The judges decided to make me Miss Murray for a reason, and I'm not going to hurry up and change who I am just so I can put a crown on my head. —Mallory Rogers, Miss Murray 2012

MURRAY — Mallory Rogers, Miss Murray 2012, was “pretty dang” nervous as she waited for a competition to begin.

She paced around the mall, ate almonds, listened to rap music, prayed and stared at the ground.

“She just seemed very focused,” Miss Murray pageant director Leesa Lloyd said. 

But Rogers wasn’t waiting for a pageant. She was waiting for a fight.

This beauty queen is a boxer.

Boxing runs in Rogers' family. Grandfather Del Rogers boxed in the Army. Father Scott Rogers won the Dallas Golden Gloves heavyweight division in 1978. Uncles PJ and Rainey also boxed. Rainey Rogers has three super heavyweight Ringside World Championship belts.

“Boxing was always a part of our growing up,” her father said. “It was always present.”

But when she was a girl, Mallory Rogers showed little interest.

Rogers was a dancer, not a fighter. She enrolled in ballet class at age 3 and continued dancing through high school. 

“It never occurred to me that females could box,” she said. “I didn’t think that was a possibility.”

'Violent chess'

That changed when she was 15. Returning from an overseas trip, she watched an in-flight movie, “Million Dollar Baby,” the story of a young woman determined to make it in the ring. 

“When she got off the plane, the first words out of her mouth (were), 'Dad, I’ve gotta find a gym to fight,'” her father said.

They drove home, walked in the door and immediately began searching online for a boxing gym.

“At first I thought it was a phase,” said her mom, Peggy Curtis.  

Rogers had taken gymnastics, acting, sewing, horseback riding and art lessons, in addition to her various dance classes. Curtis thought boxing would be another short-term experience.

“I had no idea that it would really become her thing,” she said.

It was challenging, Rogers said. It was out of her comfort zone. It was like “violent chess.”

“It’s not about beating somebody up. It’s not about hurting your opponent. It’s about besting them, about out-strategizing them,” she said.

The beauty pageants were Lloyd’s idea. As Miss Murray pageant director for 15 years, Lloyd recruits contestants from the ranks of dancers in Murray Dance Company at Murray High School where she teaches dance. 

Rogers entered the Miss Murray pageant. She liked the competition and the fact that the pageants focused on the whole person — not just evening gowns and good looks.

She lost. But, the fighter she is, Rogers entered three more times before she won the crown last year.  

“I’m not your typical pageant girl,” the 21-year-old said, “so I think it took me a few extra tries.”

A victory in the ring

Now Rogers shuttles between ribbon cuttings, fundraisers and the boxing ring. She sometimes leaves the boxing gym dressed up and wearing her crown when rushing to a Miss Murray event.

"Nice hat," the other boxers say.

It’s just not what you’d expect. It wasn’t what Lloyd expected.

“The first thing I thought was, 'Mallory, your face!'” the pageant director said.

That changed after Lloyd attended a bout at the Ultimate Combat Training Center at the VF Factory Outlet mall in Draper.

Rogers cancelled plans to attend the wedding of a past Miss Murray to compete in the fight. With so few women in the sport, sanctioned matches with opponents of the same weight class and ability are difficult for Rogers to find, so she couldn’t pass up the opportunity of her first sanctioned fight.

At 10:15 that night, the petite young Rogers stepped into the ring to fight 115-pound, first-time fighter Andrea Manriquez.

The two were at each other from the bell. Punches landed on both sides. For Rogers, each of the three two-minute rounds felt like it dragged on for half an hour. 

“She was really tough. She was really strong,” Rogers said of her opponent. “Both of us got pretty beat up.”

It was Lloyd's first boxing match and she came with Miss Murray 2008 to cheer on Rogers.

“She is really good. She was aggressive,” Lloyd said.

Judges awarded the match to Rogers. Trainer and sparring partner Aaron Bryant believes that was because of Rogers' technical skill.

"She started crying. She was happy," Bryant said.

'It's about what's inside'

Lloyd said she feels a little better about having a boxing beauty contestant. “I’m less nervous. I’m more comfortable,” she said. “She can completely handle herself.”

Rogers has had bruises and split lips. Last year she was knocked out during a practice bout, suffering a concussion.

She woke up and shook it off, but on the drive home, “my vision started to do this,” she said as she waved her hands back and forth in front of her face. She drove straight to a doctor’s office. 

As Miss Murray, Rogers will compete in the Miss Utah competition in June. Lloyd said she hopes Rogers will take it easy “because going to Miss Utah with a black eye would not be great.” 

“I’m not a state queen. I’m not Miss America. If I have a black eye, that’s who I am,” Rogers said. “The judges decided to make me Miss Murray for a reason, and I’m not going to hurry up and change who I am just so I can put a crown on my head.” 

Nevertheless, capturing the Miss Utah crown is right up there with Rogers' other goal —  winning a Golden Gloves trophy.

She’s studying Murray city history and current events, doing weekly practice interviews, taking voice lessons and going to the boxing gym every day.

She’s assembling a pageant wardrobe and, while many Miss Utah contestants are watching their weight, Rogers is eating 2,800 calories a day trying to gain weight for a possible upcoming fight.

That’s in addition to being a full-time college student, teaching yoga to drug addicts and promoting her Miss Murray platform, "For Every Body: Bringing a Better Level of Fitness to all Demographics in Murray.” 

Rogers' mom, Peggy Curtis, said boxing and pageants aren’t quite as different as they might first appear. Neither, she believes, is a competition about looks.

It’s about “being willing to say, ‘This is my best. Here I am. If I get knocked down, if I look foolish, it doesn’t matter, because it’s about what’s inside,’” she said. “It’s not a beauty contest. It’s about what’s inside.”

E-mail: prosen@ksl.com