MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Tika “Ice Cold” Hemingway doesn’t put her game face on – she puts her game hair on.
This time it’s a mass of red locks woven atop her head. In the past, Hemingway has worn Pittsburgh black and gold for her home turf.
“You’re going to remember me one way or another,” Hemingway said. “If you’re not going to remember my name, you’re going to remember my hair. But you’re going to remember me.”
She hopes to eventually be remembered as an Olympian, but first must get past the formidable Claressa Shields, the reigning Olympic gold medalist at 165 pounds.
They’ll fight Saturday night in the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
On Friday night, Hemingway defeated Raquel Miller to scrap her way back into the middleweight winner’s bracket. In the flyweight division, Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza will face Virginia Fuchs while Mikaela Mayer and Jajaira Gonzalez will fight for the lightweight crown.
Shields is undefeated, having already beaten Hemingway in the double elimination tournament 3-0 on Tuesday night. Shields, the 2014 world champion, also prevailed against Hemingway in the national championships in January in a close bout – a split decision tiebreaker – as well as at the 2012 Olympic Trials.
“It’s going to be a good fight as always,” Hemingway said.
While she took what she called “the hard road” at the trials, noting, “I’m not disappointed; it’s supposed to happen like this,” Shields has had two days off from the ring, away from the pummeling.
“I wish I could have fought the next day and got it all over with, to be honest,” Shields said. “But I guess I enjoyed my rest day. I got to soak in some bathwater and get my muscles together.
“I feel like a brand new woman today, so I’m fine-tuned and ready for tomorrow.”
Hemingway is determined to be ready for this bout from head to toe. She said crafting her hairstyle – “my trademark look” – makes her fight harder.
“It turns me into a different person than when I’m outside the ring,” Hemingway said. “I’m nice, I’m sweet. I’m actually kind of funny, but when it’s boxing time, this is when I get serious and I’m ready for war.”
Her footwear has also demanded her attention. Against Miller, Hemingway suffered a “flat tire” when the sole of her left shoe came unglued and started flapping.
“I had a little uniform malfunction,” Hemingway said. “I couldn’t really move like I wanted to.
“My boots fell apart so I had to stand still. I didn't want to get hit with a stupid shot and fall because of my shoes so I had to be smart.”
And she won’t let a timing malfunction get in the way either. Before her Tuesday fight against Shields, Hemingway said, “We actually messed up big-time.” She and her team miscalculated when she should warm up, so she was sitting down when she was called to the ring.
“Next time I’ll warm up properly,” Hemingway said. “She’s a very good opponent. I take nothing from her, she works hard.”
After Shields beat her at the 2012 Olympic Trials, Hemingway hung up her gloves. She was out of the game for about two years.
“I wanted to live life again because I had been training for so long,” Hemingway said, “but my boyfriend convinced me to come back into boxing. He told me, ‘You have a God-given talent. You’re an amazing fighter and for you to sit down on your talent that God has given you, you’re basically wasting it.’”
After a few months of persuasion, Hemingway decided to come back in October 2014. She quit her job at, coincidentally, a box factory.
“My boyfriend said, ‘You’re either going to make boxes or you’re going to box. Which one are you going to do?’ I took this on full-time and now I’m here.”
Hemingway trained for a month and a half to two months, then fought Shields in Spokane, Washington, at the U.S. national championships, which came down to that split decision tiebreaker.
She competed in Bulgaria, and then qualified for the Olympic Trials in Colorado.
Shields welcomed Hemingway’s return. “I always like a tough competitor, somebody who can give me a fight,” she said. “That’s why I fight. I don’t train to come to the tournament to have an easy fight. If that’s the case, I would lie on my couch and then come here out of shape to make the fight harder for myself.
“No, I train hard because I want to see who’s going to step up to the plate.”
Hemingway and Shields have met five times. “This fight here, at this Olympic Trials was by far the easiest fight I’ve ever had with her,” Shields says.
She attributed her success earlier this week against Hemingway to her new coach, Leon Lawson Jr. “It was his instruction that got me through that fight,” Shields said. “He said, ‘If it comes to where you have to brawl with her, then I’ll let you know.’ But he said, ‘You can out-box her.’
“We went over the game plan and if I listen, which I will, it will be a unanimous decision again. She’s going to just come out and try to street-fight me like she always does. I’m not going to let her. I’m not going to lose my chance at going to the Olympics over a split decision.”
Because Hemingway has one loss in the tournament and Shields has none, a win for Hemingway would force a final match on Sunday. “Saturday will definitely be the finals of this tournament for my weight class,” Shields said. “I will not be fighting on Sunday.”
Hemingway hopes to prove her wrong.
“That’s the great thing about sports,” Hemingway said. “It’s unpredictable. It’s not like movies where it was scripted. Anything can happen in sports.”