Jizelle Salandy: glory in the ring

She lived fast and died young, but not before winning record numbers of world boxing titles. We remember her short, triumphant life

Jizelle Salandy defends her three world titles against Yahaira Hernandez on Boxing Day in Trinidad. Photograph courtesy Trinidad Express

On December 26, 2008, boxer Jizelle “Magic” Salandy sealed her status as one of the Caribbean’s top sports champions when she defeated Yahaira Hernandez of the Dominican Republic to retain all eight of her title belts.

Less than two weeks later she was dead, from the injuries she suffered when the car she was driving crashed into a concrete pillar just outside Port of Spain, Trinidad, in the early hours of January 4 this year.

Salandy’s death, mere weeks before her 22nd birthday, showed just how much she had accomplished in her short life. Hers was a rags-to-riches story, of a girl who lost her mother at an early age, didn’t know her father, and moved from home to home. Yet she persevered, transforming any inner turmoil to glory in the ring.

At 14, she became the youngest person ever to win a boxing title. In 2006, she became the first boxer in the world to win five title belts in one fight. That year, the WBAN (Women Boxing Archive Network) named her the Top History Making Fighter of the Year, and she was awarded Sportswoman of the Year and the Chaconia Gold Medal, the second highest national award, in her native Trinidad and Tobago. Her win over Hernandez, her 17th straight victory, made her the first Caribbean boxer to defend her titles successfully six consecutive times. She was the holder of the WBC, WBA, WBE, WIBA, IWBF, WIBF, GBU and UBC titles. On her death, the WBC (World Boxing Council) honoured her with an Eternal Champion award.

Professionally, Salandy set herself apart from other local female boxers from her first fight at 13. Born on January 25, 1987 in Siparia, south Trinidad, Salandy started boxing at 11, when she accompanied her stepbrother to the White Eagle Boxing Gym. At the time she was living with a foster mother, after the death of her own mother, Maureen Salandy.

Impressed by the skills Salandy demonstrated, Kim Quashie, a trainer at the gym, and coach/manager Fitzroy Richards, took her under their wings.

At 14, after a string of victories, Salandy was banned when it was discovered that a birth certificate showing she was over 17 – the legal age to fight professionally in T&T – was false.

Salandy travelled overseas, and in Curaçao that a victory over Colombian Paola Rojas for the IBERO Welterweight title launched her record-breaking career.

Days after her 17th birthday, with her new manager and adoptive father Curtis Joseph backing her, she defended her Ibero-American title in a rematch with Rojas.

There was no looking back. With new manager/father figure Boxu Potts assuming control of her career, Salandy demolished all comers on local soil to top the Middleweight division.

In 2005, she became the youngest woman in the world to win a NABC (North American Boxing Council) title. In 2006, she beat American Elizabeth Mooney to unify the WBC and WBA titles. After winning six Junior World Middleweight title belts, Salandy put them all on the line, but kept them in her grasp in one of her toughest fights, against Dakota Stone in 2007.

Salandy was poised to become an international name, and was set on taking on Laila Ali, the famed daughter of legendary boxer Muhammad Ali. “My promoter Harry Ragoonanan and manager Boxu Potts will decide when the time is right to fight Laila, but it’s definitely on the cards for my career,” she told the Trinidad Express newspaper in an interview on April 6, 2008.

Described as an aggressive fighter, known for her sharp jabs, speed and fearlessness in the ring, Salandy was undefeated when she died, with 17 wins, including six knockouts.