WATSONVILLE — Carina Moreno has always been up for a challenge.
When her kickboxing trainer, Rick Noble, asked her if she wanted to try some of her skills in the boxing ring she couldn’t refuse.
“Everything that he would ask I would say ‘yes,’” said Moreno, as she laughed inside a gymnasium she runs on East Lake Avenue.
Nineteen years and a prestigious career later, the Watsonville native today will be inducted into the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame in Brisbane, Calif.
“It’s quite an honor,” Moreno said. “I think one of the reasons why they selected me is because they probably thought I was retired already.”
But the 37-year old said she’s far from retiring and continues to extend her career in pursuit of an elusive sixth championship.
“I want to try one more time to get another title and go for that sixth title,” Moreno said.
Moreno has been labeled a pioneer and true ambassador for women’s boxing. She had an outstanding amateur career of 36-2 and currently holds a professional record of 25-6.
“My whole life I’ve always been an athlete and I’ve always loved to work out,” Moreno said. “Boxing is one of those sports that you’re always learning.”
As an amateur, she was a member of the first female USA boxing team in 2000 and remained until 2003.
Moreno began her professional career in 2003 and was successful from the get go.
Moreno went on to win five world titles — World Boxing Association Flyweight, International Boxing Association Jr. Flyweight, World Boxing Council Straw-weight, World International Boxing Association Jr. Flyweight and North American Boxing Federation Light Flyweight — in three different weight classes.
“(Moreno) is just a natural fighter, that was her,” Noble said. “That’s why I converted her to boxing, I could see it. It was actually the best choice I ever made for her.”
Noble, who’s been Moreno’s longtime trainer, said it’s a great honor to have one his students become a hall of famer.
“To see her turn pro and go on and win five world titles in three weight divisions is an honor to have her in the gym,” Noble said. “I’m so proud of her and it’s been a long journey.”
Moreno was on the Watsonville High cross country and track and field teams. Noble said he remembers in 1998 when the young shy girl first showed up to his gym on Freedom Boulevard.
“Look at her now, she’s accelerated to full blown woman and she’s still a little active,” Noble said.
Moreno began her kickboxing career at 112 pounds and defeated Marilyn Gil (108 lbs) of San Jose by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26) on March 23, 1999 in an IKF International Rules amateur bout in Vallejo.
Moreno, who was 4-1 at the time, went down in weight at 109 pounds and fought Monica Mendoza (119) on Dec. 22, 1999 in an exciting three-round exhibition bout in Fresno.
Moreno began boxing in January 2000. In April of that year she entered the USA Boxing Everlast National Championships at the Chaparral Center in Midland, Texas.
Moreno won her 106-pound semifinal bout on April 13 with a 42-1 decision over Catherine Herway of San Antonio, Texas.
On April 15, Moreno defeated two-time defending national champion Linda Carrillo of South El Monte in the finals by a 17-11 margin. The bout was shown on ESPN.
“I was boxing her and in the first round she was winning,” Moreno said. “Finally Rick (Noble) said jump on her, forget about the plan we have.”
After the 2000 nationals, Moreno and seven other female boxers were chosen to represent the USA in the international Feenix Box Cup in Turku, Finland.
Noble knew all along his all-star boxer would be traveling overseas if she won nationals but Moreno had no clue.
“At the time that was the biggest world-wide tournament,” Moreno said. “I was just shocked and I was like, ‘I’m going where? What?’”
In April 2003, Moreno competed in the 119-pound division of the Golden Gloves in San Francisco defeating Valerie Evans of San Jose, 5-0.
Moreno defeated Jennifer Nguyen of Palo Alto in the final, also by a 5-0 score, and was voted best boxer of the tournament.
“She was a natural athlete,” Noble said. “I had her in kickboxing and it wasn’t much but what I could see is she knew where her hands were going when she used them.”
But Moreno’s amaeture career was cut short when she found out a women’s boxing division was not being made for the 2004 Summer Olympics.
At that point she talked with Noble about the next step and turned pro in 2003.
Moreno made her pro debut on July 3 of that year in a 110-pound bout with southpaw Cecilia “Boom Boom” Barraza of Chicago in front of a sold-out crowd at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Monterey.
Moreno weighed in at 109 and 1/2 pounds. She won a four-round unanimous (40-36) decision over Barraza.
Since then, she’s gone on to build a hall of fame resume by winning five belts in three different weight classes.
“Boxing has taught me how to be dedicated because boxing is one of those sports that it’s a one-person sport,” she said. “It’s just you in that ring, there’s no team...when you’re actually fighting, it’s just you and when you’re done, you don’t have anybody else to blame.”
In 2014, Moreno got the itch to try mixed martial arts and had her first fight scheduled. But on the week prior to the match during practice she injured her left knee, which required surgery.
Moreno had to sit out for at least three-and-a-half years to fully recover.
But now she’s back and on a mission, yet again.
Moreno won her last two fights — Judith Vivanco and Cinthia Martinez — in the 105-pound division, which she said she feels the most comfortable fighting in.
Noble said that Moreno now has her eyes on the next prize, which is a sixth championship belt.
“Probably sometime next year it’ll happen but we’ll see,” Noble said. “It might happen, it might not happen.”
But first things first, she has a hall of fame speech to give tonight in Brisbane.
Moreno is part of the sixth class to get inducted into the hall of fame. She’s familiar with some of the other 2019 inductees, including boxer Martha Salazar and a promoter Blanca Gutierrez.
“I’m pretty excited to be inducted into this great event and I know quite a few of the girls that are going to be in it,” Moreno said.
The first class included world-renowned pioneer inductees Lucia Rijker and Christy Martin Slaters.
The IWBHF was founded by the Women’s Boxing Archive Network. Both organizations were developed by Sue Fox, a pioneer in female boxing who began her career in the 70s.
But Moreno is still getting ready for her next fight, unlike most of the fighters being inducted tonight in Brisbane.
“(Moreno) wants to try one more time,” Noble said.
Moreno said it’s a privilege to be recognized as a hall of famer but she can’t wait to see the expressions on everybody’s face at tonight’s event when she mentions her quest for title six.
“I’m not retired yet, I’m still going for another world title and that’s my goal,” she said. “I’m still going to continue boxing. I still feel that I still have about two to three more years in me.”
The ceremony is at the DoubleTree By Hilton Hotel, San Francisco Airport North, 5000 Sierra Point Parkway, Brisbane, Calif. The event begins at 7 p.m.
Editor's Note: This article will be published in the Aug. 30 edition of The Pajaronian.