go to schools and I go to anywhere there’s troubled youth. I talk to these kids because during all of the stuff that I went through, I felt like if I had one person talk to me, my life would have been totally different. I try to be that person for as many kids as I can. As long as I can just save one, that’s good for me. I want to get out there and touch as many lives as I can because my life would have been totally different if I had somebody talk to me like me and understood where I was coming from.

KOD: What do you tell them?

SV: I tell them the stuff I’ve been through, how I dealt with it, and how I should have done certain things sooner, like talk to somebody. There’s always somebody out there, and you always feel better if you get it out. I turned to alcohol and went through a drug thing. My life would have been totally different if my mother didn’t pass away and I had somebody I could have talked to that I could trust. I was abused a lot, and I had a lot of bad stuff happen. I went to the Northern Rhode Island Collaborative School and all of those kids came to my title fight and they walked me out. Seeing them in front of me when I’m walking out and knowing that I inspired some of them made me feel good and makes me fight harder when I get in the ring because those kids symbolize me.

KOD: Your career is off to a great start, but life leading up to your professional debut has been quite difficult. What struggles have you been faced with and how have they changed you as a person?

SV: I was a great student in school and a real sweet kid until my mother’s boyfriend raped me when I was 13. It happened a few times and being as I was a child, I was more embarrassed by what the kids would say at school. Now that I’m older, I realize that I should have protected myself more. I try to talk to the kids about that, and actually, a lot of the kids reach out and talk to me afterwards so I know it’s impacting people. You’re never really comfortable talking about it, but it makes you feel good and makes you feel like your story should be out there if it’s going to save somebody else, you know?

KOD: Do your complex emotions outside of the ring carryover to your actions inside the ring?

SV: My mother died from leukemia at age 37. I do cancer walks, leukemia walks, anything like that in memory of my mother. I give all the money back. On fight night, you’re fighting my mother, you’re fighting the guy who raped me, you’re fighting all the troubles I’ve been through, so when it comes to fight night, you’re not just fighting me, you’re fighting a lot. It definitely helps me.

The wildly popular Shelito wins again in Rhode Island
KOD: Most recently, you were victorious in Rhode Island on May 17 against Angel Gladney by unanimous decision. The bout was the undisputed fight of the night, a back and forth, toe-to-toe battle. Take us through the triumph on fight night from your perspective.

SV: That was the biggest fight that I’ve ever went into. That’s the fight that I’ve dreamed of since I got into boxing. You want to win a belt. I won a little amateur belt, now I’ve won a pro belt, and I want to get a bunch more and win a world title.

KOD: To the outside observer, it seems like things have really settled down in your life and things have taken a turn for the better. What do you credit the most for helping to calm you down and focus on turning your life around?

SV: It’s the boxing. Boxing saved my life, period. If I’m having a bad day, I go out for a run. If I feel terrible, I go in and hit the bag and I cry. Peter, Mary [Del Pino Morgan], the ladies over at Striking Beauties, they’ve given me somebody to talk to, like a new family giving me their guidance and getting me through these things. I owe a lot to all of them. Peter is like a father to me, Mary is like a mother. Without them, I’d be a mess. It’s definitely getting better and I’m talking to people now, but every once in a while, holidays come and I think about my mother and it triggers all that stuff. Boxing has given me a second family, and it helps me release that tension and stress. Without boxing, I would have been dead if I didn’t get back into it when I did.

KOD: Was Gladney a tougher foe than you originally expected? She entered the fight with a record of 8-7-1 and the consensus from many local fans was that you would win easily.

SV: Angel Gladney was tough, man. I hit her with everything, and everything was landing. She hit me with some shots also. I thought I was going to get her out of there a couple of times, but she’s a tough girl. Hats off to her. She definitely came to fight. The thing that had me nervous was that she had the six knockouts in her eight wins. The only times she ever lost were against the top females in the game like Kaliesha West and Ana Julaton, and I knew she had the power behind her. Actually, it was a little easier than I thought it would be, but she was really tough, especially in those last two rounds when she felt the strongest.

Team Vincent a second family for Shelito

KOD: By virtue of that fight nearly two weeks ago, you also earned your first title, the WIBA super bantamweight crown. How does that accomplishment rank among the accolades you’ve achieved so far?

