Born on September 14, 1976, Steffi Slater is the reigning Super Lightweight champion of the world. The veteran of the game joined Final Bell Boxing for the last stretch of her career.
A slow start
Steffi was at the top level of the Featherweight division for more than five years. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, Steffi was the fourth of four children, and named after the dominant tennis star, Steffi Graf. With three older brothers, Steffi seemingly had two possibilities – follow her brothers and become a tomboy or not. Steffi chose to run with the boys and has followed that path ever since.
She came late to boxing. Though she had taken karate and Taekwondo as a child and excelled, she had never envisioned fighting competitively. That changed when she signed up at a local gym in Cleveland. She had signed up just to stay fit, but was completely absorbed by watching the people hit the heavy bag. Eventually, she convinced one of the trainers to teach her how to punch correctly. Steffi was a slow, but dedicated learner and decided that she wanted to do more than just hit a stationary bag and joined a local boxing gym.
At the gym, it took a while for the coaches to warm up to the dedicated, but aloof Steffi. The future ‘Lady in Gray’ was a diligent student, but didn’t seem to be much of a prospect for a pro, or even amateur career. By the time she was 25, boxing seemed to be a hobby, but no more than that. A chance sparring session changed all that.
A fellow fighter was preparing for a fight when her usual sparring partner got in a minor fender bender on the way to the gym. Desperately searching for a warm body for his fighter to go up against, coach Robert Roetch asked Steffi if she’d step in. Steffi agreed. If it had been a Rocky movie, Steffi would have floored her sparring partner, but she simply put in a decent shift. However, it proved her potential to succeed.
The Lady in Gray
Steffi was hesitant to step in the ring ‘for real’ but was convinced to try out as an amateur. Steffi immediately took to the circuit like a fish to water, recording 14 wins and 3 losses in little over two years of amateur competition. Steffi started to show the hallmarks of what she would become in pro career, a tenacious, take-no-prisoners approach that sometimes leaned on bending the rules. Even the most lenient of referees was awoken into action with her generous interpretations of the rules. Steffi was smart enough not to get disqualified, but it certainly gave her a reputation in the amateur circuit.
Finding her progress stymied on the amateur circuit, Steffi turned pro after catching the eye of a local promoter that saw how a hard-nosed style might be a good fit for the midwestern crowd that expects nothing less than total commitment.
Steffi compiled a respectable 7-1 record in her time fighting on small local cards. Eventually, the crowds came to appreciate Steffi getting the most out of her limited talents and it gave her a small modicum of local fame. Steffi’s specialty seemed to be beating up pretty girls that were being prepped for potential stardom.
In her ninth pro fight, Steffi travelled to New York for her first televised fight against Ingrid Remple, an undefeated fighter that was quickly making a name for herself. Steffi and her promoter knew that this was a big step up in class, but the payday and the potential reward were worth it. Steffi lost the fight to Ingrid, but Steffi put up an extremely tough fight, only losing by a narrow split decision.
It was in that fight that she picked up the moniker ‘The Lady in Gray.’ With the announcer of the fight struggling to remember Steffi’s name at the beginning of the fight, he simply started referring to her as ‘The Lady in Gray’ due to the gray outfit. The nickname stuck.
Despite the loss dropping her record to 7-2, Steffi’s career seemed to take a major step forward. Her exposure on national TV gave her an increased profile and she was able to secure fights against some better opposition, which she won. With a slew of wins, it was inevitable that Steffi would gather attention from one of boxing’s ranking organisations. After Steffi’s 11th win, shewas finally ranked highly by the WBU.
A few more wins put her in contention for her first ever title opportunity. Despite a valiant effort, ‘The Lady in Gray’ was decisively beaten by a younger, more talented woman. This fight would mark the first time that Steffi had gotten stopped in her professional career – the referee intervened in Round 9 to rescue an outgunned boxer.
Steffi took a year off after that fight, the disappointment of the loss giving way to a further determination to reach the mountaintop.
A fixture in the rankings
Steffi quickly returned to her winning ways, but her new management team decided on a new strategy going forward – taking only fights that would benefit her in the rankings. This did mean that Steffi wasn’t quite that active in the ring, often fighting only once or twice a year, but making sure she kept her ranking up. Some would think of it as cynical, but Steffi figured that as she was not the type of fighter that was looked fondly upon by the rankings organisations. If rankings were so important, why take a risk?
The Lady in Gray was often used as a test of prospects that just made their way up. The hype around those girls died when they got in the ring with Steffi Slater. Not only did Steffi win; she would expose these prospects, making them seem woefully out of their depth.
Steffi’s high rankings qualified her for a pair of other shots at the world title, both of which she also lost, though she did put in a yeoman’s effort.
A three-time title challenger, Steffi remained one of the division’s stiffest gatekeepers that plotted for one last shot at becoming a world champion. It didn’t go well when she got into the ring with Virani MacVicar. A third-round knockout seemingly ended her hopes.
However, Final Bell Boxing saw something different. It proposed a move to Berlin and going to Super Lightweight to eliminate the weight cuts that drained her in the last couple of years. With wins, she might be granted a title shot in her new division.
Steffi Slater does not have the athletic gifts that she once had, and she never based her game around speed or power. She fights at a slow pace, with plenty of stamina for the later rounds, and takes away her opponents’ best weapons. The Lady in Gray likes to get close and make the contest a grind with significant body strength and a high ring IQ and a taste for less than legal methods.