Nicole “Nicky” Saunders not only serves her country, but she is also pursuing her dream of becoming a professional boxer.
On “Q” Sports caught up with the charming and humble, yet confident 29-year-old boxer from New York as she gets set for her pro debut in November.
We discussed her service to the country, being a female boxer, and how many times her friends foolishly tried to test her boxing skills.
Rich: First off, thanks for the time, and to clarify you are still in the Navy?
Nicky: “Yes, I have been in the Navy for 9 years now. I am still active and deployed in 2008; I am on shore duty now. “
Rich: What made you want to go into the Navy, and serve your country?
Nicky: “Travel and education, and I wanted to give back right away. I went pretty much out of high school.”
Rich: What is your roll?
Nicky: “I do IT in the Navy.”
Rich: So you mentioned the travel, where you over in Afghanistan?
Nicky: “It was not Afghan deployment, it was Mediterranean deployment, and we hit 23 or so ports, all over, Turkey, Malta, Italy, a bunch of them. I got to see a bunch of stuff.”
Rich: What did you learn about yourself from being overseas and serving your country?
Nicky: “I pretty much became so much better at my job, and I really had this new focus on my future. You think a lot when you are overseas; my main focus was really just being better at my job, and learning more about my job, just trying to be a real focused person. I also knew I wanted to take Boxing more serious.”
Rich: You reside in Virginia Beach now, where were you born?
Nicky: “Yeap I live in Virginia Beach now and was born in Queens, NY.
Rich: I figured NYC, you talk faster than I do.
Nicky (Laughing) “Yeah, I talk fast, I am feisty, you know. I have that in me.”
Rich: How did you get started in Boxing?
Nicky: “Well, funny story, I was kind of chunky and chubby person. I have always been a chubby person, so I needed motivation. I am Puerto Rican, and the love of boxing has always been there, so in the Navy I tried out for the Boxing team. I made it my first year, could not fight because of my command. We were on the USSS New York. But I was available my second year and made the team again and excelled from there. I was allowed a fight my second year and did well, once I fought I won and I won the Armed Forces Championships and I just knew I wanted to turn pro.”
Rich: What did you family and friends think at first when you said you wanted to become a pro boxer?
Nicky: “Everyone was real supportive, my mom is not the happiest person in the world about this, and I am the only child. As far as my friends go they have been very supportive and so has my family.”
Rich: So being from New York, and being a boxer is hard enough. Do your friends ever try to test you, maybe try to instigate you into maybe taking a swing at them, all in fun of course?
Nicky: “Of course, I am from New York, I have been surrounded by guys my whole life, yeah you know how guys are. They always try to pick on me, but afterwards it is not a pretty sight. Now that they know I am a pro fighter, they try to start up some stuff, but I leave it alone (Laughing).”
Rich: I would imagine serving your country make you fearful of nothing and I would venture to guess that does not change your mind set when you enter the ring?
Nicky: “No, I have no fear, I am just having a bunch of fun, and nothing scares me, getting into the ring with a guy or girl, nothing scares me. I pick up on stuff, every single time I am in the ring. I just want to have fun with what I do.”
Rich: What kind of style do you have in the ring, what can we expect?
Nicky: “I think if there is a type, I am a pressure fighter. At first I was a brawler, but now I box more. I will not sit and wait for someone to hit me; you will get hit first with me. I will walk you down completely. Being female and Puerto Rican, I feel like I always have to do my best, I have high expectations for me. You know you think of a Puerto Rican fighter of always being macho, and having pride and that is true. I have pride, but I am also ½ black and I always show pride. I show the Rican side more, but I never put pressure on myself. I just do me, it shows in my effort and it will show in the ring.”
Rich: You are a smaller boxer. I say that with respect, meaning smaller boxers tend to get frustrated easily against taller opponents. Have you prepared for taller opponents?
Nicky: “Yeah I know I am small, I am 5”2. I know all about the taller opponents. The whole pressure thing comes from me being a short boxer, so I have short arms and legs. It is annoying (laughing). But that is why I like to press the action. I have spared many female opponents and taller guys countless times, and it does get frustrating, but in the end, it only makes you better.”
Rich: How are you preparing for your first pro bout?
Nicky: “I am really getting that conditioning up. I run in morning, 4-6 miles in morning, when I am with my coach in the evening I might work on strength and technical work depending on the day. But there is always road work. I didn’t have the advantage of having an amateur background, but I work hard. I will never doubt my opponent. So if I have to go 10 rounds on the bag, I will. If I have to do 20 minutes of mitt work and then back on the treadmill and do more road work, I will do that. I am willing to do whatever I need to do.”
Rich: Where are you training now, and tell me about working with Coach Kenny Miller?
Nicky: “Right now, we are using the Police Gym, it is like a PAL in Virginia Beach and Coach Kenny is a great guy. He is really hands on guy, you feel like you are one of his kids. Works with me on a one-on-one basis and he pushes me to the max. He believes in you as a boxer and person. I needed that and looked for that in a coach and trainer. I like pushing myself inside the ring and outside the ring. We just prepare and I put in the work.”
Rich: There are part-time fighters and full-time fighters, which one are you? You can’t be both.
Nicky: “I want to be a full-time fighter, once this first pro fight gets underway and done, I want this to continue. Do I want to lose or expect to lose? No! But if I do it is a learning experience for me, and I put my whole heart and soul into it, so yeah I am making this a full-time thing.”
Rich: Do you think it is tough to be a female boxer and do female boxers get the respect they deserve?
Nicky: “I think with any sport, it is hard for females to come up, look at the WNBA, great players, but it is tough to get that audience. It is good that I have a good upbringing and background, and I think any sport needs to have good a spokesperson or two for each sport. If female boxers keep putting their names and image out there some more and show what they are doing for their community, their country and such, people will look at that more. Hey, we can fight, but what else are we doing, everyone else is doing something, what are we doing. In the past years, I do not think female boxing has been given the recognition it deserves.”
Rich: “Who are some of the boxers that you follow and enjoy watching, and you can’t say Cotto.
Nicky: (Laughing) “Come on, you know I am a huge Cotto fan, I love Andre Ward and Mayweather. Look at him, he is an expert in his craft, he knows what to do to win, and he adjusts and does what he needs to do. He fought a great fight against Canelo, who just got tired and frustrated. I love Danny Garcia. He is always the underdog, and no one expected him to win because of Matthysse’s power, but he overcame that, he overcomes everything. Do not underestimate him.”
Rich: Do you have a nickname?
Nicky: “Well, I am tiny and Puerto Rican, so they call me the “Lil Rican”
Rich: What does it mean to you to serve your country?
Nicky: “It means the world to me, I also want to give back, me doing what I need to do for my country, means the world to me, and I am contributing to our country and no matter how big or small it is, I see that I am contributing and trying to make a difference. I am doing that until I get out in December, I am so happy and honored to serve this country, and I love it. Now it is time for me to concentrate on some of the things that I want to do, which is box.”