SV: From the day I got into boxing, that was the goal, to get some belts. I want a world title now, so I’m back in the gym and working hard. Now that I’ve achieved that goal, I need to push harder. I want more. I make sure that nobody has better conditioning than me. Come fight night, that girl is definitely not going to be in better shape than me. Sometime it all comes down to conditioning. Peter teaches me some great stuff, but with him, I will never not be in top condition.

KOD: Which fighters are you interested in fighting and where do you see your career going from this stage?

SV: I’m going to go until I can’t walk anymore and my arms stop working! There’s a lot of great girls out there, and I fight between 119 and 122 pounds now. I guess Kaliesha would be a good fight since she’s number one, Julaton is number two, but there’s some girls we can’t get any tape on. For some reason, we can’t get fights at 119 so that’s why we moved up to 122. I started out at 119 lbs. and I would have liked to have stayed at 119, but we couldn’t get anything. When I was down there, it seemed like I was fighting bigger girls anyway. But I can adapt to anything.

KOD: Most of your fights are held at Twin River Casino in Lincoln, Rhode Island, and you almost always the most popular fighter on the card. How have you acquired such a strong following?

SV: I love it. I think that’s what makes me work hard, because when I have my city out there, New London, Connecticut, half of the city comes every time I fight. I’ve fought at Foxwoods twice and Mohegan Sun twice, and I’m even starting to get followers out here too, so it’s amazing. It keeps you going. I’ve been through a lot of stuff, so to know that people are out there supporting you and have that love for you, it definitely makes you work harder and drive harder. But I’m going to do whatever Jimmy [Burchfield] tells me to do. I just listen to my management and CES and I’ll fight wherever.

Vincent enjoys a CES fan following
KOD: Skeptics might look and your 9-0 record and point out that none of your wins have come by knockout. Why should that argument be irrelevant?

SV: I know I haven’t had that knockout yet, but it’s coming. You guys have seen the fights against Carmen Cruz, who was seconds out of the way, and even Gladney. I dropped her twice, because I thought the first one was legit. If you look back at the tape, you see the sweat fly off her head and she hits the floor. I thought the referee was going to stop it. It hasn’t come yet, but I’m going to shock y’all with that one! I want it, but I’m more after a W. Nobody is going to outwork me.

KOD: Vincent versus Gladney was also the main event on a Friday night card. This was the first time you’ve ever been bestowed that position on the fight card and you’re following and success is growing. Do you feel as though the majority of boxing fans are starting to support and accept women’s boxing? 

SV: Yeah, especially down here. They really come out and support me here, but I don’t know about other states. I’ve been the co-main for five or six of the fights I’ve had because of the people who come out and support me so much. I really do think that on most of the cards I was on, we’d put on one of the most exciting fights because my opponents all come to fight. I think they’re definitely embracing it in this area. It would be nice if we could get some TV time like they do for the MMA girls, but we’re struggling with that. I think my fights are pretty exciting, I think that people would tune in, especially with the tickets I sell. Imagine if there were TV times, people that couldn’t afford to come would tune in.

KOD: In the 2012 Olympic Games in London, women’s boxing was a new addition and Americans like Claressa Shields were prominently featured live on television and through advertisements. How important do you feel last summer’s Olympics were for the future of women’s boxing? What’s you take on the female super bantamweight division, and on the state of women’s boxing as a whole?

SV: It’s moving in the right direction out here, they’re treating us great, Jimmy treats me great, but people need to give us a chance and give us a look. We have a lot of talented girls out there who are exciting enough to be on TV, but they won’t give us a chance. People out here saw me fight and started supporting me. They can do this in other areas too. Ava Knight is exciting. They should all get more TV time but it’s a struggle. In the Olympics, the girls did better than the guys.

The Future of Boxing

KO Digest Interview conducted by Joel "The Future" Sebastianelli

Joel joined KO Digest in January 2013 and has been a fixture on press row in the New England area for three years. In 2012, he served as the host of “The Boxing Fix” on Leave it in the Ring Radio.
Sebastianelli is the future of boxing journalism and broadcasting.  

Joel can be found Tweeting on Twitter @JJSebastianelli