This Boxing Champ Is Carving Her Own Path to the 2020 Olympics
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Stacia Suttles is coming for you in Tokyo.
By Matt Foley
This was the year it was all supposed to come together. “The Natural,” as Stacia Suttles is known on her home turf in the Bronx, was on the fast track to success built from blood and sweat. But boxing is a cruel game, one that rarely cares for a fighter’s plans. It seemed Suttles still owed the game some tears.
Sure enough, in the minutes after losing a semifinal bout at the USA Boxing Elite National Championships on Dec. 7, 2017, the 23-year-old defending national champion shed a few. Suttles may still be bitter about the lopsided 5-0 decision, but don’t count on her staying down for long. Days after the loss, she was back at the Mendez Boxing Gym in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, training for her comeback. 2018 won’t be the year that Suttles moves to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, but for a former college student who picked up the sport as a hobby less than four years ago, she may well end up a better boxer because of the setback. “This loss hurts, but it was supposed to happen,” she says. “I’m starting from the bottom again, in a sense, but there are still so many things I want to do with this sport. Make the Olympics in 2020 … turn pro. I plan on continuing to inspire people.”
Suttles only recently saw the impact she can have on others — simply by doing what she loves. Moments after that crushing defeat in December, she met a young mother who had flown in from Seattle to cheer her on. As Suttles tells it, the woman was moved to keep training and “get her first fight” after following Suttles’s three-year rise through the amateur ranks. “She saw my journey from just being a girl who decided to pick up a sport, fell in love with it and now is an Olympic hopeful,” says Suttles, who doubles as a video producer outside the ring, documenting her travels and training on her YouTube channel. “I think women see me and say, ‘Damn, if she can do it, I can do it too.’”
If you want to be a professional … you really have to love the sport. … There are no promises.
Laila Ali, CBS Sports host and former champion boxer
“She takes everything as a lesson,” says Reese Scott, owner of Harlem’s recently opened Women’s World of Boxing and a mentor to Suttles. “She understands that losses will fuel her. I saw that the first time I met her.’”
Suttles first stepped into a boxing gym in January 2014. She had dropped out of Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, after one semester to pursue freelance video production opportunities while working in Manhattan retail. Eventually, though, retail was all she was doing and, as a lifelong athlete (she started taekwondo at age 4), she hated being so inactive. Suttles gave boxing a try. “It was just something to do after work, and a way to lose my freshman 15,” she says. “I’d always loved combat sports, so I decided to go on a new journey.”
“When you have it, you have it,” says Scott. “[Suttles] didn’t know that she had a gift yet, but it was obvious. She moves and reacts in a way that you can only be born with.”
After a year of training, Suttles earned a silver medal at the 2015 New York Daily News Golden Gloves. She followed that with a title at the New York Metro Championships, then won the 2016 New York Golden Gloves, qualifying her for the National Golden Gloves tournament, where she took silver. When Suttles qualified for the 2016 National Championships in Kansas City, Missouri, the parameters shifted. “Before nationals, I was just seeing how far I could take the sport,” she says. “But I fell in love. From September to December before nationals, I became a workhorse.”
— Stacia "The Natural" (@StaciaSuttles) December 15, 2016
A workhorse who got fired from her Urban Outfitters job weeks before the tournament because of too many scheduling conflicts, giving her the added push she needed. “It was all or nothing,” says Suttles. She won at nationals, in a 4-1 decision, securing her a spot on Team USA’s Elite Women’s High Performance Squad and the opportunity to compete internationally. In her debut at the Strandja Tournament in Bulgaria, Suttles earned Outstanding Boxer honors. Everything was going according to plan, until it wasn’t.
Suttles had always maintained a weight of 141 pounds, but she dropped to 132 pounds — her target Olympic weight — for the 2017 Nationals in December. At 5 feet 9 inches tall, she uses her long reach to dissect opponents from a distance, but at nationals, she got away from that game plan, choosing instead to brawl her way through the bout. Now, Suttles is the odd woman out: She remains on Team USA but only expects an invite to Colorado Springs if an extra sparring partner is required. Soon, though, she’ll have her shot at redemption. A 2018 nationals title, scheduled for December, would make her the favorite for Olympic qualification the following spring.
For now, Suttles continues to build out her website, excited to have time to “plant some other seeds” outside of boxing. But in the relentless world of combat, a one-track mind is encouraged — and Suttles has certainly not veered from her plan to turn pro after the 2020 Olympics. The recent success of marketable pros like Mikaela Mayer and Claressa Shields emboldens aspiring female brawlers, and yet, according to CBS Sports host and former champion boxer Laila Ali, women’s professional boxing still struggles to draw serious interest from the public — and with it, big paydays. “If you want to be a professional, you should be able to make a living doing it,” says Ali. “But you really have to love the sport. … There are no promises.”
Suttles has never asked for promises. “I just want to keep learning and improving. I’ve just come to the conclusion that I was born to fight.”