Maricela Cornejo has never been one to shy away from a new challenge.
She never says she wants to undergo a new endeavor, whether it is in boxing or outside of it.
During the pandemic, the former world title challenger wrote her first book, a children’s book that was heavily inspired by the love she has for various nieces and nephews and their love for their tía (aunt in Spanish). It was one project she’s had her sights set on doing for a long time and one she knew she had to bite down and complete it rather than say she’s going to do it someday.
“I always knew I wanted to be an author. I wanted to write a book about my life and what’s happened. It’s been pretty crazy. I always knew I wanted to write. My friend, who is an author, said, ‘Just write. Stop saying you’re going to write. Just do it. You have the perfect time to do so.’ It’s easier to say it than to do it. That’s why a lot of people say they want to be a fighter. No, you like the idea of being a fighter. To do it is another thing. It separates a fighter from a non-fighter,” Cornejo said.
It’s that “put-up-or-shut-up” attitude that also got her to accept a world title fight against unified super middleweight champion Franchon Crews-Dezurn on a few days notice in 2019. Even though Cornejo wasn’t victorious, it left her wanting to further improve herself as a boxer. The pandemic may not have made things easy on her, but it gave her plenty of time to work on herself and on various projects. She hosts a web series called “Face to Face” and now she’s making her Ring City USA debut on March 18 in Puerto Rico after 18 months of waiting.
Inside the ring was perhaps her greatest change. Starting in the early months of COVID-19 hitting its stride in the United States, Cornejo linked up with Buddy McGirt, a former world champion in his own right who has trained a number of world class boxers in his post-fight career such as Antonio Tarver and Arturo Gatti.
It was a relationship that started by chance.
“I started working with him last May and I went in there wanting to learn watching. I remember I was watching him and a fellow teammate and he’s like, ‘You didn’t bring your stuff did you?’ I said, ‘Of course I brought it,’ just in case. I wasn’t going to bother him. After that, we just hit it off really well.
McGirt brought out the best in her as a boxer, according to Cornejo. McGirt didn’t do anything fancy with her in the gym. It all came down to a need to return to basics and work her way up back to being a complete boxer. McGirt re-taught her how to hit the bags and sharpened her already-existing tools and made them sharper.
“Even hitting the bad, I was hitting the bag wrong this whole time. He’s a puppet master and he knows how to work his fighters. When he wants them to move, they’ll move. I don’t have the words for it, but he’s like a puppet master. There’s something about Buddy that just brings out the person that I knew I was, but I just didn’t have the right person to bring that out… I’m excited to see what I bring and how polished I’ve been working with Buddy McGirt. The 18-month layoff is nothing something I worry about with ring rust because I love working out. You have to force me to get out of the gym and I love staying and learning (in the gym). I continue to learn every day.”
“It’s all in the fundamentals, jab, knowing what to do with the jab and how to turn them. He’s very gifted at bringing something out of [fighters] with the basic, fundamental things with boxing and not being extra with it. There’s no need for that, he says.”Maricela Cornejo
Cornejo’s improved skillset will be on display for the world to see when she takes on Alma Ibarra in Puerto Rico. Like Cornejo, Ibarra is coming off a loss and has faced tough fighters throughout her career. Ibarra has plenty of experience fighting the likes of Claressa Shields, Crews-Dezurn, Raquel Miller and more throughout her amateur and pro careers.
It’s a fight Cornejo is not treading lightly and she knows a great showing in front of a global audience on Twitch could elevate her career, possibly catapulting her towards another shot at fighting for a world title. Cornejo is also looking to use this fight and bring women’s boxing to the forefront of the sport, during a month where women’s boxing is poised to get the spotlight with various world title bouts in the span of a few weeks.
“We’re both fighting to stay in there and it’s something that can make our careers higher… I think it’s going to be a great showcase of boxing and the art of boxing. I was asked, ‘How does it feel to be on their card and their platform?’ What do you mean, ‘How does it feel for us to be on their card?’ How awesome does it feel for them to have two warriors just be on their card. I don’t take it as, ‘I’m so grateful.’ No, dude. I’m standing side by side. We run the same miles. We sweat the same. We bleed the same, so why should I be looking up to you? Because you’re a guy? We’re worth it and tune in on fight night because you’ll see the women play no games,” Cornejo said.
Cornejo vs. Ibarra airs on Twitch on March 18 on Ring City USA from Puerto Rico.