As a child in an authoritarian and socialist country, Choi Hyunmi’s athletic talent was spotted early on and his progress accelerated by a coach keen to impress the leader of North Korea.
After putting the gloves away when her family defected to the South, it was boxing that helped her two years later after being discriminated against.
Almost two decades after fleeing North Korea at the age of 13, Choi is South Korea’s only world boxing champion.
She has an ambition to unify her super featherweight division and step up to challenge Irish legend Katie Taylor, who is No. 1 in the women’s pound for pound rankings.
Choi’s big push got off to a rocky start, when his scheduled unification bout with WBC title holder Terri Harper in May was called off due to the British boxer’s hand injury.
What the undefeated WBA champion has already achieved makes her a great ambassador for North Korean defectors to South Korea.
Choi started boxing at age 11 when she lived in the North Korean capital, Pyongyang.
She said a school trainer noticed her athletic ability and told her parents she could become a boxer who “can delight General Kim Jong Il”, the late father of current leader Kim Jong. A.
She then joined an elite youth boxing program preparing for future Olympics, but at the end of 2003 her family left North Korea because her father Choi Yeong-chun, who had worked at the foreigner, as an employee of a state trading company, wanted a different life for his children.
They moved to South Korea via Vietnam, only to face poverty and discrimination, like many other defectors whose qualifications in North Korea are largely unrecognized in the South.
Choi returned to boxing after a classmate insulted her North Korean origins following an accidental collision at school. “She cursed me and said ‘You should have stayed in North Korea’.
She became a member of the South Korean national team in 2006 before turning pro and winning the vacant World Boxing Association featherweight crown in 2008.
After defending the title seven times, Choi jumped into a weight division and added the WBA Super Featherweight Title to her collection in 2014. She has defended that title eight times.
But the sport’s waning popularity in South Korea has left Choi with a lack of sponsorships, to the point that she has even considered relinquishing her title.
Agents from the United States, Japan and Germany have been lobbying for Choi to be naturalized in those countries.
But the 30-year-old boxer said she rejected the offers for two reasons: concerns about another difficult relocation and the immense pride she had in representing South Korea.
Now with an American boxing agency, Choi trains mainly in the United States, where she believes she could become “an even bigger boxer”.
Choi isn’t sure when her match with Harper can be revamped, but she said that within three to five years she aims to combine the WBA title with the other three major belts _ WBC, IBF and WBO _ in her division.
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