It is one of the coolest, most dramatic moments in sports and Olivia Gerula -- Winnipeg's newest world champion -- was right there in the ring to soak up every thrilling nanosecond.
Gerula became the World Boxing Council's female super featherweight champion Thursday night in Edmonton, shocking everyone but herself and her handlers with a unanimous (96-94, 96-94, 95-94) decision over Jelena Mrdjenovich in front of 3,000 fans at the Shaw Conference Centre. And here's how the Winnipeg personal trainer and mother of two recalled the emotions as she went from challenger to world champ:
"I just closed my eyes and listened as they read out the scores," Gerula said Friday from Edmonton. "They don't tell you the name of who won on each judge's scorecard, they just read the score. So I heard 96-94 and I thought, 'Good spread' but you never know because you're in somebody else's hometown and she is the champion. The second score was the same and I'm thinking, 'Just say it... just say it...' The third card was closer, 95-94, and then they start with 'And the NEW...' and I just broke. That was just such a payoff right there to hear that.
"By the time they finished making the announcement I had already jumped into my trainer's arms and I was screaming 'Yeah!' But even now it's just starting to sink in. Every once in a while I stop and think about it... it's going to take awhile to get used to."
Just to be clear, this isn't some fly-by-night belt Gerula is bringing home to Winnipeg. Mrdjenovich was 23-3-1 before the loss and had defended her belt five times. Other current WBC champions include heavyweight Vitaly Klitschko and middleweight Kelly Pavlik and it's the same organization that Donny Lalonde represented as champ after winning his light heavyweight title back in 1987.
"It's history," said Gerula. "I'll have to wait until I get back to Winnipeg but isn't the only other fighter from Winnipeg to win a world title Donny Lalonde? That's amazing to me.
"This is what I prepared for, this is what I expected to happen. I had no doubt in my mind that I was going to win this fight. But the reality of it, the chance to hold on to the belt and hear the announcer say, 'the WBC featherweight champion of the world'... it's beyond my wildest dreams."
Gerula had 18 friends and family in Edmonton and they watched her take control of the fight early and apply relentless pressure (the fight is scheduled to be broadcast on Sportsnet in a couple of weeks).
"She simply outworked her from the get-go," said Mark Collins, Gerula's trainer. "Her movement, feinting and constant pressure simply brought down Jelena and by the time the ninth round rolled around Jelena had nothing left."
Mrdjenovich, while crediting Gerula, didn't agree with the decision, claiming "that's typical Edmonton judging. Power and aggression don't seem to count for as much as the amateur-style pit-a-pat punches," but her trainer thought otherwise.
"We can't blame this one on the judges or the referee; my fighter just didn't fight," Milan Lubovac told Edmonton reporters after the fight. "She was breathing through her mouth after two rounds. What does that tell you? She didn't do her running to get ready and she was complacent in the gym. She didn't want to pay the price that a champion has to pay. Jelena has all the talent in the world, but that means nothing if you choose not to put it to use."
Gerula celebrated Thursday night -- some dancing with friends and a game of pool or two -- but is already thinking about what's next. A fight is already tentatively scheduled for June 12 in France against the European champ, but Gerula -- who won in Japan in her last fight before heading to Edmonton -- wouldn't mind defending her title right here in River City.
"I've been on the road for two huge fights back-to-back," said Gerula, 11-10-2. "My body needs a little healing time to recuperate from what I've put it through in training and in the ring. We'll be discussing paydays and opportunities, but I would like to defend my belt at home. I think it would be great for Winnipeg to see me holding my belt high above my head and walking into the ring. I would love to have people share in that.
"We'll see. And," she added, laughing, "now that you're the champ you can ask for some of these things."