Elecia Battle has a dream. It gets her up each morning before the sun rises over her Lee-Harvard bungalow. It calls her to the kitchen cupboard, to the expensive little bottles labeled "Amino Fuel," "Up Time" and "Women's Ultra Mega." It makes her put on her running shoes, climb into her new silver Mitsubishi and drive to a nearby high-school track, where she stretches her sleepy hamstrings, gently coaxing the age and tightness out of them, before starting on her daily 5-mile run. It's still dark, but Battle's dream guides her. Round and round and round she goes.
Battle wants to be a boxer. It's an unusual dream for a 41-year-old mother of four. Other women her age are taking calcium supplements instead of amino acids, scheduling mammograms instead of punishing workouts, maybe taking up golf or tennis instead of a sport where you get punched in the face. Other women are not issuing challenges to boxing star Laila Ali, Muhammad Ali's daughter. Few would dress in red high heels, a sleeveless top and tight black pants with a serpent-design down the leg as Battle does for a Monday morning interview.
But Battle is not most women her age. She has a dream. She wants to get rich boxing.
Her dream is far-fetched, yes, but not as impossible as her attempt to scam the lottery, which she pursued with similarly impressive focus and determination. In fact, Battle's only shot at a boxing career is her infamy for the lottery debacle. And she can look to Tonya Harding for inspiration. If Harding could launch a boxing career after her role in the 1994 knee-whacking of ice-skating competitor Nancy Kerrigan, Battle can launch one for concocting a story about buying the winning $162 million Mega Millions ticket and losing it outside a convenience store. (Incidentally, Battle also wants to fight Harding: "I want to let her know she can't be hitting people like that," she says.)
Most people remember Battle's lottery hoopla from last January, after she claimed she lost the winning ticket. When the rightful winner, Rebecca Jemison, came forward, producing a flawless ticket — not at all like the piece of paper Battle claimed had been swallowed up by the South Euclid winter — Battle filed a lawsuit to try to prevent the Ohio Lottery Commission from paying Jemison.
One wonders if Battle smelled the fruits of infamy last April, as she faced the media after being sentenced for making a false statement in a police report. She told reporters, "I'm not a loser. I'm a winner. I'm victorious. I shall rise."
And she has risen, as Mega Battle Bad Girl, with fierce-eyed fliers, her own theme song (recorded by Cleveland group Off the Lake) and even a catchy name for the clothing line she hopes to launch: "Battle Gear."
The odds against Battle striking it rich in the ring are great, of course; maybe as great as those against legitimately winning the lottery game she admits she still plays. But you can't tell her that.
"All I think of is my name in lights," she gushes.
At Top Notch Boxing Gym on East 55th Street, a beaten-down brick building on a strip of many beaten-down brick buildings, Battle wraps her hands, taking her time winding the coarse fabric around her knuckles. She is the only female boxer among about 20 boys and young men. Some punch large red bags hanging in the garage-like space with cinderblock walls and seismic cracks in the floor. Other boxers are just waiting for yoga class.
Yes, these young men do yoga — and not just because the instructor is a hot woman with a tattoo emerging from her spandex pants. Top Notch is a safe place to do the unexpected, to test your boundaries. Dreams have been made here. Owner Al Jones keeps track of them in a scrapbook. Boxers who have gone on to any sort of success peer out of its pages.
No doubt, Battle would like to see herself in that book someday, smiling up in newsprint under a headline that doesn't include the words "Lottery Loser."
On a Tuesday night in October, Battle wears loose shorts and a matching sleeveless top to reveal her shapely biceps. She is dressed in black and white, the same colors as the brand-new shorts and robe that she ordered for her debut fight. The match was supposed to be in September, then October, then November, then December. Now, she's hoping something happens this month. Bouts are scheduled and bouts fall through, she says. She doesn't linger on the details. One will happen when it happens. Her job, as she sees it, is to keep fit and ready.
"Everybody thinks that they're the best," she admits. "We all say, I'm the best. I'm undisputed.' That's our opinion. We really don't know what's gonna go on when we go in that ring, but I do. I feel so confident. I'm skilled. I'm strong. I'm fast and I'm fast. I take care of myself. I do what I gotta do in the ring. And when a female do come up against me, have mercy on her. She's not gonna beat. I know I'm good."
As she steps into the ring, Battle gets focused. Her hair, pulled into a high side-ponytail, infuses a bit of femininity into her ass-kicking look. Battle can handle the workouts, the bland chicken-and-vegetable meals, the no-smoking, no-drinking regimen of the boxing debutante. But the masculinity of the sport bothers her. That's why she's left her purple high-heeled boots in full view on the mat and allowed her cleavage plenty of breathing room under her zip-up top. She is solid at 5-foot-7, 168 pounds, and much more attractive than she was in her mug shots. She has grown thinner in the face and more toned in the body, with calves like knots and abs that can take 150 crunches per workout. Some might call her beautiful, with her high cheekbones and big, dark, heavily lined eyes. But in the ring, there is no beauty allowed. There is only focus, toughness, pain.
