Larry Fullmer, Utah Golden Gloves
For the first time, four fighters representing the Rocky Mountain Region advance to the Golden Gloves National Championship bouts. From left to right: Maryguenn Vellinga, Kendra Reeves, Whitney Gomez, and Michelle Maya will all fight for National Championships Saturday night.
People are impressed. This is a step in the right direction for women’s boxing. —Maryguenn Vellinga

OMAHA, Neb. — Everytime Maryguenn Vellinga enters the ring, she is acutely aware of the history she and all of the other women competing in the Golden Gloves National Tournament are making this week in Omaha, Nebraska.

“I’ve been to the National Golden Gloves Women’s tournament two other times, but it’s an all women’s event,” said the 35-year-old Park City resident who was one of three Utah women to earn a spot in Saturday’s National Championship bouts with a semifinal win over Rhea Lewis (Knoxville, Tennessee), in the 112-pound division. “Being here with the men, for me, it’s part of history, for men and women competing in the same venue. ...It’s important for men to see female boxing, and see how high the caliber is.”

She said every time she leaves the ring, she is inundated with compliments.

“People are impressed,” she said. “This is a step in the right direction for women’s boxing.”

The Rocky Mountain Region, of which Utah is a part, saw four boxers advance to Saturday’s final — a first for the region, according to Hud Fullmer.

While Vellinga and Herriman’s Whitney Gomez (competing at 141 pounds) both won with split decisions, Salt Lake’s Michelle Maya, fighting at 119 pounds, won a unanimous decision against Iman James, New York Metro. Idaho’s Kendra Reeves, fighting at 152 pounds, won when the official stopped the fight against Leah Cooper (New York Metro) in the second round.

“It’s been pretty amazing,” said Maya, a Highland High graduate who just turned 19 this month. “I’m just glad everyone is seeing how women can fight. It’s been a great experience for us to show what we can do.”

All of the women said that while the competition has been fierce, the camaraderie has created great energy.

“They’ve all been super great,” she said of the bouts. “There are all types of girls here, and you never know what to expect.”

Gomez had never faced the woman she defeated, Ariele Davis (Mid-South) but she beat the women she’ll fight for the National Title in a tournament earlier this year.

“So it’s a rematch,” she said. “We’re making women’s history and finals history. We’re going to bring home some belts.”

While Maya said she grew up fighting, she bucked tradition a bit as the only woman from her family to take up the sport with any seriousness.

“It was just in my blood,” she said, pointing out her grandfather was a professional fighter. “It’s just in my DNA. ...I just love to fight.”

Gomez and Reeves were looking for fitness options, while Vellinga watched a Golden Gloves event and decided to give the sport a try.

All of them have dreams of fighting in the Olympics.

“It’s been so cool to be here with these ladies,” Gomez said. “The energy is insane. Even though the other boys lost and the other girls, they’ve been the loudest cheering section. The girl power coming from the Rocky Mountain Region, it’s been so cool.”

Reeves, who has been boxing for just a little over a year, said the support has been a huge boost to the fighters.

“I’ve had a lot of learning experiences,” she said. “It’s been so supportive.”

Reeves will face the top-ranked female boxer in the country, Stephanie Malone, Saturday.

“I’m excited to get it going and see where I am at with that,” she said. “Come December (in the USA Nationals), these are the people I’ll be fighting.”