Jackie Kallen is often called the “First Lady of Boxing,” but her reign of managing world champs didn’t begin with much fanfare.
“I was not exactly welcomed into the boxing community. There was no red carpet for me. I had to prove that I knew what I was doing obviously because they expect that a woman in a sport like this wouldn’t know anything, so it took a while for me to get my respect,” she said.
Kallen’s boxing career began during another barrier breaking role as a sports journalist in the 1970s.
“There would be a room full of males half dressed, male reporters and me. And sometimes they would try to do funny things to get me going -- drop a towel or make a comment that was supposed to make me run out of the locker room. But I always just smiled and I would find a way of getting around it and just acting like ‘Hey, it doesn’t bother me.’” she said.
She navigated male-dominated industries by being self-assured, patient and humorous.
One assignment shifted her trajectory. When she interviewed Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns, Kallen fell in love with boxing. Starting out as a publicist, she realized she wanted to be a manager.
“The first time I had a world champion that was my own fighter was a wonderful first because nobody thought I could do it,” she said.
Kallen did it five more times.
“It was very gratifying because I proved a point, not just to myself but to the world that when people said that there’s many, many men that have been in the boxing world for years and never had a champion, why do you think you will?” she said. “It was because I believed that I could, I believed that the fighters that I had were talented enough to become world champions, and it was just about making the right moves to get them there.”
In 1992, she took on Bronco McKart.
“Jackie Kallen changed my life,” McKart said. “At the time I signed with her, she had the hottest product in boxing. She had James “Lights Out” Toney and it was the hottest thing going.”
“I knew from the beginning that he (McKart) would be a world champion. There were some that doubted him the way they doubted me, and I just said ‘That’s okay, they’re gonna find out just how talented he is,’” Kallen said.
With more than three dozen awards, a Hollywood movie based on her life, book deals and mentoring others, Kallen said it’s critical to practice gratitude.
“It’s not all about you. It’s about the people that you work with and proving that a woman could do it, do it well and do it as well, if not better, than some of the men in the business,” she said.