She’s No Longer Laughing And Smiling

“I’m 5 pounds away,” Jennifer Han says whereas sitting on a picket bench inside her father’s martial arts studio. She’s spent greater than half her life right here, inside this gym on El Paso’s Dyer Road-the seventeen-mile road that stretches from central and northeast El Paso into New Mexico. Quick-food eating places, liquor stores, tattoo parlors, gun stores, and pawnshops promoting that they too sell guns fill the decrease part of Dyer. Around the center part, Korean churches and companies turn out to be prevalent. That’s the place the gym is and where Han sits, telling me she’s able to struggle, not far from a weather-beaten storefront sign reading “Han’s Kick Boxing.”

“I’ve already lost seventy pounds,” she says. “I’m thirty-eight years old however my time is now. I’m ready for it.”

If all things were equal, Han can be often called among the best fighters on the planet. She has black belts of varying levels in kickboxing, tae kwon do, and hapkido. As a boxer, she’s the only El Pasoan who’s ever been a world champion. And for months now, she’s been coaching: first to drop some pounds after giving beginning to her second son in February, then to arrange for what she and everybody round her say is the most important battle of her career. “I’ve skilled many, many, many years,” Han says. “I’ve worked onerous for it, and i deserve this alternative. I’m simply glad it’s lastly right here.”

“This opportunity” is happening Saturday in England-a combat against Katie Taylor. At worst, Taylor is among the many five greatest feminine boxers ever. At best, she is one of the best. A 2012 Olympic gold medalist for Eire, Taylor is the undisputed lightweight world champion. As a skilled, she’s by no means lost. ESPN lists Taylor as the perfect lively lady boxer on the planet. The Ring, the magazine that calls itself the bible of boxing, agrees. So if Han beats Taylor-on the time of this writing, some oddsmakers believe Han has a one in a single hundred probability of successful-it’d be the type of upset that makes the boxing world cease.

“I’ve been a highway warrior before, it’s nothing new to me,” Han says of combating in England. She knows that of the 20,000 fans anticipated to attend the bout at Headingley Stadium, only about ten will be cheering for her. “I’m excited,” she continues. She talks with that innate confidence all world-class boxers have. “I know what I’m dealing with. I know what I’m up in opposition to. I’m effective with it.”

Han, identical to her 4 youthful siblings, learned to battle from her father, Master Bae Han. As a boy in South Korea, he turned infatuated with martial artists. To him, they seemed like they may fly. “Whatever they wished to do, they might do,” he says. That’s when he began studying, learning, and eventually mastering different fighting techniques.

But earlier than he was a master, he was Personal Han, a member of the Korean Army and part of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army. As a part of that program, U.S. and Korean soldiers shared barracks. That’s where Han practiced his martial arts. At first, he educated by himself. Then, as U.S. soldiers watched, they began asking him to show them what he knew.

“The GIs would come and bow to me,” Han remembers. “Commanders would come, bow to me. I was a private, lowest rating, however all revered me like a instructor.” Before long, he was educating teams of troopers. Eventually, one in all his students prompt he migrate to the United States.

When he came to El Paso in 1978, he discovered a small Korean neighborhood in the northeast part of the town. From there, he taught martial arts to his youngsters and any El Pasoan who wished to study. His children-Jennifer, Abraham, Israel, Heather, and Stephanie-would practice for hours after which eat at the closest buffet. “All you’ll be able to eat, that’s a good restaurant,” Grasp Han says. “Cheap prices, that’s good. That’s survival.”

Earlier than long, the family was successful native martial arts tournaments. Then state, national, and even world titles. Earlier than lengthy, boys and girls-knowing they’d lose-refused to struggle Jennifer. And so, the Hans began combating in a self-discipline they’d but to grasp: boxing.

“We didn’t know what we had been doing,” Abraham Han says of the family’s introduction to boxing. He says they’d typically go to boxing gyms around El Paso and get beat up. Jennifer was sixteen, Abraham was fifteen. “But my dad said, ‘You have to be humble. Let’s determine what we’re doing incorrect,’” Abraham recalls. “My dad knew nothing about boxing, so he would imitate drills simply by watching HBO, watching Oscar De La Hoya and all these fighters. ‘Okay, let’s try this,’ he’d say. And we’d work on it.”

All the Han family is tight-knit, but Jennifer and Abraham are notably shut. She calls him Abie. He calls her Jenny. They’re fifteen months apart in age and have fought collectively since she was 5 and he was 4. They’re also the only two of the Han siblings to field professionally.

The 2 were inseparable. They’d spar, run, and do power and conditioning drills together. They’d eat. Rest together. When they attended the University of Texas at El Paso, they’d even journey to campus together. “We’ve been so close all the best way until 2018,” Abraham says. That’s when he fought the most recent-and possibly remaining-bout of his pro boxing career, a loss to Anthony Dirrell that left Abraham with a document of 26-4. After that, even when the bond between siblings hadn’t changed, the time that Jennifer and Abraham spent together had. Now they each have young families, and Abie runs his personal gym on El Paso’s West Aspect. Still, he thinks about the best way things were.

