Haitians In America

Haitian American Boxer Melissa St. Vil’s Road To The Ring

By Ralph ‘Onz’ Chery

Melissa St. Vil holding the NABO Lightweight belt. Photo courtesy of Melissa St. Vil

For Muhammad Ali, he started boxing after someone stole his fancy red and white bike. For Mike Tyson, he got into his first street fight after someone killed one of the pigeons he was raising. As for the Haitian American NABO Lightweight champion, Melissa St. Vil, she introduced herself to the fighting world after a girl made fun of her squeaky voice by calling her Minnie Mouse.

It happened during gym class in fourth grade. She called the girl Big Popple back. Enraged, the little girl waited for St. Vil to go in the bathroom with her friends and pushed her.

“I’m not an aggressive person,” St. Vil said, “if I ever got into a fight it’s because the other person started it. I’m not a bully, I don’t start fights. If you bully me, I’m going to finish you.

“Map fe yo konn Jòj!” (An Haitian saying that literally translates to “I will make them know George” but means “They’ll see what’s coming for them”).

Indeed, St. Vil introduced the little girl to George. “I dropped my pink lunch box and beat her down,” the Haitian American said.

St. Vil fought about 11 times during her school days. Another one of those fights happened when she was spending a year in Haiti as a 14-year-old. Young St. Vil lived in a group home then. She threw a mango toward one of the other girls who was living there for her to catch. The girl wasn’t paying attention and it hit her.

She “immediately got upset” and decided to start a fight with St. Vil. Bad choice, this little girl was introduced to George by the young boxer in the making too. As a result, St. Vil was expelled out of the group home. She also fought boys, including her big brother, and used to slap box for fun.

As a teenager, St. Vil felt “misunderstood and lost.” Something was needed to appease her anxieties. She tried out for soccer and basketball but didn’t make the team. St. Vil ran track, but it didn’t seem to be enough. She found the ultimate stress-reliever that perfectly suited her without really looking for it one day. It happened when she followed her cousin, Jerry, to bother him. She was 17 at the time.

When Jerry opened the door of his destination, St. Vil saw a boxing ring. Some of the men inside the gym were hitting punching bags, others were doing shadow boxing, and so on. “I was like ‘Oh, I found my place,’” she recalls thinking. St. Vil’s cousin spotted her inside the gym.

“My cousin was like ‘What are you doing here?’ I said ‘What are you doing here?’ Then I said ‘Where’s the coach, who’s the owner? I want to fight,’” she said while raising her voice.

The teenager talked to the coach that day. Initially, he didn’t want her to train because she’s a woman. Eventually, she got herself into training. It was tough at first to learn the stance and the other basics. She was still running track, hence it was draining schedule-wise. But she pushed through. As mentioned, boxing was the remedy she needed.

“I was stressed out, I needed an outlet. You know how some people they paint, some people, they do nails. That makes them feel free. For me, it was boxing. Boxing just made me feel at comfort. When I was in a boxing gym, I just forgot about all the drama, all the problems in my life,” the 36-year-old said.

When St. Vil told her mother about starting boxing, she didn’t support it. As most Haitian parents, she wanted her daughter to be a doctor, a lawyer, or a nurse like her.

Growing up in a Haitian household as a woman, it was predestined for Melissa St. Vil to choose a non-violent career, she went against the grain. Mr. Don Pittman Photography

Until this day, St. Vil’s mother still hasn’t been to one of her fights. When she told her late grandfather, he joked and said they would break her teeth.

“I told him you’re going to see,” St. Vil said.

After a series of rigorous training, she was scheduled for her first amateur fight. The other fighter was more experienced than her.

“I remember her hitting me hard and my neck turned,” the boxer said. “I was like ‘Heck no’ then I whupped her. I didn’t know when to stop. I went street on her.”

Someone else got to know George from the Haitian American. Even after the bell rung, St. Vil attempted to punch her opponent in the corner. The referee had to stop her. St. Vil gained more discipline overtime and grew rapidly as a boxer at the amateur level.

On March 30, 2007, at 20 years old, St. Vil entered the professional boxing world with a fight against Olivia Fonseca. It ended in a draw. This draw was the start of a lucrative career.

She won 12 of her fights, lost four and drew four. St. Vil is the former WBC Silver Super Featherweight champion. She failed to win the World Champion WBC title because of a controversial decision in a match versus Eva Wahlström. Elsewhere, the 36-year-old owns the WIBA Super Featherweight, the IWBF Welterweight, the IBU Super Featherweight, and the NABO Lightweight title. She fought three times in Haiti and is undefeated there.

“I told him [her grandfather] you’re going to see,” the former trackstar said. “And it happened. I wish he was alive.”

Melissa St. Vil and her team posing for a picture with the Haitian flag after she won the NABO Lightweight title. Photo courtesy of Melissa St. Vil

The girl with the squeaky voice found a way to escape from the pain of her childhood and spun it into a stunning career. Now that she’s been living with her outlet for the past 19 years, it’s hard to catch her without a smile on her face. She’s known for her bubbly personality.

“She’s a lovely person, very caring,” her trainer and boyfriend of three years, Rafael Vazquez, said. “But when she gets in the ring. It switches. She goes from smile to serious, from serious to silence. When you hear silence, she’s ready for war.”

The ambitious fighter doesn’t find it harder to train during the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The coronavirus did not really affect anything once you’re a champion you can train anywhere, I run still, jump rope and things like that,” St. Vil said.

“This lockdown is nothing, when I got sent to Haiti to the group home the only time I left the gates was to go to school then back to the group home with no TV, no phone, just clean and do homework.”

After the pandemic is over, it’s a safe bet to say St. Vil will introduce someone else to George in the ring.

Onz Chery

Onz Chery

Ralph 'Onz' Chery started his writing career as a City College of New York student with The Campus. He also wrote for First Touch, Cosmopolitan Soccer League, and other local leagues. After graduating, Onz became one of ESNY's sports journalists then joined The Haitian Times.
Onz Chery
Aug. 02, 2020

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