On top of the world

Gilroy's Kelsey Jeffries exchanges blows with her opponent, Jeri

Sure, Laila Ali has the name.
But Kelsey Jeffries has the most coveted award in her sport
… for the second year in a row.
Sure, Laila Ali has the name.

But Kelsey Jeffries has the most coveted award in her sport … for the second year in a row.

Earlier this week, the local fighter was named World Boxer of the Year by the Women Boxing Archive Network, the sport’s preeminent source for news and information.

“When I heard the message on my phone, I was kind of shocked,” Jeffries said. “I never even anticipated the first one. I do work hard to be the best, but I guess I just don’t expect others to recognize that.

“I’m just humbled by all this.”

Jeffries went 6-0 in 2004, a year that saw her both win the IBA Super Bantamweight title and retain her IFBA Featherweight belt.

In holding off Ali, Mary Jo Sanders and Sumya Anani, the 29-year-old became the first boxer to earn the award in back-to-back years – although it was tighter call this time around, said WBAN founder Sue L. Fox.

“It was a lot tougher … some of the girls were pretty close,” she said. “But the totality of everything Kelsey is made of is why she was determined as the best.”

“Kelsey always shines. That’s why she fits her ring name, “Warrior.” She really is. She doesn’t just fight people in her hometown. She’s known to be a warrior who’s willing to take on anybody to be the best. She’s also a positive role model for other boxers and just a joy to be around.”

That reputation makes Jeffries (30-8-0, 2 KOs) a hit with the boxing public, Fox said. One of the determining factors in the WBAN award is a survey of fans – and Jeffries received plenty of votes.

“The response to her is always very positive,” Fox said. “She’s one of the fighters that gets some of the best feedback from the fans.”

In fact, some of those fans give her direct feedback in the strangest of places. When she’s not boxing, Jeffries – who averages around $3,000 in purse money a fight – is an on-call firefighter for San Benito County.

She usually answers about three or four calls a day – making $12 a call and assisting in everything from major car accidents to minor injuries. But even with her status as the No. 1 female boxer in the world, Jeffries is still taken aback when she’s recognized around the area.

“This lady was in a pretty bad accident and there was blood all over the place,” said Jeffries, recalling a recent encounter. “Then she looked up and said, ‘Hey, Kelsey!'”

“I had no idea who she was,” the boxer added with a laugh. “That happens all the time. I guess people have just followed me through the newspaper.”

Jeffries, who credits renowned trainer James “Buddy” McGirt with much of her recent success, said she’s likely to get back into the ring “within a month or so,” although nothing is finalized.

In the meantime, Jeffries said it’s still a bit overwhelming to be considered the planet’s best in her given profession.

“I believe in my heart that I can be the best, but I just never want that to be said,” she said. “It’s kind of weird. I believe it, but if you tell me, I’m not going to think so.

“I believe I can still be better.”

Just where is she from?

That’s not an easy question, as fans from Gilroy and Hollister, two cities that claim her as their own, can attest. Jeffries was born in Bakersfield and lived there until she was 13. She then moved to Hawaii and graduated from Kaiser High School before her parents moved back to the mainland to a home in Sunnyvale.

They then bought a home in Gilroy, where Jeffries began boxing in the family’s garage. Her parents soon found themselves caring for an ailing grandparent back in Bakersfield, though, and Jeffries found a place to stay in San Juan Bautista. For the past three years, she’s lived in an apartment in Hollister – but said it’s only because she found a very affordable place to reside.

Jeffries considers Gilroy her hometown and that’s the way she’s introduced before all her fights.

“I don’t think fighters should have a bunch of different hometowns,” she said. “I like to say I’m from Gilroy, because that’s where I started fighting. I wasn’t born and raised there, but I consider it my home.

“Until the mayor holds a press conference and says I’m not from there, I’ll always say that.”

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