Behind second-story windows painted "EAT SLEEP FIGHT REPEAT," McConnell's Boxing Academy on Northeast Broadway looks like it may as well have been plucked directly from one of those movies about a former champ's efforts to train the next generation of fighters.
But if you squint hard, a few differences appear: the pink pair of loaner boxing gloves, say. Or the framed poster near the entrance advertising a match between Wonder Woman and Supergirl. Or, one recent weekday afternoon, the purely female clientele limbering up before class, though owner Molly "Fearless" McConnell says males actually comprise a slight majority of the gym's membership.
"It's about 60-40 men," she laughs. "The women just show up on time."
According to McConnell, that's about the only notable difference between the sexes. In the ring, "everybody spars together." The décor is wholly in keeping with her gym's central philosophy of open-armed acceptance.
"If you've never done combat sports," McConnell says, "coming into a boxing gym can be really intimidating—especially for women but for men, too. A lot of gyms have, for lack of a better word, a very bro-y 'tude, and people get turned off by the atmosphere. Once we get people in the door, they see right away that we have a very welcoming, super-diverse group of people here—doctors, nurses, teachers, a ton of professionals."
While the gym also has a boxing fitness program for those with no desire to fight, McConnell is clearly most passionate about the dozen or so fighters hand-picked for MBA's amateur competition team, which she trains in a style she calls "aggressive counterpunching." Though she's also worked with UFC competitors, McConnell's is one of the few gyms in Portland to keep a tight focus on boxing and boxing only.
"I have no interest in wrestling and jiujitsu," she says. "I'm an expert in one thing with a deep knowledge base. A bunch of gyms sell the fact that they teach this, that and the other thing, but they don't have any individual expertise."
McConnell herself never laced up a pair of gloves until, looking for a new fitness regimen after college, she wandered into a gym that happened to offer women's boxing classes. Six months later, at the age of 24, she had her first fight. Six years later, after a long stint atop the amateur rankings, she turned pro, eventually retiring with a pair of junior welterweight world championship belts. "I feel like I didn't choose boxing, it chose me," she says, "and I think that happens to a lot of people. They come in, try it and fall in love with it. And sometimes, it really is like falling in love. Boxing isn't for everyone, but when it is, it really is."