Former professional boxer from Bigfork

STORY & PHOTOS BY TIM TEPAS

It’s apparent from the Women’s Intercontinental Super Middleweight Championship belt hanging on her wall that Shelley Burton is an accomplished professional boxer. But despite her hard work and exceptional boxing talent, Burton credits her rise to champion to the support she received from many valley residents. She received great training and financial support from a long list of people and businesses while following her professional ambitions. It’s that support that prompted her to train local boxers and give back to the community she loves.

A Bigfork native, Burton dreamed of becoming a professional athlete at an early age. She competed in many sports during high school, including basketball, softball, volleyball and rugby. Burton discovered boxing at age 22 when she entered a Tough Man competition in Butte to earn some extra cash. During the competition, she was matched against other female boxers also with limited experience in the ring at the winner-take-all event. “I couldn’t believe how tough the sport was,” Burton said. After beating her opponents and winning the competition, she continued on the amateur circuit building a record of 17-0 with 7 knockouts before turning pro. “I was really drawn to boxing and enjoyed the challenge of learning new techniques and getting better.”

As a pro, Burton fought in venues across the country and in Canada, racking up an impressive eight wins with only two losses. She told her manager early in her career she wanted to fight WBC Champion Laila Ali. At the time, he just laughed, but then that phone call came. Burton’s manager offered her the fight she wanted, but with only three weeks notice. Despite not being in fighting shape, Burton took the fight and found herself in Madison Square Garden in New York City facing Ali. After a hard fought battle, Burton was stooped over with blood pouring from her nose as the referee stopped the fight with two seconds remaining in the fourth round. “I thought it should have gone on and I know I could have continued, but he stopped it,” she said. About a year after that fight, Burton officially retired from professional boxing. “I honestly felt like I completed my goals after I got the opportunity against Laila Ali at Madison Square Garden. It was a great experience for a little name like myself, coming from Montana to get this chance.”

After leaving the sport, Burton became a heavy equipment operator in Colorado, but she missed Montana, so she moved back home and found work helping people lose weight. At the urging of friends, she opened up a gym, Burton Boxing, with her partner Megan to help people continue on their weight loss journeys. The gym helped people get in shape and even launched the boxing careers of many local fighters. Unfortunately, Burton had to close the gym earlier this year but she maintains her state license as a fight promoter and has hosted seven local boxing events and two in Great Falls. Each night of boxing she organizes not only provides an inexpensive evening of fun, but money raised is given to local charities. “I’m glad I can give back to the community that supported me for years during my boxing career.”