“I miss it on a regular basis,” he says of boxing and his years training alongside Jennifer. “I want I may come back. I’m still in phenomenal form, so you by no means know.” He sounds as if he’s letting himself fall into a daydream, after which he catches himself. “It doesn’t appear doubtless that I’ll ever struggle once more,” he admits a few seconds later.

A part of the reason his profession is probably going over is a shoulder damage that will require surgery before he competes again. Another part is simply his knowing how physically. Emotionally taxing the life of a professional boxer is. Having gone by way of it in his own career and watched it in his sister’s, he is aware of it twice over.

“Jenny’s gone by means of so much disappointment,” Abraham says. He’s talking in regards to the shut selections-together with a loss. A draw in her first two skilled fights-that he feels Jennifer ought to have won. He’s talking concerning the time she fought for a world title in Korea, solely to have judges give the victory to her opponent. “They screwed her,” he says. He’s speaking about there being so little money in women’s boxing that his sister has never earned wherever near what she would have if she were a man.

“She’s been a world champion and she can’t make anything,” Abraham says. After Jennifer had her first son, Abraham instructed her she ought to retire. That all the sacrifices she was making-denying herself food, time together with her kids, the power to go through a day without getting punched within the face-simply weren’t price it. “She’s always been paycheck to paycheck,” Abraham continues. “She fights because she needs to be the perfect on the earth.”

And now that Jennifer has gotten the opportunity to prove it, Abraham-who never thought his sister would get this chance-can’t be there for her the way in which he once was. He still trains with her when he can, two or 3 times a week. But even that doesn’t feel like enough. “It’s been very upsetting that I can’t be there for her extra,” he says.

On a traditional day, Jennifer Han arrives in Las Cruces, New Mexico-a 45-minute drive from El Paso-by nine-thirty in the morning. She’ll practice along with her boxing coaches till noon, generally a half hour past that. Her father’s gym doesn’t open until four. So, between the tip of coaching in Las Cruces and then, she’ll drive back to El Paso. Eat, spend time together with her children, get bodily therapy, relaxation, no matter she must do. Once her father’s gym opens, she’ll help teach classes. But only “a little bit, not a lot, because I’ve to go back and spar in evenings,” Han says. After sparring, she goes residence, rests, sleeps, and wakes as much as do the same factor yet again.

For the previous several months, this has been her life. For many of her life-33 of her 38 years-she has followed a related routine. A Spartan lifestyle built around preventing.

“Every struggle, we count on to win,” Grasp Han says. As he talks, sitting within the small office within the nook of his gym, he’s surrounded by mementos of victories-first-place trophies, gold medals, and championship belts that justify his confidence. Proof that his kids know how to struggle. Proof that he did something proper in instructing them.

“My children stayed in gym,” he says, “training and coaching, punching and punching, kicking and kicking, sweat and sweat, super punch and super kicking.” As he speaks, his voice will get louder and louder.

He’s an older man now, 73 years outdated, with long silver hair and a wrinkled face. But as he talks, an intensity creeps into his voice. That pressure in his words tells you that he too has been combating all through his life. That he is probably not in a position to move as he as soon as did, however he’s still the same one who did splits in the air together with his ankles resting on two folding chairs. The identical one who used to look like he was flying when he kicked. The identical one that believed, deep in his bones, that no other household on this planet trained tougher than his. The same one that, at this time, is convinced that Jennifer will win.

He, along along with his two youngest daughters and different members of the household, will watch Han’s bout with Taylor from El Paso. Abraham, along together with his younger brother, will be in England with their sister. “I always get nervous,” Abraham says of watching his sister combat, even when he’s sure she will win. “I suppose that’s the emotion, particularly when you’re really near anyone.”

Han, sitting on the picket bench in her father’s El Paso gym, suggests her brother is simply being sentimental because he misses boxing. “He’s upset that he can’t go to Las Cruces with me and follow just like the old occasions,” she says.

The previous instances when, inside this gym, as their father watched, Jennifer and Abraham-along with their siblings-would combat. Sometimes together. Typically towards one another. This gym became the hub round which the Han family revolved. This gym, in this nook of Texas that many have chosen to run away from.

Since that’s at all times been the query around right here-to go away or to remain?-I ask if she thought to do the same. She says she thought-about it but stayed as a result of she loves El Paso. Because for decades, alongside this street that crosses into New Mexico, she and everyone around her have been preparing for the very alternative Han has in entrance of her Saturday night.

“I’ve overcome a lot,” she says. Her tone becomes suddenly critical. She’s now not laughing and smiling. Abruptly, she’s the person who visualizes herself successful during those quiet moments spent driving across state lines and running numerous miles to build stamina. Others following her path would have stopped long ago, however she kept going. “I’m so excited to shock the world,” Han says. “That’s what I’m going to do.” She, together with everybody who’s close to her, understands that if nothing else, she is aware of how to fight.