Jackie Kallen, the pioneering female boxing manager who will be inducted to the International Boxing Hall of Fame later this week, recently spoke to BoxingScene about her remarkable journey in the sport. Reflecting on her late but significant recognition, Kallen expressed pride and humor, and shared insights from her 45-year career, the struggles of breaking into a male-dominated industry, her iconic pairing with fellow Hall of Famer James Toney and more.

Below is Part 1 of our BoxingScene Q&A with Kallen. Look for Part 2 to be published on the site Monday.

BoxingScene: How does it feel to be a Hall of Famer?

Jackie Kallen: Well, all I can say is – [and what] I wanted to say to them was – what took you so long, because I was so hoping to get in when James Toney got in. But even to get in a couple years after him, it’s still a great, great feeling, obviously. To be recognized or be good at what you do is always great – better than any money is the recognition – but also the fact that my career, my profession, is acknowledging me as the first female boxing manager ever to get into the Hall of Fame. So that’s something that they’ll never take away from me, because there could never be another first. So I’m really proud and really, really honored that they chose me. 

BS: When did you get the idea that you could become a Hall of Famer?

JK: I started with boxing 45 years ago, and the Hall of Fame didn’t come around til maybe 10 years after that. And then it was mostly, I thought, fighters, maybe five years after they retired. So I didn’t know that there were going to be people that were just involved in the sport but not as competitors. And then when they started putting in managers and publicists and promoters, I thought, “Hey, maybe they’ll give me a nod at some point.” It’s always been an old boys club, boxing, and I knew that as a woman in the sport it takes me a little longer to get the same things that the guys get. But I just waited patiently and hoped that someday they would recognize me, and they did, and I’m really, really appreciative.

BS: Describe your journey in boxing. How did you forge your path being a woman in a male-dominated sport?

JK: Well, I think in some ways, as much as I am a really kind, easy-going, peace-loving person, I’m a little bit of a badass underneath all that. So I wasn’t going to let them drive me out of the sport that I loved, and I felt that I just had to prove myself, because when you are a minority in any way, shape or form in any business, or career choice, you have to prove that you know as much as the guys. So I was always being tested, morning, noon and night. So I am just a tough person, and I don’t listen to outside critics. I don’t care what anyone thinks because it really doesn’t matter, your opinion. I don’t mean you, specifically, but someone else’s opinion, to me, doesn’t really mean anything to me. I developed a tough skin, I guess I got kind of like Teflon-coated and I let everything just roll off of me. I just said, “Look, if I want to stay in this sport, I better just keep moving forward,” and now it’s 45 years, I’ve had many world champions, I’ve gotten to the top of the mountain with several guys and girls, and I love what I do. And I think if you love what you do, you’re gonna stick with it. I’ve never ever had the thought of, “Gee, maybe I should do something else. Or maybe I’m getting jaded and I shouldn’t do this anymore.” I love it as much today as I did four decades ago, and I think that’s a big part of it. I just love what I do.

BS: You worked with James Toney, when he was a prospect until he became a hall-of-fame fighter. What’s the significance of both of you now being Hall of Famers, because you played such a pivotal role in his career

JK: Seeing him get inducted a couple years ago, was such a sense of pride to me, because when I got together with James, he was just a little four-round fighter. It was up to me to try to mold him and make all the right moves to get him to a title shot, and we did that within two and a half years, which I don’t think you could do today because the business is so completely different than it was back then. But to have taken this young man from the beginning to the top of the mountain, it was a great feeling. I was so happy for him that he fulfilled his dream of being a champ, and then he did it again and again. So I’m just so proud of James and I always have been.

And same with Bronco McKart, the same with [Tom] “Boom Boom” Johnson and Pinklon Thomas and a lot of the guys I’ve worked with over the years. It’s that satisfaction of taking somebody from, I won’t say nothing, but going up that mountain with them and enjoying the trip, and feeling that you were a part of their success. That’s just a great feeling. People don’t believe this, but actually the satisfaction, it’s better than any amount of money that you make. Because you can make money in a lot of different ways. But you can’t be as satisfied or as gratified as when you take somebody all the way to the top, to a world title. That’s a great feeling.

BS: Why did Emanuel Steward pass on managing James Toney?

