“For women, we have to be in the Olympics to be successful because we won’t get signed by promoters without a gold medal. Without the Olympics, the guys can turn pro, but we can’t.”
Rashida Ellis has been chasing her Olympic dream for 15 years. The 24-year-old fighter from Lynn who trains at the Somerville Boxing Club has won eight national championships in a decorated amateur career that includes over 100 bouts.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling international sports, Ellis has been forced to put her Olympic aspirations on hold.
In 2012, Ellis shocked women’s boxing when, as a 16-year-old unknown, she came within one win of an Olympic appearance. In 2016, despite advancing at the Olympic trials, Ellis again narrowly lost a chance to compete in the games.
The 2020 Olympics, however, were supposed to be a different story. Ellis made the qualifying squad in March after winning a tournament in Argentina. A top-three finish at the qualifiers in France, originally scheduled for this month, would have clinched a spot for Ellis, but then came the unseen knockout punch.
“Coronavirus ruined everything,” she said in a recent interview. “Everything has changed.”
The Tokyo Olympics have been postponed one year until 2021, and it remains uncertain if they will take place at all. It is an especially punishing blow to female fighters who are reliant on the exposure of the games to propel them to a professional career. The highest profile women boxers, who still earn much less than their male counterparts, often have multiple Olympic appearances.
“For women, we have to be in the Olympics to be successful because we won’t get signed by promoters without a gold medal,” Ellis said. “Without the Olympics, the guys can turn pro, but we can’t.”
Despite the hurdles, Ellis insists that her training regimen has not changed despite the pandemic.
“There hasn’t been much effect,” she said. “I’m still training, I still jog in the woods, except now I’m washing my hands constantly, washing down the bag. I bought a little grill and I hang with my family in the yard a lot.”
Ellis and her two brothers—Ronald and Rashidi—make up the first family of contemporary New England boxing, meaning they have the most siblings who are national champions. Ronald and Rashidi were 2010 and 2013 national amateur champions, respectively. Today, they are rising contenders; Rashidi is undefeated, and fights for Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy Promotions, while Ronald has just one loss, by a close judge’s decision, in 20 fights
The Ellis clan stands alone among the most successful boxing siblings in history as the only fighting family with a female among the siblings. Rashida started boxing at the age of 10.
“I started fighting boys in school and beating them up,” she said. “As a punishment, I had to go to the gym with my brothers. They put me in the ring and I loved it. At first, my mom didn’t want me to fight, but when she saw my first match she was like, ‘Go get them.’
“I learned from both of my brothers,” Ellis added. “I get my speed from Rashidi and my old school moves from Ronald.”
As for her Olympic hopes, Rashida says she is staying on track to go for the gold in Tokyo.
“If they still hold the qualifying tournament at the end of the year, I think the Olympics will happen in 2021,” she said. “If not, I’m ready to stay focused and stay in the amateurs and go for the Olympics in 2024.”