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Queensbridge’s Melissa Del Valle’s rough road to boxing glory

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — There haven’t been many shortcuts for Melissa Del Valle; she likes the long route.

“It’s not that I plan things this way,” she said. “It just happens that I had it tough, but I don’t mind. It’s made me stronger.”

Honey Girl, as she’s known in the boxing ranks, has used her uncompromising style to make her arguably the most decorated women’s boxer in the history of the sport.

Yet hardly anyone knows.

She came out of the Queensbridge projects, where she hung out with Nas, teased Ron Artest and became a hero.

Outside the projects, the anonymity returns.

“I don’t see it that way,” said Del Valle, who improved to 27-0-1 after defeating Branda Drexel by unanimous decision Friday at the Harriet Himmel Theater in West Palm Beach. “I’ve done so much, learned a lot of life lessons and have become a better person because of boxing. I wouldn’t trade this in for the world.”

As a kid growing up on the tough streets of Queensbridge, Del Valle used sports as an outlet. She was a natural athlete, but basketball was her thing. After a short stint on the Christ the King JV team, Del Valle transferred to The Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass.

“I needed to get away,” said Del Valle, who, at 33, never stops smiling and joking around; she radiates with sincerity.

The 5-foot-5, 130-pounder turned to boxing about four years after she was the starting point guard at the University of Alabama.

With the guidance of her brother, Lou — who was a light heavyweight champion and the only person to knock down Roy Jones Jr. in the late 1990s — Del Valle changed the face of boxing.

Since 1996, Del Valle has won the Golden Gloves and become a three-time World Champion. The success won over the Latin community, as well as woman athletes across the country.

“I never thought I would box; it was the last thing in the world,” Del Valle said. “I guess all the fights in the projects helped. But it was my brother that was the difference. [Lou] wanted to train me for the Golden Gloves. ... I can’t tell you why I went with him. I guess I wanted to resolve some issues — we had a tough time as kids — and I wanted to be closer to him. I wanted to be a family.

After the first fight and win “he was there to hug me. We finally became sister and brother. It would make anyone cry. ... For all the hardships, I wouldn’t take back what the sport did to us: It brought us together again.”

In recent years, though, Del Valle has had her ups and downs. She was criticized for her weak opponents. She also separated from her husband and boxer, John Salamone, and started to question her commitment to the sport.

“I was about to quit,” said Del Valle, who moved to Miami eight months ago to be closer to her mother, Migdalia. “I was like, ‘This is really not happening for me.’ But I couldn’t see myself quitting. I want to see how far I could take it. I asked myself, ‘How good can I be?’ “

In June, Del Valle defeated Ada Velez, the No. 2-ranked featherweight in the country, and she keeps finding ways to win the tough bouts.

“She’s the best,” said longtime trainer John “The Beast” Azari, who has worked with football stars Dan Marino and Irving Fryar. “I see her as a world-class athlete; I see her like a sister. As a boxer, I don’t think there’s anyone like her. She’s an artist and she puts her heart and soul into the sport. She won’t stop until everyone knows her, and everyone will.”

Reach contributing writer Arthur V. Claps by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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