JK: That’s really such an interesting question that you ask because I was working for Emanuel and the Kronk boxing team as their publicist for 10 years. I had no aspirations of being a manager. It really didn’t enter my mind until Bobby Hitz, this heavyweight from Chicago, came to Detroit to fight George Foreman. He didn’t have a manager. I just said, “Hey, you don’t have a manager? Do you want one?” He took a chance on me being a woman.

It was while I was in the gym with Bobby that we saw James, and James was looking for a manager at that time. I asked Emanuel what he thought of him. He just didn’t seem to want him. And I said, “Well, would you mind if I tried to work with him?” He said, “Not at all.” And so I signed him, and that was it. We started working together. He’s the same age as my two sons. So all of a sudden, I had three sons, and we started doing everything as a family, he really became like a third son. I was just so proud of him. Everyone was another step up the ladder. I couldn’t have been more proud when he beat Michael Nunn, and then his fights with Iran Barkley, Mike McCallum, some of those really big wins. The pride you feel when it’s someone that you’re close to, it’s the best feeling in the world to know that you are a part of someone else’s success. It’s just a great feeling.

BS: Any thoughts on the Mike McCallum fight? Do you remember some intimate details about that fight or any of Toney’s great wins?

JK: “The Body Snatcher”! I think that we trained knowing his style. Bill Miller was an amazing teacher, as well as a good trainer. He didn’t just tell you what to do. He showed you. He sat down and watched fight tapes with James – and all of his fighters, really – and he believed that styles make a fight. You have to tailor your style to your opponents and adjust if you need to. So everybody sat around and we watched tapes of Mike McCallum, and we kind of figured how he starts and ends the fights. “What’s his tactic?” Bill Miller gave James some wonderful tools to go in there and avoid getting hit with those body punches, because James has that shoulder roll. That’s unbelievable. He can pick off shots like nobody. His defense was always one of his strengths. The whole thing of boxing is to hit and not get hit. James was really good at that. So I think those fights were classic because he was able to neutralize Mike McCallum’s best punch. If you can take away someone’s best asset, that’s a pretty good skill.

BS: Among the great middleweight of all time, we have Marvin Hagler, Gennadiy Golovkin, Bernard Hopkins and James Toney. When you look at him compared to his peers, where do you think Toney stands?

JK: You’ve got to go back to the Carlos Monzons and some of the classic middleweights. James was kind of a throwback fighter; he had a style that was classic. He was the best defensive fighter that I’ve probably ever seen – very hard to hit him. He was always so elusive. If someone can’t hit you, they can’t hurt you. He was so slippery, it was very difficult to defeat him. Guys tried cutting off the ring, trapping him against the ropes, trapping him in the corner. He would always elude them, he would always get away. They would load up, they would jab, jab and then come overhand right, and he’d block and he’d slip it, and they would get so frustrated. I think the fact that he could frustrate these guys was such a great asset. I think that is one of the reasons that he is and was one of the greatest middleweights.

BS: Any regrets that you might have about your own career?

JK: If I do have any regrets, it’s that I didn’t sign some of the guys that came along that were wonderful, great prospects. I just thought, “Do I really want to take on more? Do I want to focus on the ones I’m working with?” So without naming any names, because that wouldn’t be really nice to do, I did miss the boat on a couple of really awesome fighters that I probably should have taken the time to work with. But you look back and you say there’s a reason for everything. and maybe it was meant for me to focus on James and Bronco McKart and “Boom Boom” Johnson and Lonnie Beasley, as well as Michael Dallas and all the different fighters I’ve worked with over the years. I never would have wanted to shortchange any of them by taking on too many fighters. Tarick Salmaci, who ended up going on “The Contender” with me as one of the fighters, he was just a great guy to work with. Bobby Hitz, of course, being the first one. Every one of them is like a member of my family. I am so proud to say, as a manager – because a lot of times, when the careers are over, the relationships are over; there’s no need to stay in touch – but in my case, I’m still in touch with all my fighters. We all stay in touch when it’s a birthday or, like, Mother’s Day is a national holiday because all of them come around. I just feel that I’ve been blessed to work with some wonderful guys. And so, overall, I really don’t have any regrets. There’s always the one that got away. But overall, I’m just ecstatic over the career I’ve had and the wonderful guys I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

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