Frank Maloney’s disdain for women’s boxing was, like everything else, a business decision.
As a promoter, his was a sport of facts and figures.
His golden goose was heavyweight world champion Lennox Lewis, who drew audiences and put zeros on the end of cheques in a way that women’s boxing did not.
Frank retired from involvement in boxing in October 2013 having helped five male fighters to world titles.
Less than a year after retirement, he announced he was undergoing gender reassignment and would live as a woman, called Kellie.
After completing her final transition operation in 2015, Kellie returned to promoting – but the spark wasn’t there.
The hunger and desire that drove Frank to the top of British promotion had disappeared, in its place an uncomfortable lack of interest in a sport that was not ready to accept Kellie.
The boxing chapter was closed and Kellie presumed it would never open again.
“I wasn’t ready the first time I made that very short comeback,” Kellie admits.
“I wasn’t confident enough, I didn’t have that hunger and desire that I needed and I let them beat me.”
A new motivation
Sitting at home, Cathy McAleer could do little but grit her teeth and clench her fists as the first year of her professional boxing career failed to ignite through no fault of her own.
In November 2018 she became Northern Ireland’s only professional boxer at the age of 40, by next May her record was 3-0.
Her next fight was scheduled for September but her opponent pulled out on two weeks’ notice, the fight was re-arranged for October with a new opponent in place but the same thing happened.
After watching Kellie on Celebrity Masterchef, Belfast’s McAleer felt compelled to reach out to her on Twitter.
- Cathy McAleer to fight on 22 January
A 41-year-old female fighter with just three professional bouts to her name. Frank would not have looked once let alone twice.
But there was something about this fighter, this story, that for the first time in the best part of a decade lit a spark inside Kellie.
“She said ‘I’ve been let down so many times, I just want advice’,” recalls Kellie.
“I said to her ‘I’ve been out of boxing a long time, I’m not sure I’m the right person’ but we talked and I said ‘it does intrigue me’, and 48 hours later I made the decision.”
The decision was to say yes, to join forces with McAleer and see how far they can go on the journey.
McAleer, a former champion in karate and kickboxing, has her own point to prove as a 41-year-old with limited professional experience and a dream of becoming world champion.
For Kellie, it’s a challenge as personal as it is professional.
“I was always one that was motivated by a challenge,” she says.
“It helps my community, the transgender community, that if you believe in anything you can do it.
“I just think if I don’t do it, I’m denying myself and I’m letting a lot of people down who have gone on the same journey that I’ve gone through.
“This challenge is something that I want to do now, I’m invigorated again.
“It’s going to be hard, I haven’t got the golden goose anymore, I’ve got a fighter that’s at the lower level of her career but she’s got determination. My job is to build her and deliver that world title.”
McAleer has four fights lined up, with the first in Birmingham on 22 February.
The end goal, according to both fighter and promoter, is a world title fight in Belfast with an all-female supporting cast.
The money and the high-profile fights are now, for now at least, on the horizon.
Thankfully for Kellie, though, the aforementioned are no longer the lifeblood of her career, as they were Frank’s.
“We’ve got to build to that point and it’s going to be a tough journey,” she says.
“It’s never been done and I do like to do the impossible. That’s my dream.”