Still, the O'Hares never expected to see Jamie throwing jabs and crosses. And the timing of her new hobby left the whole family feeling conflicted: From 2004 through 2006, Mary Ellen was engaged in her own fierce battle, with failing kidneys.

"She was so sick she would go to bed at 6 p.m., and sometimes I'd hear her crying quietly in her room," says Jamie. "I'm a fixer, and I couldn't do anything about it, so I used the fighting as therapy. But there were days when I felt like quitting. I was constantly thinking: How selfish can I be? She's sick and here I am doing something she hates."

Thirty people stepped up with offers to donate a kidney, but there were no matches, including among her family. "Jamie really wanted to donate, but she wasn't the right blood type," says Mary Ellen. "We even looked into the paired-exchange program, where she would've given an organ to somebody else who would've donated to me. That didn't work out either."

Hamlett: "It felt more like a sparring session than a fight."
Eric Fogleman
Hamlett: "It felt more like a sparring session than a fight."
Eric Fogleman

As for the boxing, says Mary Ellen, "we agreed to disagree."

Jamie learned to change her bloodstained clothes before leaving the gym for home, to spare her mother the sight.

Finney, her trainer, says he'll never forget those two years. "I try to keep my distance with fighters, but it was tough with Jamie," he says. "My mother is my best friend, and I don't think I could've handled that situation half as well as Jamie did. I admire the hell out of her for it."

On September 23, 2006, with Mary Ellen's kidney function hovering just above 10 percent of their capacity, the O'Hares at last got word that transplants were on their way from the East Coast.

"It wasn't long before I had my mom back," says Jamie. "And now she's 100 percent returned to her sassy self."

Mary Ellen concedes she's still not won over by boxing but is taking her daughter's battles as they come. On March 7, she arrives at the Ultra Sports Lounge in Union Station for Jamie's weigh-in toting the requisite Dairy Queen ice-cream cake. Jamie has texted and called several times to explain how friendly Carrine Hamlett seems, and Mary Ellen is anxious to meet her daughter's rival.

But O'Hare and Hamlett can't appear more opposite ambling across the dais to the scale. O'Hare strips down to a cheery coral sports bra and skimpy black Spandex. Hamlett wears a baggy black tank top and long red athletic shorts. O'Hare flashes a smile. Hamlett stares. The tattoo on her right bicep — "Dainty," in script — seems to belie her I-mean-business visage.

When it comes time for the women to pose head-to-head for the cameras, fists raised, O'Hare can't resist a giggle. At last, Hamlett cracks a grin. "You're so silly," she says.

O'Hare has a crowd of at least twenty friends and family gathered to watch her tear into the cake. When Hamlett comes over for her piece, Mary Ellen hugs her.

"OK, this is weird," Steve O'Hare blurts. "I don't want to start to like this girl. I want my daughter to pound her!"

An hour later, Jose Ponce corners Jamie O'Hare with an instruction. "You've done the nice thing," he says. "Now stay away from her."

Right about then, Reed and Dena Low are telling Mary Ellen O'Hare how thrilled they are to sponsor O'Hare for her June 21 fight, too.

Mary Ellen nearly drops her Corona Light and lets out a yelp. Jamie hasn't yet told her that bout is on the calendar.

The week of the March 8 fight Jamie O'Hare throws punches in her sleep. She turns in well after midnight and wakes a mere four or five hours later.

St. Louis' two best-known fight promoters, Jesse Finney's Shamrock Promotions and Steve Smith's Rumble Time Promotions, have teamed up for this show, featuring some of the region's premier boxers and mixed martial artists and dubbed "Extreme Fight Party." The tone is glam, with white linens spilling across a sea of tables in the Renaissance Grand Hotel's main ballroom. FOX Sports Network is in the house (the night's fight card will air on FSN at various times from March 20 through April 14).

O'Hare started primping at about three o'clock, after Bible study and a heart-to-heart with her family. She arrives at the Renaissance just before six, wearing a touch of foundation and a few spritzes of chamomile-scented body spray. Childhood friend Lindsay Zoellner has coaxed the fighter's tresses into a pair of taut French braids. Her pedicured toenails sport fiery red polish. "Time to hurry up and wait," she gripes.

At 6:40 p.m. cut man Jerry Leyshock slathers his secret ointment above O'Hare's eyes. Ten minutes later she moisturizes with Albolene.

The right hand gets massaged and taped at 7, the left at 7:06. Jose Ponce appears super-Zen, working his magic on O'Hare's hands. She's in her own world, tapping her foot to her iPod.

Ponce called O'Hare three times today to ask, "How's it goin', champ? What you doin'? What you thinkin'?" But by the time he picked her up for the fight, O'Hare still didn't know who'd be in her corner. She sprang into Ponce's SUV and fired off questions: Did Jose talk to Jesse? Could two people issue instructions? "If Jesse wants to be the lead, tell him to use your words," she'd said.

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