Divas Battle: Maricela Cornejo vs. Franchon Crews
First Televised Female World Title Fight by ESPN in 14 Years
By David A. Avila
Expect a clash of feline proportions when Maricela “La Diva” Cornejo meets Franchon “Heavy Hitting Diva” Crews Dezurn for the world title on Thursday in Las Vegas.
It’s not a roll of the dice to say Cornejo and Crews might possibly be the most action-packed female fight of the year.
Southern California-based Cornejo (12-2, 5 KOs) battles Maryland-based Crews (3-1, 1 KO) for the vacant WBC super middleweight world title on Thursday Sept. 13, at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. ESPN will televise the Golden Boy Promotions event.
A female world title fight has not been seen on ESPN in 14 years since Layla McCarter faced Chevelle Hallback at Pala Casino in California for the WIBA super featherweight title. Back then, major sanctioning groups like the WBA, WBC, IBF, and WBO did not recognize female title fights.
This match further shows the rapid advancement female boxing has attained.
That title match on July 2, 2004, between McCarter and Hallback, remains one of the greatest female fights of all time. Each showed magnificent fighting skills and it served as a precursor to the levels that female prizefighting could reach.
Women’s boxing as a whole finally seems to have caught up to them.
Crews, though 31 and with only 4 pro fights, is a former USA amateur national champion. In 2016, when Claressa Shields broke away from the amateur boxing with two Olympic gold medals to enter the pro boxing world, no one would fight her.
Both Crews and Shields had fought each other in the amateur world, but on November 2016, each boxer dispensed with the head gear and bigger padded gloves and entered the T-Mobile Arena as pros.
They lit up the boxing ring.
After four furious and fast-paced rounds of clobbering time, Shields emerged the winner by decision. But that night fans learned about Crews too. She can fight.
“We just went out there and lit it up,” said Crews about her pro debut with Shields. “I’ve learned a lot about pro fighting since then. Me and my opponent were amateur style in that fight.”
Her pro debut against Shields remains her biggest moment mostly because her mother was alive to see it. Two weeks later, she passed away.
“The mission is to become a world champion for my mother’s honor and self-fulfillment,” Crews says somberly.
Crews has a straight forward boxer-puncher style that she’s honed to adapt to the longer professional fights. This will be her first 10-round match and she’s ready for it despite the rocky journey that led to this moment including several cancelled bouts.
“I come and fight. If it’s ugly as long as I get the W I don’t care,” said Crews whose speed and amateur experience have paid off with three consecutive wins as a pro. “I’m just very stubborn that way. Thanks to my mom I believe in myself.”
The East Coast prizefighter has followed Cornejo’s career.
“She’s (Cornejo) been pro for a very long time and I’m getting my feet wet. She has a lot of pro experience and a promoter that is keeping her busy,” said Crews.
Cornejo, 31, is the exact same age and only had a few amateur bouts before becoming a professional in 2012. Most of her technique has been learned in the last few years while finally settling in Southern California after stints in Las Vegas and Miami.
“I never really had a trainer until now,” said Cornejo who fought for the WBC middleweight world title in April 2016 against Kali Reis and lost by decision in New Zealand. “When I fought for the title my trainer didn’t even go with me. That’s why he’s my former trainer.”
It’s been on-the-job-training for the Mexican-American prizefighter who grew up in the state of Washington. Before boxing, Cornejo participated in team sports like volleyball and softball. Her competitive spirit was first developed as a youth.
The tall brunette has knocked out three consecutive opponents in her last three fights. She attributes the wins to better training habits, diet and coaching by Antonio Diaz. In the boxing ring it’s her natural strength that shows up in her punching power and ability to trade blows with other strong fighters.
“I’ve learned a lot these past two years,” said Cornejo adding that her signing by Golden Boy Promotions was the linchpin. “I was ready to quit boxing.”
After signing with the Los Angeles-based promotion company in 2017 Cornejo was quickly given several prize fights and has won them all including a win over Mexico’s Irais Hernandez. At the time they met, fans criticized the match because Hernandez’s little-known abilities. But since Cornejo beat her by split-decision Hernandez has draws with WBC heavyweight world titlist Alejandra Jimenez and with Ema Kozin for the WBC Silver super middleweight title this past weekend in Croatia.
It seems Cornejo does have real ability.
Cornejo returns to Las Vegas where she was once arrested on drug-related charges and kicked out of the casino city. Now she’s back but will she depart as a champion?
One thing is certain: both expect to win.
“I really admire and respect Franchon and for what she has been through,” said Cornejo by phone. “I’m really, really excited about this fight. When it comes time to the actual fight I’m going to forget all of that and let it all out.”
Crews shares the exact sentiments.
“I’m ready to take it all in. My story is already written. No need for me to stress,” said Crews by phone. “I’m going to do what I was trained to do, kick ass.”
Crews and Cornejo, will this be the fight of the year?
ESPN will televise.