Like O'Hare, Hamlett, who works in the accounting department of an export company, went pro last year. But she's 0-1. Though her close-shaved scalp conveys an air of toughness, Hamlett's slow drawl and laidback gait make her seem smaller than she is.

The tournament scale doesn't agree with her either.

In the end the boxers' managers agree to change the contract so the women can weigh in at "under 150." O'Hare proceeds to ask Hamlett a question she's never heard before: "Would you mind meeting my mom at weigh-ins?"

O'Hare took up fighting after some frightening run-ins with a stalker. "She definitely doesn't carry that veil or shadow of victimization with her," says colleague Cyndi McGee.
Eric Fogleman
O'Hare took up fighting after some frightening run-ins with a stalker. "She definitely doesn't carry that veil or shadow of victimization with her," says colleague Cyndi McGee.
Mary Ellen O'Hare, far right, offers opponent Carrine Hamlett an extra piece of ice-cream cake ­— to soften her up.
Eric Fogleman
Mary Ellen O'Hare, far right, offers opponent Carrine Hamlett an extra piece of ice-cream cake ­— to soften her up.

"No problem," Hamlett replies. "Save me a piece of cake."

Jamie O'Hare's typical training day is set to the sounds of Mexican hip-hop. "One, two...one, two, three, four," purrs soft-spoken trainer Jose Ponce. "Money shot...atta girl! She takes that one, you're gonna fuck her up."

Four days before the bout, however, O'Hare is up against a different foe. "Come on, give me a glare," begs Lance Tilford, a commercial photographer. "Don't look like you're posing for your prom picture.

"Work it...lean...lay into it. "Good!" enthuses Tilford. "Now that's hot!"

It has been decided that some sexy photographs would ramp up O'Hare's image, making a nice gift for sponsors and perhaps opening the door to a sports modeling contract. Tilford and his wife, makeup artist and model Tamara Tungate, have never shot a female boxer; O'Hare, for that matter, has never been made over at a department store cosmetics counter, let alone sampled a sliver of the products in Tungate's triple-decker makeup kit.

The boxer clears the gym of her male sparring partners, refusing to let them watch the couple at work with her. She looks downright bashful feigning a pummel of a heavy bag while wearing a short black dress.

"You must become a completely different person in the ring," Tungate remarks after O'Hare finally squelches a spell of giggles.

O'Hare's pro debut last July at the Scottrade Center ended in roughly 70 seconds. Her opponent's corner man tossed in the towel after O'Hare pulled off three swift knockdowns. "I was glad they called it off, because I'm not out there to really hurt anyone," the fighter says in retrospect. "You want to hurt them an inch more than they hurt you, just so you can win."

The bout was a disappointment for having concluded so soon, and this time around O'Hare is hoping for more action. The stakes seem higher, too.

For one thing, O'Hare says, she readied herself for last year's fight pretty much on her own. This time, her manager Finney, who's also a fighter, turned her over to the 32-year-old Ponce, an LA native who now owns Pound 4 Pound Gym, located inside SWEAT St. Louis in Clayton. Squat, with spiky hair and a jiggly belly that O'Hare attacks with rapid-fire jabs, Ponce has spent about 150 hours in the ring with his first female trainee.

Last month he recruited his friends Reed and Dena Low and their south-county salon, Upper Cuts, to become O'Hare's sponsor — her first. Ponce also helped arrange the commercial photo shoot and embraced the various reporters who came calling. "Jamie can go wherever she wants to in boxing," says Ponce. "She's got the whole package."

Finney had a tough time stomaching some of the changes. He is the first to admit that releasing O'Hare, his "baby," to Ponce was like "watching your kid go off to college." Finney especially pooh-poohs the media fluffing and marketing efforts. "Quote me on this," he says. "I don't like it at all. If she doesn't stay focused on family, friends and fighting, she'll be yesterday's news."

The tension is definitely not lost on O'Hare. For a week straight, she stresses over whether Ponce or Finney will take the lead in her corner come fight night. Every day at the gym, she pesters Ponce: "Have you talked to Jesse yet?"

"The first few times Jose held mitts for me, I felt like I was cheating on Jesse," O'Hare admits. "But then Jose and I developed a very close bond. Now I feel like he's a member of my family. I don't know what'll happen after this fight, but I kind of wonder: If I go back to Jesse, will I feel like I'm cheating on Jose?"

O'Hare found Finney's gym almost four years ago. At that time, she was strictly kickboxing, her latest obsession on a physical-fitness odyssey that took root after a frightening episode in college.

While a senior at Missouri State University in Springfield, O'Hare was sunbathing with friends one day at the pool when an older man she didn't know began squirting her with a water gun and taunting her with sexual innuendo. Before long, she says, the man "started stopping by my house, bringing me flowers, showing up outside my classes. He knew my whole schedule."

Sometimes at night, she says, the man would cross the alleyway from his halfway house and tap on her apartment door. The stalking escalated to the point where even after O'Hare obtained a restraining order, the man would "stand on the edge of my apartment complex and shoot me threatening looks as if he wanted to kill me."

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