If asking around the women’s professional boxing scene who’s “the baddest” and “the meanest,” Tori “Sho-Nuff” Nelson (17-0, 3) will be the first to tell you she’s truly “the master” of the ring.
And on Friday, January 12, live on Showtime from the Turning Stone Casino in Verona, New York, Nelson will put her unblemished record on the line to prove she is in fact, the pound-for-pound best when she faces current Supermiddle Weight WBC/IBF champ and two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa “T-Rex” Shields (4-0, 2).
Nelson, 41, who is nearly double Shields’ age at 22, isn’t phased by those who those who think her maturity is a hindrance against her opponent. She strongly believes her “experience and power” are two assets that will allow her to come out victorious at the end of the fight.
She also takes offense to the notion that she’s riding Shields’ popularity as a come up for herself in the battle.
“That’s a negative; I’ve been in this sport for a minute,” Nelson responds with a fierceness in her honey-tinged voice during our conversation. “I’ve been granted awards for being the road dog and going to other girls’ countries to fight them. I fought [Floyd] Mayweather’s girl in her country. How about her [Shields] using me as a come up! I’m about to come out of this sport, and I’m coming out on top.”
A natural born fighter, the Ashburn, Virginia, native, who was the youngest in a clan of all boy siblings, describes herself as a “natural athlete,” which allowed her to “keep up” with her brothers.
“I never had that “girly” side because I always played football and basketball with the boys,” Nelson reflects during our call. “That’s all I know; to be rough.”
While most of her contemporaries ventured into the ring much earlier in their careers, the mother of two began her foray into the sport at the age of 29 on what seems like a whim: she used boxing as a form of fitness after her pregnancies.
“When I got married, my ex-husband was in the military and he used to box,” Nelson shares. “He said the cardio in boxing was much different than regular exercise and I’d lose my weight faster.”
Following his advice, she began training at a boxing gym, and eventually fell in love with the sport.
Showing the finesse of a tiger cornering its prey, Nelson had a natural ability in the ring and would catch the attention of the gym’s owner. He’d eventually become her trainer and challenged her to take it seriously. Nelson told him she’d do so under one condition: he’d have to pay her. Agreeing to the terms, they began working as a team, and Nelson would turn pro at 32.
Seeming like she had all she needed to be successful, the only thing the orthodox fighter was missing was a fighting name.
She laughs heartily while sharing the story of how she got her infamous “Sho-Nuff” moniker, a nod to the fictional character in Berry Gordy’s cult classic 1985 film, ‘The Last Dragon’.
“My trainer was like, ‘T, you gotta have a name,'” says Nelson. “I asked why I just couldn’t be myself, but he told me fighters don’t do that. He said if I was going to be good, I had to have a name. So, I went along with it. We went weeks and months without a name until, finally, he called me early one morning hollering that he had a name for me — ‘Sho-Nuff.'”
Just like “Iron” Mike Tyson, Nelson’s favorite fighter, she finally had a name under her belt and was ready to give boxing everything she had to be elite. And, fight after fight, her win total eventually ballooned to 17 without any sign of defeat.
“I’m the type of person that wants to be the best at what I’m doing,” says Nelson. If I put my all into something, I want to be the best. Once I started doing it, I don’t want to waste my time. And by God’s grace, when I went to Trinidad and won the WBC, my trainer was like, ‘T, we’re here; we made it. We’re just going to keep going.'”
On the surface, it may have seemed like Nelson’s journey to her undefeated record was a seamless battle, however, being able to find quality opponents was not as easy. She had to shape-shift into several weight classes for competitive matches. The roller coaster ride her body endured was harsh.
“The struggle is real,” Nelson candidly shares. “You cannot imagine how hard it is. Most people think it’s hard to lose weight until you try to gain weight. And, training is difficult, too. I can get on the scale one moment and it would say 157 pounds. Then, when I get off the scale, and I’m at 150 or 151 pounds the next day. You drop so much weight it’s ridiculous. I fought from 147 to 168 pounds. This is the highest I’ve ever fought. People don’t see how hard it is behind the scenes. They don’t see the sweat and the lack of sleep at night because your body is not used to it. Your body doesn’t know to reject it because it’s not your weight.”
Making weight is far from the biggest challenge Nelson has had to face in her professional career. The business aspect of the sport is particularly brutal for women due to the lack of respect and dismal wages. It’s also unforgiving to women who have to juggle training with being the sole head of their households. As a single mother of two, Nelson hustles between working at IHOP, training, and helping other women who want to get into shape.
“When men go to train, they leave their families,” Nelson shares. “They get to go away and stay focused. Being a woman, we don’t do that. Not all of us, but the ones that I do know, we still have to take care of home and train on top of that. It’s challenging managing training with everyday life. They get paid more and they get to go clear their minds. We fight just as hard, if not harder. It’s not fair.”
With retirement on the horizon for Nelson and the reality of her hanging up her gloves for good following this next bout, there is still some uncertainty as to when she’ll officially call it a career. One thing she does know for sure is that she wants to make an impact when she leaves for good.
“I just want to do what Laila Ali and the rest of the ladies before me did for us,” Nelson says thoughtfully. “I want to do better for the ones coming after us. I want them to get paid the same the guys get paid. I want them to get the same recognition on Showtime and HBO as the guys do. Why is it always a male Showtime and HBO main event? Why can’t women be the main event? I want us to be equal; that’s what I’m fighting for.”
Photos: Courtesy of Tori Nelson/Instagram