An interview with Michelle Joy Phelps
Michelle Phelps has travelled the world interviewing the sport’s most powerful people. Fighting adversity wherever she goes, she battles harder than the boxers she interviews on her road towards success. “Free time, what’s that?” she jokes. At 29-years of age, she remains busy with work for most of the year and has little time off for herself. But perhaps it reminds her, that chasing a dream, is hardly work at all.
Michelle Phelps created her YouTube channel Behind The Gloves little under two years ago. With a small camera, she captured the moment American heavyweight Deontay Wilder celebrated his knockout victory against Kelvin Price in December 2012. Since then, her channel has become one of the leading platforms for boxing fans across the world to get day-to-day content with the biggest personalities in a male-dominated sport.
The young American has taken advantage of the social media era as she films herself interviewing the most important people in boxing – from the boxers themselves, to managers and promoters. Her entrepreneurial instincts kicked in when she realised she could do what other journalists do – only quicker and better with sharing her content on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. CEO of her own company, she is able to ask the questions many other journalists who work for organisations are too afraid of asking.
“I knew there was a niche for me because there are very few women in boxing and none doing what I was, which was starting my own website from the ground up and branding it pink in a male sport,” reflects Phelps. “It’s been two years now and even I’m shocked as to how fast everything has taken off.”
Asking her of the main difficulties she came across when she began her career, it is not difficult to sense the change of tone. “Being taken seriously. I heard a lot of talk behind my back where people were insinuating I was only there to find a husband or to get attention, which is ridiculous because I wouldn’t have invested so much time and money into starting a new business if I was solely there for the reasons they suggested. But also because I modelled several times for major magazines such as MAXIM and FHM. It came with backlash, but also interest.
“It had its benefits and disadvantages. Benefit being that many men were intrigued with a maxim model doing boxing interviews but the disadvantages being that many people talked about me behind my back or online as if being a model was a negative thing. I’m proud of all the work I’ve done. It’s an accomplishment. Not everyone can say they have graced the pages of those magazines multiples times internationally.”
Journalists encounter the same problems, wherever they are from. For Phelps, though, there was one she has fought hard to overcome. “Sexism? Yes. There have been several instances where I was approached and I had to remain professional, and make sure at the same time, that I was being nice so their egos weren’t hurt. I didn’t want to make things weird, even if it was. But nowadays it’s less and less. I think they finally realise that I take what I do seriously and I’m not there to meet my husband. Although I can’t say what the future holds. Maybe one day I will meet someone in my field. That’s common amongst any career field.”
It says a lot for the independent women who travels the world, leaving her friends and family behind to fulfil her commitments. Recognising herself that her edgy personality and trademark ‘Bye, fight fans!’ has become part of the reason viewers tune in to her videos, she makes it clear that it is something she is proud of. “I’ve made it a point to not be so ‘by-the-book’ because the interviews and news become so repetitive.
“Plus, I’m the new one in the game and I had to bring something different to the table. As far as my laugh is concerned – that thing is something I will always be stuck with. It’s loud and embarrassing but, hey, it’s something oddly the fans have liked and comment often about. The ‘Hey, fight fans!’ sort of just happened. People would imitate it and laugh and it sort of became this thing. It was and still is something I laugh about because I’m just saying the words and some people find it funny.”
Singling out her interview with the former two-time world champion Paulie Malignaggi as her most memorable to date – the interview accumulating more than 170,000 views – after it became famous worldwide as her description of Adrien Broner’s humping of Marcos Maidana in the middle of their fight went viral.
“My most memorable interview would have to be the one I did with Paulie Malignaggi just after [Adrien] Broner lost to [Marcos] Maidana. That ‘butt-f*ck’ line was a hit and went viral. We really didn’t intend for it to be funny but those were the first words that came to mind when I was asking Paulie about Broner’s antics in the ring. So when Paulie repeated it a couple times, the fans found it hilarious. It’s still my highest-viewed interview. My favourite person to interview is probably Gennady Golovkin because he smiles the whole time and has this vibrant energy about him.”
With promoters from America and England acknowledging the importance of online and video journalists – most notably Eddie Hearn who has admitted that “social media is one of the most important facets of my promoting” – we have seen them take the time to do extended interviews with the likes of Behind The Gloves and IFL TV. British promoters Mick Hennessy and Frank Warren have seen their supremacy crumble in recent years as they have failed to take notice of the power of social media and online journalists like Michelle Phelps.
After spending so much time in the UK, covering the huge domestic fight between Carl Froch and George Groves in May; and more recently Frank Warren’s disappointing Bad Blood, she is able to compare the sport well across different regions. “UK fight fans are so passionate and I wish I felt the energy that they bring in the American fans. But sadly it’s so different. I’m not sure why that is,” she admits.
An ambassador for boxing, journalists – and women. Phelps hopes to inspire more women to get involved in the sport as she hopes to see her company Behind The Gloves grow each year. “In three years I’ll have several projects on networks and I’ll be producing more content and actively working behind-the-scenes, not just on camera work. I want to see Behind The Gloves grow and bring on more women like myself to do what I’m doing when I can no longer continue doing the online video coverage.”
With her hectic schedule, it leaves little time for herself. “Free time, what’s that?” she laughs. “I really don’t have free time. Building a company and micromanaging all the projects we have going leaves me little to no free time. But when I have a day here and there, I try to see my family. I’m very close with them and miss them a lot. I see my nieces and nephews getting older and it makes me so sad. But I do what I do to one day take care of my family – so the sacrifices are worth it.”
Amidst of all her troubles, success is round the corner for Phelps. Within two short years, she explains the positives her job have had on her personally. “I have absolutely grown as a person. This journey has only made me stronger. The challenges have shown me that I can get through anything if I just keep my head on straight and ignore the talk.
“The opportunities I find myself having now only proves I’m doing something right. There are things coming up in 2015 that will surprise everyone. I’m not just some girl doing online videos, I’m a producer as well – and the world will see soon that I’m very much a business-oriented woman.”
Allowing time for fans no matter what the country, the time or place – Michelle Phelps has seen herself and her business develop. The most powerful faces in boxing have helped themselves when they have helped her and the sport relies on the likes of Michelle Phelps to continue to grow. As long as new-era journalists like herself are working hard, boxing will only get better.
Behind The Gloves – Website, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Michelle Joy Phelps – Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Picture credits: Michelle Joy Phelps (Twitter and BehindTheGloves website)