A Girl Named Suicide

Texas' Valerie Mahfood--last seen getting clobbered by Laila Ali--could change the pretty face of women's boxing

One has to see Phillip to appreciate the pronouncement.

Not exactly a thin man, he is wider than the actor is tall. He's also got so much body hair that when Valerie was a kid, she actually believed it when he told her that he is, in fact, a bear, taken from the woods by his first wife, who shaved him and taught him how to speak English. (When Phillip went to pick up Valerie after her first day of school, her entire classroom turned out to see if it was true.)

The Wolfe pulls her baseball cap over her eyes and slides into her chair, shrinking as her father commences to give her crap in front of me, a nosy reporter. I see the Schwarzenegger story as my chance to ask Mahfood about his daughter's sexual identity.

Valerie Mahfood was a world champion before Laila Ali entered the ring. The rabies tag belongs to her dog.
Mark Graham
Valerie Mahfood was a world champion before Laila Ali entered the ring. The rabies tag belongs to her dog.
Harry Murdock, below, was training little boys when Mahfood showed up. Little did he know the tough girl would lead him to his prime-time debut as a boxing trainer.
Mark Graham
Harry Murdock, below, was training little boys when Mahfood showed up. Little did he know the tough girl would lead him to his prime-time debut as a boxing trainer.

"And then she turned out to be gay," I say.

"Pardon?" Phillip says. "Gay?"

He looks at Valerie. "Are you gay?"

The Wolfe grows quiet. She looks over at me, deadly serious, and says, "He didn't know."

Then the two start cackling uproariously. It's no wonder Mahfood is such a smart-ass. She got it straight from Dad.

Actually, Phillip figured his daughter was gay before Valerie knew it herself.

It happened when Valerie was about 16. This redhead came over to the house, hoping to be friends. As soon as Phillip laid eyes on her, he knew what she was all about. He let the two hang out, but when the girl was gone he forbade Valerie from seeing her again. Valerie, a loner, couldn't understand why he didn't want her to have a friend. She stomped off to her bedroom, slammed the door and yelled, "Damn! I could've had a life." He yelled back, "It could've been worse. You could've had a wife."

At the time, Phillip explained his reasoning to Valerie. "I said, 'You know I don't have a problem with gay people, but the rest of the world has a problem with gay people,'" Phillip recalls, adding wryly, "I thought it was damn decent that I went through the explanation phase of it."

Even today, Phillip advises his daughter not to go on the record about being gay. As far as he's concerned, the information can only be used against her.

"Valerie has always marched to a different drummer," he says. "The bottom line is, it is nobody's business what she is."

Phillip is still protecting his baby daughter, never mind her hobby. Or her job. The Wolfe decides that she doesn't care if she's identified as gay. It's not exactly a secret. Everybody knows. Still, she has come to understand the wisdom of her dad's words. Especially when she's driving through redneck country.

It's Round 8. There are two rounds left, but the story of the night is Laila Ali. The beauty is out-throwing and out-hitting the brawler from Beaumont. During the break, referee Joe Cortez warns Mahfood that he'll stop the fight if she doesn't protect herself.

At center ring, Ali and Mahfood circle. Mahfood moves in, drops beneath Ali's reach and delivers a left to the body. Ali moves back, her left hook connecting with Mahfood's cheek. The fighters separate and circle. Ali takes one step, two and delivers a left to the head, then a right, then another left. Bam-bam-bam. Mahfood counters, her left finding Ali's head. The fighters step back, circling.

One minute left. Ali moves in with a right that sends Mahfood ducking. She counters with a left, but it glances off Ali's face. Now Ali has Mahfood on the run. She throws a dandy that slams Mahfood's head down and counters with a lightning-quick left to the nose that sends Mahfood reeling. Mahfood recovers, puts her guard up and zeros in on Ali.

But what's this? Cortez moves in. He's calling the fight. Mahfood steps around Cortez, but he pins her against the ropes. This fight is over.

"Come on!" Mahfood screams. "Come on!"

Ali, circling behind, can't believe Cortez has stopped this fight. "No!" she screams. "Nooooo!"

Back in Tyler, father and daughter are in the process of ordering dinner at a Mexican joint. After taking Phillip Mahfood's order, the waitress turns to his daughter and says, "What'll you have, sir?"

Phillip tugs at the waitress' arm.

"You know, underneath all this hair I'm really a woman," he says.

The waitress, a teen-ager, has no idea what he's talking about.

The Wolfe asks her father if he thinks the "pork chop theory" will fly as an excuse for her loss. When Valerie was young, her father had asked a fortuneteller when he would die. The seer couldn't say, but she did say his last meal would be a pork chop. Ever since then, Valerie has refused to eat pork chops and won't let her dad eat them either. At the weigh-in dinner the night before the fight, a guest at The Wolfe's table ordered a pork chop.

Her father shakes his head.

"A true mark of a champion is how you prevail over adversity," he tells her.

Instead of excuses, Phillip wants to know what The Wolfe is going to do now. He, like Valerie's coaches, thinks the fight was called too soon and, as a result, his daughter was robbed. There is no doubt that Ali was beating Mahfood in points. Nobody, not even The Wolfe, disputes that. But Mahfood is an endurance fighter, and she's one of the few female boxers strong enough to knock out an opponent with a single punch. If the fight had been allowed to continue, who knows?

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