Danielle Tupper stands five-foot-five, weighs 118 pounds, and packs a powerhouse punch, yet finds that some of her biggest bouts happen outside the ring.
“When I tell people I’m a fighter, they think I’m too pretty, too small, too nice,” she says. “They think you have to be an ugly person.”
The amount of shock and disbelief, day to day, has persisted tirelessly for nearly a decade.
“People are always like, ‘Show me your moves. Put up your hands, show me what you got,’ ” she says. “In the middle of Main Street, I’m not going to show you I’m a boxer. You can take my word for it.”
What some people may not realize is that what’s portrayed in movies like Million Dollar Baby — the girl next door who surprises her opponents with an unexpected uppercut — isn’t all that far from the truth. Art for us imitates what is real life for Tupper.
“Now that I’ve grown up,” she’ll state boldly, “you can believe me and support me, or not.”
Having just signed her first major contract, and immersed in training for her first pro match coming up in September, Tupper has all the support she needs. It’s a new phase in life for the boxer, who, at just 23 years old, completes an amateur career with an impressive 15-3 record.
It should come as no surprise, really, to those who’ve followed Tupper rise up through the ranks, outbrawling, outpunching and outjabbing the competition with the most pugnacious of tenacities. Her first knockout was at the age of 15, 54 seconds into the first round of one of the teen’s first fights. Now an adult, Danielle Tupper wants to become the face of women’s boxing.
The ring of the bell, the studied technique, the honor of the fight, even the spectatorship: boxing has been a part of her life since she was young.
“My dad was always a huge boxing fan. We used to always watch the fights,” says Tupper, who cites both her father and Muhammad Ali as her heroes.
“Not just for boxing, but what he did for (the industry),” she says of Ali. “He became a huge role model in many aspects.”
Tupper also looks to Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker as her most practical sources of inspiration. Both women defied odds and made names for themselves as the best of today’s modern female boxers. In a sport dominated mostly by men, they gained respect through their hard work and determination.
Tupper has certainly paid her dues. With nary a day off, her life is a daily juggling act of exercise and work. Tupper bartends and DJs, and says it can be difficult to make ends meet, working late-night shifts to be up bright and early.
Those early morning, sunrise runs up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in Rocky? It’s not that far off.
“It’s hard to bartend until a 2 o’clock shift and then get up at 8 a.m. each morning and train,” she says.
A typical week of training for Tupper spans five to six days, a few hours a day. She’ll box four days and strength train two to three days, maintaining her Bantam-class frame. But it’s all due to intensify now that she’s going pro. And the training has to reflect that.
Tupper says a pro match can last 12 rounds — three times that of an amateur bout — and there’s no protective headgear used. The gloves are smaller and lighter, too, so punches are felt harder and longer. But she’s ready for the challenge, accepting the realities of the sport in an almost Zen like fashion: In boxing, you may end up the winner, but you’ll have to get hit along the way.
“Getting hit is getting hit,” she says. “I’m just going to have to get hit a bit harder now.”
To Tupper, one of the hardest aspects of being a boxer isn’t the physical limits one is pushed to; it’s being able to afford it. Much like the struggling actor who needs time to audition, earning enough money to train full time, with no guarantee one will make the big time, is hard for any boxer on the amateur circuit who’s looking for a break.
“Some of these guys do it and box after work,” she says of the successful few. “But it’s just super hard when you’re needing to travel, and finding a job that will let you take a few months off at a time.”
Tupper knows what it feels like. After having taken some time off following a series of knee surgeries, she came back, and with firebrand scrappiness, took second place at a Golden Gloves competition. A win at the Police Activities League nationals in Oxnard quickly followed. Tupper then qualified for the national amateur boxing championships in Colorado.
“But I wasn’t able financially to get to Denver,” she regrets.
One saving grace has been Tupper’s trainer, Joe Janik. He saw the young fighter’s potential and decided to coach her for free. It’s noteworthy because women’s boxing, according to Tupper, hardly pays anything.
“There’s definitely not a lot of money in it,” she says. That is, at least not at first.
Top-tier boxers like Martin and Rijker, she says, expect $1 million per bout; Tupper, as a starting pro, hopes to bring in about $1,500 for her first fight. Janik takes 10 percent. No opponent has been announced yet.
Where boxing becomes lucrative, she says, is through endorsement deals: sports drinks, clothing lines, sports gear, if the athlete is lucky.
“It’s kind of endless if you’re a pretty face and a good athlete, what you can get signed for,” she jokes.
Tupper is reserved when talking about her sexuality in connection with her career.
“I’ve obviously shied away from having to explain my sexuality. I don’t want to promote myself as being a lesbian,” she says. “I don’t want to only have that be heard … I don’t want to look like a sellout to the lesbian community.”
What’s more important for Tupper is planning for the future. She knows a boxing career, like any foray into professional athletics, won’t last forever. An injury could happen tomorrow or after two fights, and could compromise things, she says, like her wish to have children someday.
“That’s something that’s always in the back of your mind,” she says. “I want to help my kids do their homework someday.”
Wisely, she has fallback plans. Tupper said she’d like to stick with boxing for five to eight years and later become an emergency medical technician, for which she’s currently enrolled to study in classes at Ventura Community College.
Most of all, boxing, for Tupper, is not about winning or losing the fight, but knowing that she entered the ring.
“I’m hoping I make some money doing this,” she says optimistically, adding, “I’m just struggling to try to do something I love. If it doesn’t pay off, at least I’ve followed my dreams.”