Million Dollar Maybe

Christina Swanson could be a champ again. Too bad few have the guts to face her.

As an 8-year-old at Ordway Elementary School, she shaved her head. "I wanted to be like the boys," she remembers, her blue eyes shifting below a pair of thinly plucked eyebrows. "I didn't really fit in."

Swanson has a habit of downplaying a story. A packed crowd is "a pretty good turnout"; a busted lip "sort of hurts." And if she can answer a question in one word, she won't yak for five minutes. She greets friends with playful punches to the gut and sidesteps questions about her feelings.

For that reason, the source of her urge to whack people is a mystery. She can't — or won't — explain where it comes from. "I don't know. I wasn't abused. I didn't grow up on the streets. It's not like I'm angry," she says. "It's just how I am." She is content to be a contradiction: a good suburban girl who can snap your nose.

Trainer Matt Baiamonte gives Swanson a pep talk.
C. Stiles
Trainer Matt Baiamonte gives Swanson a pep talk.
Jennifer Wolfe-Fenn slows down in the last round against Swanson.
C. Stiles
Jennifer Wolfe-Fenn slows down in the last round against Swanson.

Of course, there have been rough times. Says her sister, Anna: "She was the emotional buffer for all the dysfunction that went on in our household." When her parents had marital problems, she internalized it. When Anna rebelled, Christina took on the peacemaker role. That stuff has a way of accumulating over the years, Anna says. "She has the perfect boxing personality. She holds things inside and then just explodes."

In middle school, classmates heckled her for being a tomboy. She was strong and competitive. One snotty popular girl told her: "The boys only hang out with you because they're scared of you."

Christina planned to get out of town as soon as possible, ditched high school, and at age 17, commuted to Seattle Central Community College. A Washington State University swimming scholarship was her ticket out. "She was a sparkplug," says her former roommate, Katie Barnes. "She had this really tough personality."

In 2001, Swimming World magazine profiled Swanson and the team on their way to an Olympic training facility. After two years, she clashed with a male coach she calls "sexist" and transferred to the University of Miami, where she became an All-American swimmer.

After her 2004 graduation, she moved to Los Angeles to be with her sister. There she got a job at a hectic Starbucks down the street from a school, Anna says. One stressful afternoon — after dealing with a group of troublemaker students — Christina quietly lost it. She picked up a heavy bag of coffee and threw it against the floor. Beans scattered everywhere, and she walked out without a word.

Her fiery side cropped up in other places too. In the winter of 2004, she and Anna donned eye shadow and went for a drink at a hip-hop club on Sunset Boulevard. Soon, Anna felt a hand grab her butt. She turned to find a hulking, six-foot-tall man and pushed him away. He swung drunkenly in retaliation.

Christina went ballistic. Fists clenched, she launched herself over tables. She eventually got "carried out by two bouncers," Anna recalls. "She was always getting in fights. It was good for her to put gloves on instead."

A couple of months later, in February 2005, she began boxing in an amateur league. Back then, trainers and promoters didn't want to waste their time on a no-name. Especially one who was a girl. "I'd go to a lot of tournaments by myself and try to pick up someone to work my corner," Swanson says. Many times she left without a fight.

Her first match was at a small gym in the Santa Clarita Valley, where a few fans dotted the audience. "All the guys I knew from the gym were pumping me, making me feel like I was better than I was. I didn't have a clue. I caught a wild haymaker in the chin," she says, pausing as if she can still feel the sting. "That kind of gave me stars."

Money was running low in Los Angeles, so she moved back to South Florida. She got a job at US 1 Fitness Center in Dania and met two-time world featherweight boxing champion Bonnie "the Cobra" Canino. The pro began giving her pointers. "She's a natural athlete, and I knew it wouldn't take much to get her fights," Canino says. "She's a real crowd pleaser."

At the gym, she also met a Haitian-born professional middleweight named Wilky Campfort. He too was struggling to get noticed. He had a chiseled chest, a playful personality, and a crush on Christina. They made a bet on a football game; she won, so he took her to IHOP. They began dating and moved in together shortly after.

Wilky might be the only man on the planet with an excuse to hit his girlfriend. When Christina can't find a sparring partner, the two meet at Fight Club and beat each other silly. One time, he left her with a black eye, she says. "I can't play around," he explains. "I have to get her ready... It's my job. I have to protect her."

At Fight Club, Swanson was a curiosity at first. Pretty soon, her talent demanded attention. Says tattooed 28-year-old employee Anthony McKnight: "She can whip your ass and mop the floor with any girl."

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