If you think of disciplines that today remain largely unchartered by women, boxing and physics may spring to mind. But Santa Barbara resident Federica Bianco excels at both. A native of Genoa, Italy, Bianco is a postdoctoral fellow in astrophysics at UCSB and currently undefeated in the county for women’s boxing.
Bianco modestly described her latest victory in Santa Maria against a more experienced boxer as “my hardest fight yet,” but her coach, Josh Schneyer, who owns State Street Boxing Club (SSBC), said it was “competitive but not close at all.” Although the Central Coast is not an amateur boxing mecca like Los Angeles and other parts of the country, Bianco’s record is impressive considering that with only two years of experience her boxing career is in its fledgling stages.
Bianco came to the United States from her native Italy to study physics at the University of Pennsylvania and then at Harvard before making her way farther west to work for UCSB and the Las Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network in Goleta. Although she has practiced martial arts for a long time, it wasn’t until she moved to Santa Barbara that she put on a pair of gloves and stepped into a ring.
Despite her mild-mannered, friendly disposition, Bianco looks like a warrior. She has serene but strong features, several tattoos, and a lip ring. She is physically small, but one glance at the muscle mass on her body and it is clear she could take down your average man on the street, no sweat. In fact, while she was sparring last week, she broke a 160-pound guy’s nose.
Schneyer said that many women have a difficult time being aggressive — probably because they have been taught not to be — but Bianco has no inhibitions. “She’s a fighter learning to box,” said Schneyer, who has owned SSBC for 12 years and was recently forced to relocate his business from 310 State Street to 318 State Street next to the Beachbreak Café with the arrival of REI in the old Andalucía complex. Fortunately, the new space is much larger with great skylights, exposed brick and piping, and big mirrors. The downside is that the rent has nearly doubled.
From the East Coast, Schneyer studied English and creative writing at Boston University before he ventured west to Santa Barbara. Since living here, he has taught English literature and creative writing at Santa Barbara City College and dabbled around in the Santa Barbara opera scene. But these days, Schneyer devotes all of his time to SSBC — working with everyone from troubled youth to UCSB professors to housewives. His 100 members are drawn to the club mostly for the tough workout, but for some, it is a therapeutic activity. As such, Schneyer will sometimes sponsor young people without financial resources to train at his gym, as boxing can often bring confidence, especially to young girls who have been bullied or have lived through difficult circumstances.
Boxing has long been considered a man’s sport, and today many male boxers still hold grudges against female boxing. U.S.A. Boxing, the national governing body for amateur boxing, which was founded in 1888, was only opened up to women in 1993 when a 16-year-old girl sued the organization for discrimination. This year, the Olympics held a women’s boxing event for the first time in history.
Schneyer is not concerned with the gender of his boxers as long as they are committed to the sport. “There are lots of boxers who think women shouldn’t fight, but here, I don’t care,” Schneyer said. He likes working with women, he explained, because although talented women are few and far between, the best are often a lot scrappier and more aggressive than most men. He sees this sort of tenacity in Bianco.
Schneyer and Bianco make an excellent team. She is one of three fighters he is training right now, and perhaps the most promising. They practice six times a week and clearly look forward to it. “Fed is the best kind of athlete there is, and I’m not a big believer in compliments,” Schneyer said.
Both Schneyer and Bianco agree that from the outside, the world of boxing seems strange and often brutal. But Schneyer explained, “It is a very specific sport, not a bar fight.” Watching Bianco and Schneyer practice in the ring, you understand why they do it; nothing seems more exhilarating, engaging, and natural.
As for future matches, it is hard to say when Bianco’s next match will be because it is difficult to find a good fight in Santa Barbara County. Until they do, they will continue their intense training regimen.
State Street Boxing Club is located at 318 State Street. For more info, call (805) 564-1644 or visit statestreetboxingclub.com.