Before the fatal punch, Becky Zerlentes was holding her own, maybe even winning an amateur Golden Gloves bout that she had said would be...

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Before the fatal punch, Becky Zerlentes was holding her own, maybe even winning an amateur Golden Gloves bout that she had said would be her last fight.

It was Zerlentes’ choice to climb into the ring earlier this month in Denver, where she was knocked unconscious and later died of blunt-force trauma.
And that choice, though it was fatal, was made possible by Dallas Malloy.

In 1993, Malloy, then 16 and living in Bellingham, won a court battle to get USA Boxing to recognize women as amateur fighters.

“I did what I had to do to follow my passion,” Malloy told me the other day. “It was something that needed to happen. And it’s an honor.”

Many disagree in the wake of Zerlentes’ death. Toronto Star columnist Peter Worthington wrote that female boxing “was mindful of dogs walking on their hind legs: It’s not that they do it well, but that they do it at all that’s surprising.”

Malloy won’t give in to such jabs.

“It’s progress,” she said of women in the ring. “It’s inevitable, and it has to happen.”

There are about 2,200 amateur women fighters in the United States.

Zerlentes’ death was the first in 12 years of amateur women’s boxing.

Malloy, 28, is a body builder and piano teacher living in Ventura County, Calif. She is training for her first body-building competition this fall.

But boxing remains her first love.

She has written to Sylvester Stallone hoping to be a part of his reality-TV show, “The Contender,” which follows a group of male boxers.

If there is another season, Malloy hopes that it includes a woman or two and that Stallone finds a place for her in front of or behind the camera.

“[Stallone] knows what it’s like to be the underdog, to have to battle uphill and go your own way,” she said. “I feel a connection there.”

She’s encouraged by the new interest in women’s boxing spurred by Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning boxing film, “Million Dollar Baby.” Even the death of Zerlentes, while tragic, has shown women to be willing contenders, she said.

“Who tied her up and dragged her and forced her to fight?” Malloy asked. “Nobody.”

And while she mourns Zerlentes’ death, Malloy also understands what drew her to the ring: Boxing’s focus on conditioning, timing and strategy.

“It’s a very powerful battle of wills,” she said, “that takes a lot of courage and heart.”

As for what first attracted her?

“Quite honestly? Linda Hamilton in ‘Terminator 2.’ ”

Boxing has given her those sculpted arms, and much more. A part in history. And this mantra: “Life knocks you down, but it’s how fast you can get back up.”

Zerlentes may not have been able to, but other women will in her stead.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

She’s circling the ring.