Baltimore boxing champ Franchon Crews-Dezurn, 'The Heavy-Hitting Diva,' has eyes on more than keeping WBC crown

Her world boxing title in tow, what’s next for Baltimore’s Franchon Crews-Dezurn? She wants to sing the national anthem to kick off an event that would feature both the champ and her husband on the fight card, each wearing togs that she made herself.

Clearly, she is a woman of many talents.

“I’m a creature of energy,” said Crews-Dezurn, who won the World Boxing Council super middleweight title in Las Vegas last month. It was the fifth pro bout for the 31-year-old fighter whose spouse, Glenn Dezurn, is a rising super bantamweight — and her sparring partner.

Her trainers shrug off her rapid rise.

“Franchon is a special lady,” said Barry Hunter, who has coached her for six years at Headbangers Boxing Gym in Washington. “Singer, artist, designer and a very accomplished fighter. With her confidence, she’s like an astronaut; the sky is the limit.”

Her fists pack the wallop of a light heavyweight, said trainer Patrice “Boogie” Harris, who also works with her at Headbangers.

“She has man strength,” Harris said. “She hit one guy [in a workout] and folded him like a lawn chair. When I’m holding the mitts and she punches them, I can feel it in my joints. She’s a woman with a beautiful voice who just loves to beat people up.”

Her best shot? Beware that overhand right.

“I want to punish people,” she said recently at her apartment on Paca Street, where she displayed her championship belt. “I’m a dominating fighter. Boxing is a sport that shows what you’re made of and the work you’ve put in; you can’t b.s. your way through a match.”

Still, who’d have thought a handful of pro bouts would take her to the top?

“I don’t want to rush my blessings,” Crews-Dezurn said, “but I do deserve this.”

They call her “The Heavy-Hitting Diva,” a nod to both her pipes and her power. At 17, she appeared on “American Idol,” belting out "A Woman's Worth," an Alicia Keys hit. But she failed to make the cut.

"You can't be good at everything,” Simon Cowell, one of the show’s judges, told her. “You know what I mean? You're a good boxer."

Music and muscle are dual passions. Time and again, Crews-Dezurn has sung the national anthem before a match, then gone out and blistered her opponent. In fact, her capacity to sing got her into the ring. Then a chubby 15-year-old, she was walking downtown singing a pop hit by Brandy when approached by a salon owner on Eutaw Street.

“You’ve got talent,” Milroy Harried said.

“I want to be a singer,” she replied.

“First, you’ve got to lose some weight,” he told her.

“I weighed more than 180 pounds,” she recalled. “Some guys told me I could lose 5 pounds in two days by boxing, but I didn’t believe them, so I went to a gym [on Fulton Avenue].”

There, trainers sized her up.

“So you want to box?” they asked.

“I just want to sing,” she said.

“Well, glove up.”

She sparred with a guy her own age and took a licking.

“I got a busted lip, but I was hooked,” Crews-Dezurn said. “I liked the challenge; I came alive. And I knew I could do better the next time.”

Even then, she was no stranger to scuffles.

“I’d been a street fighter as a kid, growing up in Virginia,” she said. “In sixth grade, while riding the school bus, an eighth-grader named Devo started pickin’ with me. She tried to swing and I went into attack mode. It was a good fight for about a minute and a half. Some said I won; others called it a tie. But I proved I wasn’t a punk.

“Another time, we went at it near my house. My dad heard the commotion, ran outside and grabbed me. Devo said something disrespectful to him, real bad stuff, so I hit her once more and her mouth started bleeding. My dad? He was proud.”

Soon after, her family moved to Baltimore and Crews-Dezurn enrolled at Frederick Douglass High. Kids made fun of the freshman’s thick Southern drawl and the bullying began anew.

“One boy in science class kept teasing and getting in my space. Looking back, he probably liked me,” she said. “I told him, ‘Keep at it and I’ll have to beat you up.’ One day, he picked at me for 10 minutes. I’d had enough, so when the teacher left the room, I grabbed him by the shirt, snatched him off his stool and hit him with both fists.”

In hindsight, she said, “I put some work in on that boy. I probably should have had a title shot back then, but all I got was expelled.”

Those urban brawls served Crews-Dezurn well, to a point, her trainers said.

“Growing up, many of these kids are hardened by the streets,” Hunter said. “You’ve got to be a wolf in the ring, yes, but a lot of them don’t know when to turn that switch off. They fight more with emotion than thinking it through strategically, so we’ve got to reel them back in and talk it out — though less with Franchon than with most.”

She flourished as an amateur, winning eight national championships and fighting in Russia, China, England and in Canada and throughout South America.

In November 2016, Crews-Dezurn turned pro and lost her debut by unanimous decision to Claressa Shields, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and current world middleweight champ.

“Franchon fought Shields on two weeks’ notice,” Hunter said. “The average person wouldn’t have done that, but she wanted it so bad that she ran to the contact.”

She hasn’t lost since, capturing the vacant WBC world super middleweight title last month with a 10-round majority decision over Maricela Cornejo (12-3). As always, victory came with her husband ringside — and three days after their sixth wedding anniversary.

Glenn Dezurn, 31, also attended Douglass, but didn’t know Franchon there. When they met in 2010, at a sweaty gym on North Avenue, neither saw stars.

“Everything was strictly platonic,” she said. “Glenn was just a good person who became my best friend. One day, I was having problems and shouted, ‘I hate everything!’ And he said, ‘If I was with you, you wouldn’t have to worry about anything.’ ”

Crews-Dezurn was floored.

“It blew my mind because Glenn isn’t expressive,” she said. “I asked, ‘You mean you like me? Ewwwww.’ It freaked me out. But I let my guard down and we went for our first date to Denny’s and we’ve been stuck at the hip ever since.”

When they began training together, neither held back.

“People said we went at it like Ike and Tina Turner,” she said.

Most mornings, they jog together past both ballparks and around Federal Hill, and they drive to Washington several times a week to work out. There’s also a heavy boxing bag in the bedroom.

“She’s my everything, the first woman I actually cared about,” said Dezurn, whose record is 9-2-1. “She took my career, and my life, to a different level. When God made a great woman, he knew what to do. Plus, she hits like a dude.”

He calls her “Big Mama” — at 5 feet 8, Crews-Dezurn is 3 inches taller — but pulls no punches in the ring.

“They just bang away, trying to knock each other out,” said Harris, the trainer. “Then they leave the ring and everything is loooove.”

It’s a marriage like no other.

“Glenn is a great inside fighter, with speed and a lot of heart, who has helped me with my body shots,” she said. “Once, he knocked me down and said, ‘You OK, Big Mama?’ ”

At home, who’s the boss?

“He can be tough, but I get my way,” she said. “It’s hard for alpha males to compromise. He’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for me, and I’m grateful for him.”

She knows that boxing’s not forever.

“I want to be a mom,” Crews-Dezurn said. Harris, for one, can’t wait.

“I told them that if they ever have a child, please let me train him or her,” he said.

Give her time, the champ said.

“After a couple of [title] defenses, maybe three years, we’ll start a family,” Crews-Dezurn said. “But if it happens in between, I’m totally for it. My child will come first; I’ve already fulfilled my legacy.”

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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