"Get your hands up!" yells Eli Dixon, her promoter. "Let it flow!"
Dixon, a former boxer wearing cornrows and with a stopwatch around his neck, says he once sparred with Mike Tyson. Now retired, he's pursuing his promoter's license. Although he can't legally promote any of his own boxing events until he has that license, he can promote boxers like Battle, who's giving him a chance because she knows he's got connections and he claims to be looking out for her. In truth, he acts more like a manager than a promoter, even though it's her husband, Jimmie, who holds that title.
"I'm paying the bills and maintaining the household," Jimmie says. "I can't get to the gym as much as I want.
"I love her and I'm behind her 110 percent," he adds.
Jimmie arrives at Top Notch less than an hour into Elecia's workout, still dressed in his Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority uniform (he works in the heating department). He watches quietly as Dixon yells at his wife.
"There is no tomorrow for you!" the former boxer bellows as Battle pounds the bag, the back of her neck slick with sweat. "Stronger, stronger!"
When Dixon first met Battle at their regular gym, Buckeye Fitness, he didn't know whether to take her seriously. He wasn't sure she could handle the training required of a pro fighter. She has assured him she can.
"This is a girl I go get up at 4 a.m.," he says. "She's showing dedication."
Her trainer, Romeo Conner, puts her through the same regimen he puts the guys through. Workouts can last three hours, five or six days a week, and include stretching, shadowboxing, fist-catching, bagwork, crunches, rope jumping, weightlifting and running. Conner is the picture of coolness and control, even when the cobalt-gloved Battle comes at him with a rapid jab-right-hook.
"At the beginning, I was skeptical," he says. "All of this demands a lot of time, dedication and hard work. What I'm putting her through, she wouldn't come back [if she weren't serious]. This must really be a dream of hers."
Dixon and Conner help Battle train by finding male fighters willing to spar with her, and she usually does well. But the one time they put her in the ring with another woman, it became a catfight.
"Elecia tried to bully the other woman and it got wild," Dixon says. "It was a wild slugfest. They scrapped for about three rounds. She needed to learn the mental. She needed control."
Battle's pleasant exterior belies an impulsive side that has gotten her into trouble. Back when the media were digging into her past, they uncovered a litany of criminal complaints against her by other women, some of which still are featured on www.thesmokinggun.com. For instance, she once was convicted of attacking a female clerk for not sending a fax quickly enough and for making charges to a female customer's credit card at the grocery store where she worked.
Battle says she has no problem with women and brushes off analysis of her criminal history.
"I don't have any felonies," she says. "They're not felonies. Did I kill somebody? When they brought it up, it didn't bother me because, hey, that happened in the past. I've moved on."
But has she, really?
Battle attempted to take on Rebecca Jemison, the real lottery winner with a good job at Hillcrest Hospital, in a legal fight over the $162 million ticket. She insisted the ticket was hers and she wanted the Ohio Lottery Commission to stop payment to Jemison.
Battle had filed two other lawsuits in Cuyahoga County, one against McDonald's for serving her kids bad food and another against East Ohio Gas Co. She got a small settlement from McDonald's — $900, she thinks. She does not admit to suing the gas company, along with her ex-husband, who said he suffered burns to his face as a result of their furnace exploding. But court records say she was a co-defendant in that case, which was referred to arbitration and settled in favor of the gas company.
"I will sue the shit out of anybody if I can," she admits. "If I have a legitimate reason to sue you, I'm gonna sue you."
But Battle couldn't take on the Lottery Commission by herself. She got help from Sheldon Starke, an entertainment attorney who pursued her lawsuit with the eagerness of someone trying to rescue an innocent man from the death gurney. Starke risked his reputation to help Battle, even as it became clear to the rest of the world that her story was a hoax. To this day, Starke will not explain his motivation in anything more than cryptic comments such as "She knew too much." Perhaps he knows something the rest of us don't. Or perhaps there's just something about Elecia.
Forget the Battle from the police reports for a minute. Forget the Battle on the boxing posters. There is another Battle, too, a woman who can emote a sweet, almost childlike hopefulness. It comes through when she talks about the religious lady who sends her nice letters and the people who launch into the "Rocky" theme song when they see her jogging through the neighborhood. It comes through when she breaks down in tears talking about how hard her husband has to work now that she no longer does, how she wishes she could make it big for him.
Boxing is a full-time job. Since the lottery escapade has limited her employability, boxing now fills her days. She was fired from Rite Aid once her criminal history hit the news. The last job she had was through a temporary agency, doing data entry. But she says she lost it when someone recognized her.
