The First Lady of Boxing
“If I find a fighter who I thought was championship material, I would make time.” Jackie Kallen
Jackie Kallen, also known as “The First Lady of Boxing,” was one of the first female managers to gain success in the male-dominated world of professional boxing. In her heyday, she brought James Toney the 1991 WBA World Middleweight title and Bronco McKart the 1994 WBO World Jr. Middleweight title, among other prestigious accomplishments. She was also nominated for the Manager of the Year Award twice. In honor of Kallen, director Charles S. Dutton developed a motion picture based on her life titled “Against the Ropes” (2004), which starred Meg Ryan. Kallen appeared as a female journalist in the film. Often considered North America's most famous female boxing promoter, Kallen previously worked as a show business journalist for a magazine in Detroit. She also served as a sports reporter. In 2005, she served as a consultant for the reality TV series “The Contender.”
The Los Angeles resident was voted Youth Sports Coordinator for the Los Angeles County Sheriff Department where she visits many areas where there are youth-at-risk and sets up boxing gyms. As a motivational speaker, she goes to churches and schools to speak to kids in order to encourage them to leave gangs and go to the gym. Kallen participates in charities like PATH (People Assisting the Homeless) and battered women shelters. She is the author of “Hit Me with Your Best Shot: A Fight Plan for Dealing with All of Life's Hard Knocks” (1997) and is the former commissioner of the International Female Boxers Association.
Childhood and Family:
Jackie Kaplan, who would later be popular as Jackie Kallen, was born in 1946 in Detroit. She grew up in a middle class Jewish family and was educated at Schulze Elementary and Mumford High School.
At age 20, Jackie married a man named Gary and after having two children, began her journalism career in a magazine. She currently is the grandmother of two young boys and lives happily with her husband in Los Angeles.
Against the Ropes
A boxing promoter, Jackie Kallen started her career working for a magazine as a show business journalist in the 1970s. Her duties included interviewing a number of celebrities, among them Frank Sinatra, The Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley. During 1977, Kallen was delegated to interview Thomas Hearns, the new boxing potential from the Kronk gym in Detroit, and after watching him performing in the ring, fell in love with the sport and began working as a sports journalist. Although she covered news about other sports, she focused on boxing.
Kallen's affiliation with Hearns continued when she accepted a job as Hearns' publicist, which she held for a decade. She became a popular personality in the Detroit boxing scene, but not without a cost. Kallen was frequently met with discrimination because at the time women's boxing was practically nonexistent and many felt it was a sport strictly for men. She saw this as a challenge and with the arrival of heavyweight Bobby Hitz in 1988, she professionally made her debut as a boxing manager.
Kallen's first huge break came in 1991 when her fighter, James Toney, won the title of WBA World Middleweight. She recalled, “I had been telling everyone that I was going to have a champion and people kind of snickered. When I did take (James Toney) off the street and turn him into a champion, they really looked at me a little bit differently.” Another of her combatants, Bronco McKart, picked up the WBO World Jr. Middleweight title in 1994, an accomplishment that cemented her status as one of the sport's first successful female managers.
Kallen's professional relationship with Toney created some controversy, but did allow her to gain celebrity status among hardcore boxing fans. She began to appear in articles in magazines like Ring and KO Magazine and often disclosed that their relationship was like mother and son. However, there were rumors that the two did not get along well behind the scenes and they maintained an on-and-off again friendship until the late 1990s. By this time, Kallen had been diagnosed with cancer and heart disease but recovered after undergoing several surgeries.
In 2004, Kallen was featured as a female reporter in Charles S. Dutton's film “Against the Ropes,” which was based on her life. In the biopic, she was portrayed by actress Meg Ryan. A year later, she could be seen working as a consultant for Mark Burnett's reality TV series “The Contender,” alongside Sylvester Stallone, Jeffrey Katzenberg and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Kallen will be an associate producer for director Jack Serino’s upcoming film “The Gold & the Beautiful,” which is scheduled for a 2011 release. She is also taking on the co-executive producer duties for an upcoming film titled “Five Good Years.”