Today’s generation of female professional boxers are talented, tough, outspoken, and unapologetic. Fighters like Claressa Shields, Amanda Serrano, Mikaela Mayer, Jessica McCaskill, Alycia Baumgardner and Katie Taylor have made their presence known inside the ring and outside the ring. Whether they are fighting a grueling match or appearing as a ringside analyst, these fighters are taking boxing by storm, and fans are starting to take notice. Whether they know it or not, they are inspiring a new generation of women boxers.
Women like Jillian Petroglia. The 21-year-old native of Long Island, New York, has been competing for three years and looks to add the title “National Champion” to her resume next week at the USA Boxing National Championships in Shreveport, Louisiana.
I first met Petroglia this past summer at the Christy Martin Title Invitational Boxing Tournament in Fayetteville, North Carolina. At first glance, you wouldn't think that Petroglia is a boxer. Most boxers at tournaments are scowling as they size up their competition before getting in the ring. Not Petroglia, her “war face” is adorned with glasses and a big, bright smile, accompanied by a charismatic personality.
But don't let her kindness and sweet demeanor fool you. Once she steps in the ring Petroglia is anything but sweet. She is tough, tenacious, and she can fight.
Jillian started boxing when she was 14-years-old. Growing up, Jillian was shy and often the victim of bullying at school. Her parents, two retired NYPD police officers, wanted their daughter to have the ability to defend herself in case the bullying ever turned physical. So, the Petroglia’s went looking for a gym where their daughter could learn a martial art. “I was a shy kid, and I got bullied a lot at school. So, my parents always wanted me to do something in the event I needed to defend myself. Then we found Mike,” said Petroglia when I asked her to recount how her boxing career started.
A former fighter himself, Andrillo is the head trainer at the Inferno Training Center. Based in Lindenhurst, NY, the small training center is co-owned by Andrillo and Jillian’s parents. And for the last seven years, the gym has been Petroglia’s second home. So when she is not at home working on her math degree, you can be sure to find her and Andrillo at the gym perfecting her boxing skills.
Jillian was enamored with the sport of boxing as soon as she started training, and she credits Andrillo for sparking that passion. “We started training, and Mike showed me his fight career, showed me his videos. All the hand wraps that he saved and his fighting trunks. I said, ‘Oh My God, I want to do this too. I want my hand wraps hanging on the wall too. He really inspired me to take that leap,” she said.
Jillian and Andrillo have a strong relationship, and he brings the best out of Jillian. As a result, Petraglia is a two-time New York “Metros” champion, won this year’s Masters tournament in Atlanta, and placed second in the New York Golden Gloves.
“I remember my first fight,” said Petraglia as she recalls how much she has developed since then. Petraglia continues, “As I was walking to the ring, I was saying to myself ‘Oh My God’. I was already sweating. I was nervous. Once I got in there, I was bouncing around, moving on the ropes, feeling how it was to get punched by someone who is trying to come at me, the nerves fell right off, a switch clicked.”
And when that switch clicks, beware. Up to this point, Jillian's fighting style has been based on pressure momentum that starts off with a stiff jab as she waits for her opponent to jump in so she can counter effectively.
However, Petroglia is still evolving and trying to find her identity as a fighter. “Nationals last year is where we learned the most about boxing,” she stated. “Me taking that loss last year at nationals is why my game plan is so good now. Yes, my guard is high, and I wait for my opponent, but this time at nationals, you will see Mike’s game plan. I don’t want to say too much about it, but his game plan is going to take us all the way.”
Although she’s a good fighter, Petroglia says her most excellent skill is picking out her coach's voice and executing his instructions during the fight amid all the chaos and crowd noise.
The best boxers in the nation compete at the National Tournament. In the 165lbs category, Jillian will be competing against six other girls. One of the six fighters is 2021 Olympian Naomi Graham. So, there is a possibility Petroglia can face a former Olympian at the tournament. And if they each win their respective matches, they can possibly meet at the finals.
I asked Jillian to share some of the emotions she experienced at the thought of possibly fighting a world-class fighter like Naomi Graham.
“I have a bunch of emotions and thoughts. I'm excited. Just to be in there with someone that went to the Olympics and fought at that level is just crazy. I'm also a really big fan, and I'm going to ask for a picture with her,” she said enthusiastically.
As the reality of the situation sets in, Petroglia admits that she gets nervous when she thinks about the possibility of having to fight Graham at the tournament. “I get a little nervous because it's like wow, someone at that level, and I'm going to be in there with her. It brings a little bit of nerves, anyone would be nervous in that situation. But, on the other hand, I think it’s exciting to be in the same ring with someone that went to the Olympics. To be in the same ring, experience her technique, and compare how she fights to how we fight. I think it is going to give me way more confidence just to be able to be in the same ring with her.”
Inspired by Mikaela Mayer and Claressa Shields, Jillian aspires to become a professional boxer and follow in their footsteps. “Claressa Shields is the best athlete and boxer ever. I sometimes think she can beat the men. If I met her, I would die! If I can meet Claressa Shields, I would die! And Mikaela Mayer is paving the way for female boxing, and if I could be like them, I would be a mixture of both of them,” said Petrolglia when I asked her which fighters inspire her.
While Petroglia is excited about pursuing a pro career, there are some goals that she and Andrillo want to accomplish first. “Four or five years from now. Maybe after the next Olympics in 2024 in Paris. Hopefully, we can get to the trials and maybe to the Olympics. The goal is to have at least 50 amateur fights before turning pro,” said the on-the-rise pugilist.
Petroglia trains seven days a week in preparation for the tournament and limits social activities to focus on the fight. She acknowledges that her family and coach are her greatest support system. Whether it’s her mom cooking healthy meals, the family going on diets together, or coach Andrillo’s workout plans, Petroglia’s boxing career is a team effort.
What began as a way to defend herself from bullies has now morphed into a full-fledged boxing career. Yet, through it all, Jillian Petroglia has remained humbled, loyal to her team, and most of all, true to herself.
“My goal this tournament is to do better than the last one,” she said, summing it up. “I may not win it all. The goal is to win it and go all the way and have my first national championship. But as long as I can do one better than I did last year, I’ll be happy.”