I recently had the opportunity to talk with my trainer outside of the gym, and she shared a little bit with me about how she got started in boxing and the one woman and two incredible men who have made all the difference in her 14 year professional boxing career.
Beginnings in Baseball
She was always an athlete, she told me, and was the first girl to play on the formerly all-boy team in Grasshopper Baseball when she was 7 or 8 years old. She laughs and relates the story of her coach telling them all to be sure and get a “cup;” information which she promptly and obediently relayed to her mother once she got home that day.
She played Little League, then switched to fast pitch softball, and even did a stint as a pitcher and shortstop with Raleigh’s Women’s Professional Baseball Association. But after more than 20 years of baseball, she grew tired of it, and dropped out of the scene. She found herself messing around in gyms trying to occupy her mind and body by lifting weights, but the horizon looked empty; she was bored and restless.
A Chance Encounter with a Female Pro Boxer
One day she found herself interviewing for a job with North American Van Lines, thinking to put her strength to work to earn a paycheck. Her interviewer seemed eager to hire, and threw a sweetener into the deal to draw Bonnie in: “If you take the job,” he offered, “I’ll introduce you to Teresa Arguello. She was a pro boxer in Texas and California.”
He’d gained her interest. She took the position.
It wasn’t long before the two women met, and Bonnie indicated her curiosity in finding out what boxing was all about. Arguello told her to meet her at a warehouse one night after work. She gave her an old pair of boxing gloves and when they both arrived Arbuelo put her through a workout for about 30 minutes. The next day Mann was so sore she could hardly walk. And she was hooked.
It was new, it was incredibly difficult, and the challenge drew her in like a wounded surfer draws sharks.
The two women went to a baseball field in Morrisville, to a tiny 4×6 concrete slab, where Arguello made Bonnie jump rope in the 100 degree heat. Then she would hold the mitts and have Bonnie work them. They utilized outdoor spaces, garages, and warehouses; wherever they could get permission to spend an hour or so working together.
A Run-Down Gym, a New Friendship
Mann eventually found a hole-in-the-wall gym in Durham that someone had mentioned to her. It was on the second floor of a building that looked to be condemned. There was no sign or any indication that somone had knocked out cinderblocks to enlarge an interior space, constructed a makeshift ring and hung two heavy bags upstairs. They had power for the lights strung across the ceiling, but little else. There were no other women, of course, and Bonnie didn’t have the first idea how to even work a bag. So she lingered on the fringes, watching and learning.
If you follow boxing much you may know the name Paul “The Italian Hit Man” Marinaccio (23-3-3). In those days he was working out at that same tiny gym, working his own business during the day and training for amateur boxing matches with whatever time and places he could find in the cities where he traveled. Marinaccio is an imposing man at 6 feet, 5 inches tall, with dark hair and shoulders that fill a doorframe. Paul was the first one to approach Bonnie at the makeshift gym where they both were training, and his fierce love for the sport, along with his kind manner and willingness to accept Mann as just as serious as he was, made for a friendship that would flourish during the amateur and professional fighting careers of both boxers.
One story that Bonnie loves to tell is how they both were on the card for a World Boxing Federation event; his fight was a headliner and hers was a featured event. Her opponent withdrew, which meant she was able to watch him win the heavyweight title that night.
She also fought her World Boxing Empire title fight on his birthday, and dedicated her win to him.
A World-Renowned Trainer
The two have also shared a trainer. Paul and Bonnie had been working out in a small gym of their own, born of an extra space not being used by Paul’s girlfriend’s dance studio. A ring had been installed, heavy bags hung, and a sign which pronounced it “Jawbreakers” made it the official place where Paul’s trainer, Coach Anthony Bradley, would come to put him through his paces.
An Army Middleweight World Champion boxer himself, Bradley has won respect around the globe as a three-time US Olympic Boxing Coach (1996, 2000, and 2004) and US Olympic Committee Coach of the Year.
Bonnie asked Paul if he thought Coach Bradley would consider training her as well. Marinaccio wasn’t sure, since at the time he didn’t know whether Bradley was willing to work with a woman. But he determined to find out, and together they concocted a plan. By their arrangement, Bonnie was training hard in the gym when Bradley arrived to work with Paul. Coach Bradley couldn’t help but notice this dedicated woman, working her heart out in the small space of the gym, and Paul casually introduced her as his friend and training partner. Just as they had hoped, after Paul and Bradley began to train, Coach Bradley called Bonnie over and worked them both.
Bonnie recalls how she would have killed herself to please the Coach, and in fact she did win his admiration, and later he became her official trainer. He watched her respond to his commands that day and told Paul, “Now that’s how you train.”