Former world title champion Shelley Burton can’t box anymore, but now she’s set her sights on training the next generation of fighters.
When Shelley Burton heard about Toughman Contests in 2002, she thought it’d be an easy way to make some extra cash.
Living in Montana at the time, this was Burton’s first exposure to boxing. She instantly knew that it was the sport for her.
“We roughed it; we’d go to people’s houses and we’d turn a bedroom into a ring,” Burton said. “We didn’t have any trainers; we just all did the club fighting.”
She grew up playing basketball, softball and rugby, so her athleticism shined naturally with boxing too. In 2002, in her early 20s, she won the Club Boxing’s State Tournament and achieved an amateur record of 7-0 (2 TKO).
“When I started, they always asked you what your goal is,” Burton recalled. “I went to Golden Gloves Boxing in Las Vegas, met a guy named Butch; he was my manager. He basically dropped me off and let this amateur coach train me, and I went pro and won my fight. They asked me, they said, ‘So, what do you want to do with this? How far do you want to go?’ ‘All the way. I want to win a world title and fight Ali’s daughter.’ They all chuckled, of course, and then said, ‘Well, a world title in maybe in 10 years; Ali’s daughter, never gonna happen. She’s too big for you.’”
Burton spent the next four years traveling around North America for fights. On Nov. 18, 2005, Burton won the vacant Women’s International Boxing Association’s Intercontinental Super Middleweight title with a 10-round majority decision.
Goal No 1: check.
A little less than one year later, on Nov. 11, 2006, she stood in the boxing ring of all rings: Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Her opponent? Laila Ali, the daughter of the iconic Muhammad Ali.
In that moment, Burton felt pure bliss to be in that ring, at that time, with that opponent — and in the presence of Muhammad Ali himself.
“I felt like I succeeded,” Burton recalled. “I did everything I wanted to do with the sport, and I was getting an opportunity to be there, which everybody said I wouldn’t.”
The fight was called in the fourth round when Burton took a punch that broke her nose.
“My nose got broken in pretty much every fight I fought; I didn’t cover my face very well,” Burton said.
Laila Ali took the “W,” but Burton still looks back fondly on what would end up being her final fight. Soon after, head trauma from snowboarding made boxing a no go.
She officially retired from professional boxing in 2007 and opened a boxing gym in Montana, where she was welcomed back as a local celebrity.
“I wanted to be a firefighter EMT to give back to my community and help people; I love helping people,” Burton said. “I’ve always wanted to be a cop, since I was a kid. After I retired out of boxing, I moved out to Colorado, worked at coal mine and operated heavy equipment.”
After being a volunteer firefighter EMT, a police officer and then a heavy machine operator, she moved to Palm Coast in 2015 and started working for the city of Palm Coast’s Utility Department, then transferred into being a code enforcement officer.
“I love the way our city looks,” Burton said. “I love being able to work with people and help people understand things, because sometimes it’s not communicated well. I’m always about making things better.”
Here she’s trained youth at local boxing gyms and collaborated with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office’s Police Athletic League program, as it’s in her nature to get involved.
Palm Coast resident and former professional boxer Alisha Collins met Burton about four months when they trained together at a local gym, but they’ve already become close friends.
“She has a big heart and will take the shirt off her back to help anybody,” Collins said. “I think that’s why we get along so well.”
Collins was a professional boxer in 2001 and served in the U.S. Army from 1993 to 2014; she still boxes for fun.
“Just watching her teach the kids and show them what to expect what they got in the ring was pretty awesome,” Collins said.
Burton wants to continue to train youth, like her son Masen Keltner, who wants to try out for the Olympics one day, and other kids who want to be pro boxers.
“I just set a goal and I go for it,” Burton said.