Why We Support the Fredia "Cheetah" Gibbs Monument Project-
by Team Fredia
HERStory -The story of Fredia Gibbs is one of promise, talent, hardship, perseverance, and glory. As an African- American woman who became World Champion in Kickboxing, a predominantly men’s sport in the 1990’s, Gibbs was a true legend before her time. Today’s icons of women’s UFC and MMA...the likes of Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Amanda Nunes... stand squarely on the shoulders of the groundbreaking Fredia Gibbs.
Born and raised in Delaware County, PA, Fredia truly deserves to be recognized as an honored daughter of Pennsylvania, and the bronze monument will inspire all who see her for generations to come!
World Champion and "The Most Dangerous Woman in the World!"
To begin to understand Fredia’s Gibbs legacy and her impact on women’s sports, one need look no further than her shocking knockout of then World Champion Valerie Henin of France in 1994, in front of an international pay-per-view audience of millions. Nobody gave Gibbs a chance... in a sense, it was a set-up, a way for the glamorous media-darling Henin to break into the American sports scene with an easy victory. Upon entering the arena in San Jose, CA, Gibbs was greeted with cruel taunts by the pro-Henin crowd. But they couldn’t shake her. Gibbs fought fearlessly from the first bell, battling Henin until she knocked her out in Round 3, becoming the first (and still only) African-American female ISKA Kickboxing Champion!
“I shocked the world!” Gibbs proclaimed, like Muhammad Ali, after the fight, and the shocked TV commentators echoed that exclamation. Where Henin had previously been referred to as “The Most Dangerous Woman in the World,” Gibbs seized that title from Henin!
Before Kickboxing - A Multi-Sport Champion
When Gibbs walked into the ring against Henin, she was a relative newcomer on the international kickboxing scene....and had Henin really done her homework she would have discovered that Gibbs had a remarkable athletic history prior to 1994.
During the 1980’s Gibbs achieved three World Championships in Tae Kwon Do; she was recruited to play professional basketball in Europe (before the WNBA existed) after being named as a First Team Kodak All- American in basketball for Cabrini University, whose program she turned around. Gibbs was also invited to compete for a spot on the USA Olympic women's basketball team.
While a student at Chester High School, Chester, PA, Gibbs earned All-American honors in both basketball and track and field, and ran for the State Champion relay team. Her high school accolades brought her a full scholarship to Div. 1 Temple University for both basketball and track. At Temple, Gibbs had great success on the court, but a lack of academic focus forced her to withdraw from Temple after just one year. The unsinkable Gibbs did not give up on herself; she “rebounded" her priorities, stayed active in sports and was recruited to play basketball at Cabrini University for an opportunity that changed her life.
From Basketball to Kickboxing
While playing professional basketball in Europe in 1989, Gibbs decided her next athletic challenge would be kickboxing... after watching the legendary Benny “the Jet” Urquidez on television in the newly popular sport. She was determined to find Urquidez’ gym in Los Angeles and train with him. Just like that. And she did!
Los Angeles, 2017. Fredia with Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, at a ceremony honoring Fredia's legendary kickboxing career, and awarding her a World Title belt commemorating her first ISKA World Title in 1994.
This belt is on display at the Sports Legends of Delaware County Museum.
As an African-American female athlete in what was then primarily a men’s sport, Gibbs was not immediately embraced and respected.
She earned her stripes in the ring, one fight at a time, and it was not long before the buzz about Gibbs was growing. Her early fights ended quickly and painfully for her opponents. She trained tirelessly, primarily with men, who sharpened her skills. She knew if she could compete with men during her sparring and workouts, she could beat any woman in the ring. Training with David Krapes, Saekson Janjira and the Urquidez family, Gibbs finished her kickboxing career undefeated at 16-0 with 15 knockouts and 3 World Championships.
In 1997, Gibbs accepted her next challenge, and competed in women’s professional boxing as a top contender with several championship and ESPN televised bouts, where she achieved a 9-2 record, until forced to retire due to injury.
From Being Bullied As A Young Girl to
"The Most Dangerous Woman in the World"
But there’s more...as a young girl, Gibbs was tormented by bullies. They taunted her, chased her home from school, and physically beat her. Even when she switched schools to escape them, new bullies would find her. Gibbs couldn't understand why she was always picked on.
A sympathetic uncle, seeing her situation, introduced Gibbs to karate to help her defend herself against the relentless torment of bullies. These early karate lessons taught Gibbs the important concepts of “self-confidence” and “self esteem” as well as the skills to protect herself. With the personal growth that followed, Gibbs was set free to blossom academically and athletically.
Trailblazer and Sports Legend
Gibbs was a true trailblazer in women’s fighting, at a time when women’s kickboxing, boxing and MMA were beginning to gain respect and a huge fan base. Throughout her professional kickboxing and boxing careers, Gibbs had difficulty convincing top fighters to take her on, with her reputation for speed, power and skill. They were afraid to fight her! Yet it was the heart, talent and accomplishments of Fredia Gibbs which brought in fans and media attention to women's fighting.
Upon her retirement from fighting in 2005, Gibbs continued as a professional boxing trainer, while also working as an actress, model, author and motivational speaker, bouncing back even after a horrible car accident almost took her life. In 2016 she was named one of the Top 10 Greatest African American Female Athletes of all Time. Her legend has been compared to Jack Johnson, and has given her another nickname - “Lady Jack Johnson.”
Gibbs was blessed not only with physical abilities, but also, more importantly, the mindset of a champion. Every young athlete (male of female) who starts with the idea “I want to be a champion when I grow up” need only hear about how Gibbs achieved her dreams, by never saying no to a challenge and never giving up!
Fredia versus Sumya Anani -
World Title fight!
Gibbs interviews her close friend, Bob Wall -- Movie Star, Martial Arts Legend, Producer, Co-star from the movie "Enter the Dragon" with Bruce Lee -- for her radio show in Los Angeles.
From humble beginnings, Fredia fought her way to the bright lights of Hollywood and through her own courage and determination, became an international sports legend. As Gibbs continues to coach and speak to young people, her motto is “Be a Champion of Life!” For all these reasons, we celebrate and honor Fredia Gibbs and hope you will join us!
Team Fredia —
Phil Damiani, Jen Frudakis, Rich Pagano,
Jim Vankoski, Carolyn Bamberger
In Jennifer Frudakis' studio, Phil Damiani, Rich Pagano, Fredia and Jennifer with the clay model for the 6 foot bronze statue of Fredia.
Women's Boxing Archive Network Website article about Fredia dated October 4, 2019. Click image to read.
Actor Danny Trejo among celebrities honoring Fredia as a Martial Arts Legend - Los Angeles 2017
Fredia with Women's Basketball legends Dawn Staley and C. Vivian Stringer, August 2018, Philadelphia Greatest Women Athletes and Coaches Awards