Sometimes, at the gym, a little crowd gathers to watch her spar or shadowbox. She's known as "The Lottery Lady," and she's well aware that people want to see her hit the mat. She knows she's seen as a liar, a scammer, a would-be thief who tried to wrest the lottery prize — or whatever portion of it she could negotiate in a settlement agreement — from a nice middle-class wife and mother.
She has received mail from people who hate her, as has the South Euclid Police Department. One letter matched the numbers on the winning ticket to the mark of the beast.
Assistant chief Kevin Nietert, who headed up the lottery investigation, has thought hard about why this case had such worldwide appeal. At first, Battle seemed genuine about her claim, easily reciting the numbers to the reporting officer and crying as she filed the report. "Who couldn't sympathize with buying a $162 million ticket and losing it?" Nietert asks. But when it became clear that she'd lied, the public turned.
"People don't want to see someone get one over on the system," he says. "If she could do this and get away with it, it would diminish the integrity of the lottery."
Battle doesn't acknowledge the vast distance between sympathy and disdain. It's all attention to her. And attention is good. It will help get people to her fights, even if they just want to see her lose.
"They're fans," she says. "There are people who want to see me fall. But think about it. They're paying to see me. They're still fans."
In time, she hopes to win them over. Not just with her boxing skills but with what she says is the truth about the lottery ticket. They don't know the whole story, she insists. Yes, she made a tearful apology in front of the cameras — but it was not for lying about buying the winning ticket and losing it. It was for any "inconvenience" she may have caused anyone. She just wanted to end the whole ordeal because her kids were being teased in school and she was sick of the media camping out on her street.
"I went to the store," she explains. "I did what I did. I purchased the ticket. I knew what time I purchased my ticket. I knew what happened after I got the ticket. I knew my purse fell. I knew the content that was in my purse. I knew I couldn't find my ticket. My son, my baby boy, his birthday is 12/18. My sister was born '62, transpose it is 26. My husband is 49 at that time, he was turning 49. My son is 23. But people don't understand why I knew what time it was, the time, the location. They want to know. Everyone wants to know. See, this is the little secret I'm saving for my book. There's a lot to it. There's more to it. I'd love to tell you."
Her off-the-cuff recitation of the numbers is incorrect: Her sister was born in '64, according to the police report. Turned around, it's "46," which is part of the winning combination, not "26." Is she busted? Who knows? But she is right about one thing: People wonder how she knew the time the ticket was purchased. Nietert says she guessed the correct two-hour timeframe, which means she had a 1-in-12 chance to get it right.
Other things of which she claims exclusive knowledge — such as the location where the ticket was purchased — were public record, Nietert says. Some have suggested that she had a relationship with the winner's husband, Sam Jemison. No one has been able to make any direct link and she denies it, though she says she had heard of the Jemisons in social circles.
"I'm gonna tell you this: I had a relationship with that ticket," she says. "I did play the lottery. I did. I did not make a false police report. There were, well, at least I thought them were my numbers. But, hey, she got the ticket. They got the ticket. They cashed it in. Hey, life goes on. I can't keep continuing dreaming about this and thinking I'm gonna get this money."
Battle says she thought the Jemisons might have felt bad for her and sent her a little money. They didn't. Because of an oversight in the South Euclid City legal code, they didn't even have to pay taxes on it to the city. The couple had one press conference then fled town soon after receiving their prize. Battle paid a fine for falsifying the police report — which Nietert says she admitted in a meeting with him — and was sentenced to probation. Even with her "secret" unrevealed, the whole ordeal is over for everyone but her.
"There's absolutely no reservation in my mind that this was a big hoax driven by greed," Nietert says.
And Battle gives the public no reason to challenge that sentiment. No one trusts her because she's blown her credibility in front of the entire world. Naturally, she's trying to resuscitate this story. It's her only hope to launch a boxing career.
"Everything has its time," she says. "The lottery — that door closed for me, but boxing is going to open for me. I'm determined to make money off of it."
Battle is down now, no doubt about it. The bills are piling up: It costs $120 a week just to pay her trainer. She may lose her Mitsubishi. She's hoping that boxing can save her as it's saved others.
"When boxing started, oppressed nationalities fought their way out of the slums," says Bernie Profato, executive director of the Ohio Athletic Commission. "They had to find somewhere to use those skills. Hopefully, this young lady will use boxing to turn things around."
But there's a limit to what boxing can do for Battle, to the restorative powers of her dream. If she would give the public what it wants — an admission — maybe she could be redeemed in the court of public opinion and, later, in the ring.
One wonders how much longer she can keep it up — getting up before the sun, running around the track, practicing her jabs with a bunch of boys more than half her age. This new dream is a lot of work.
Perhaps then it's not all that surprising that she still stops by the Quick Shop on Monticello Avenue, where a big sign in the window boasts "Ohio's #1 Mega Millions jackpot winner sold here." Here, the old dream, revisited with a few scratches of a pencil, eclipses the new. And it only costs a dollar.
12:00 AM EST
December 15, 2004