‘I’m a skilled fighter’: Ottawa boxer Marija Curran is ready to take on the world

Marija Curran has a University of Ottawa bachelor’s degree in communications and political science, and a master’s in communications from Carleton.

She’s a full-time Department of Fisheries and Oceans “outreach co-ordinator” with duties such as facilitating Twitter chats for department scientists, taking those scientists into classrooms and working with museums.

Outside of work hours, she really, really enjoys punching people. Hard, and as often as possible.

Three years into a competitive amateur career, the 31-year-old public servant is reigning women’s national boxing champion in the 81-kilogram division and among a half-dozen athletes wearing Canadian colours in the International Boxing Association world championships, which start Nov. 15 in New Delhi.

The point of the exercise, of course, is to fight for and win a gold medal. It could take between three and five bouts — maximum three three-minute rounds in each — over 10 days, depending on the final number of entries.

“My goal is to box my fight,” Curran said from Montreal, where the Canadians have been working out together for several days before travelling to Qatar for another pre-worlds training camp and finally to India a few days before the competition. “Even though you can try and please the judges, ultimately all you can control is what you do in the ring.”

Curran has been proficient at doing that since entering the competitive ring just three years ago.

She watched the 2015 nationals in Mississauga, Ont., and says she thought, “I could do this. I could hang with these girls. And then the next year, I went to nationals (at Quebec City) and I got a silver medal.”

She won her first Canadian title last year, also at Quebec City, and duplicated that feat in Edmonton this past April.

The 2017 national crown earned her a trip to the AMBC American Confederation Boxing Championships in Honduras, where she earned a silver medal, and last October in Bulgaria she defeated two Russians to win a Balkan Cup title, qualifying her for these world championships.

Along the way, she also won in her second appearance in the Golden Girl Box Cup in Sweden.

“She was not like a typical new boxer because she had many (previous) years of jiu jitsu. She understood how to fight, she understood combative sports, she understood how to use her ring,” said Jill Perry, a ground-breaker as the Beaver Boxing Club’s first female fighter and now president of the facility where Curran trains six days a week. “There were a lot of lessons she didn’t need to learn because she had already done that learning in a different sport, but still a contact sport.”

Born in Burlington, Ont., Curran is the youngest in a family of two girls and three boys. When her parents signed up an older brother for jiu jitsu to “toughen him up” for rep-team hockey, 10-year-old Marija insisted on going, too.

A few years into it, she did side training in boxing to improve hand strength and speed.

Academics took priority over all that during university years, but, after completing graduate studies, the 5-foot-7 woman — 81 kilos equals 178.6 pounds — wanted to get fit again and to feed her hunger for competition. She considered resuming sport jiu jitsu, but said she realized that mixed martial arts had become predominant and that jiu jitsu was too expensive for her, so boxing became her thing.

“I would say that I was quite confident that I would go far almost right away,” Curran said. “I’ve thought I’m a strong fighter, I’m a skilled fighter, and I thought my jiu jitsu skills would translate well into boxing, especially because I did take boxing recreationally.”

In that first international assignment a year ago in Honduras, Curran lost her division final to Colombia’s Jessica Paola Caicedo Sinisterra, but only after opening eyes with a unanimous-decision victory against bigger, more experienced Krystal Graham Dixon of the United States.

“Then I came back to the corner and my coaches were jumping up and down. They were so excited,” Curran said. “And, in that moment, I was like, ‘They really didn’t believe in me.’ They had convinced me that they believed in me, but they really didn’t.

“Now, I think I’m taken more seriously and I’m seen as a genuine medal hopeful here.”

On the down side, with experience and exposure come higher expectations and sometimes disappointment, such as a loss to the host country’s Agata Kaczmarska in the preliminary rounds of the Silesian Women’s Open Championships in Gliwice, Poland, in September.

Curran and Perry described that bout as an opportunity to fight before eastern European judges who assessed boxing’s finer points differently than those at home in Canada. More internationally balanced judging panels are expected at the world championships.

“Every time you get in the ring, it’s an opportunity to learn,” Perry said. “I call it data points. I need to see things, how she reacts to a different style of attack or a different style of opponent, so that I can understand that and we can make adaptations to the training plan.”

Competitive boxing isn’t just about bouts, obviously, and athlete and coach descriptions of Curran’s six-days-a-week training regimen sound borderline extreme.

Curran: “I wake up, I go to training. Come home, shower, go to work. Go straight to training. Come home, shower, go straight to sleep.”

Perry: “We sort of joke that her life is like a Tetris game. She is always sort of, ‘How can I squeeze in another acupuncture or massage therapy or athletic therapy session? How can I get my training times in? If I get up at 5:30 in the morning and I do my run or do this, well, then I can meet my sport psychologist at 8 o’clock on Skype’ … But I would say this: For Marija, I think she thrives on that. I think she takes pride in her really busy life. I think sometimes it’s daunting if she slows down to think about it.”

As usual, Curran has to take time off from work to fight in India, but, in that regard, Perry describes her as fortunate to have her public-service job. After exhausting vacation time, she can apply for additional leave under a government program for national-level athletes.

Perry also won national titles, but, unlike Curran, never competed in a biennial world championship because she was already past what was then the women’s age limit of 34. Now it’s 40, so 2018 may not be Curran’s last shot.

The game plan is simple. “One fight at a time,” she said, “because you don’t know if you’re going to make it to Fight 2, so you really just have to fight every fight like it’s your last fight. If you don’t put it all out there, you might not get to go to fight two.”

Who is Marija Curran?

Age: 31

Job: Outreach co-ordinator, Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Birthplace: Burlington, Ont.

Current residence: Ottawa

Home club: Beaver Boxing Club, Ottawa

Coach: Jill Perry

Height: 174 cm (5’7″)

Weight category: 81 kilograms (178.6 pounds)

Notable results: Canadian championship silver medal in 2016 and gold medals in 2017-18; silver medal in 2017 AMBC American Confederation Boxing Championships; gold medal in 2017 Balkan Cup.

What’s next: The 2018 AIBA Elite Women’s World Championships, Nov. 15-24 in New Delhi.

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