Kaliesha West: “Bank on Me!”

BY David A. Avila ON August 13, 2007
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MORENO VALLEY, CALIF.-Through the dark of the night Kaliesha West gallops energetically around the high school track.

Her father Juan West stands by counting out the lap times as she whizzes by.

Even the danger of tripping over a hole on the dirt track doesn’t impede the 19-year-old Kaliesha West’s exuberance.

She’s the ultra competitor.

West, 19, fights Carly Batey (3-1-2) of San Diego in a six-round bantamweight fight at Harrah’s Rincon in San Diego County on Friday. It’s not an easy match but the Moreno Valley prizefighter loves that fact.

“She’s a good fighter you should come and see it,” West (6-0) says with her typical infectious enthusiasm. “It’s going to be great.”

Since age six West has loved the sport of professional boxing. She could be seen yelling encouragement to her father when he fought professionally more than a decade ago.

“We were looking at some old videos of my fights and there was little Kaliesha yelling ‘come on dad, hit him dad’, you could hear her clearly,” said Juan West, who trains and co-manages his daughter. “She used to beg me to let her box. I would tell her girls don’t box.”

After West’s son Marco refused to put on boxing headgear, the father felt his love for the sport was not going to be passed on. So he began training neighborhood youngsters the art of boxing. One fighter in particular looked to be a nugget. But he quit.

The daughter saw her father’s anguish and beseeched him to let her be the focus of the boxing club.

“Bank on me,” Juan West recalls his daughter saying to him. “She kept bugging me to let her box.”

Finally he gave in and slowly began teaching her the sport, but demanded total dedication.

“My father told me this is not ice skating where you fall down and get up,” said Kaliesha who is half Mexican and Korean on her mother’s side and Puerto Rican and Seminole on her father’s side. “He said I could get hurt if I’m not dedicated.”

After weeks of preparation Kaliesha West, at age 11, entered her first amateur bout and was clobbered. The referee gave her two eight-counts signifying she needed time to recuperate.

“Right after it finished I asked for a rematch,” said Kaliesha West. “It took me six years but I finally got my rematch and I gave her two eight-counts and beat her.”

A path reserved for fighters

For nine years West has traveled a different path than most normal teen-aged girls. While her classmates gathered at the mall or spontaneously attended a movie, she was busy hitting the heavy bag or working on her footwork inside the ring.

Friends from school called less and less. It’s the cost of pursuing a boxing career.

She walks a path reserved for fighters, whether male or female.

“I only have two friends,” says West, who is the only female boxer at her Moreno Valley boxing gym and aside one other boxer is the most skilled.

Heather Percival, 24, a highly ranked professional boxer from Fontana, often spars with West with both fighters engaging in clashes that are often more intense than actual pro fights.

“People don’t understand us. Just because we give our best and hit each other hard that doesn’t mean we’re enemies,” said Percival who is ranked number eight according to computerized rankings. “It’s just a sport. We’re really good friends.”

Because of a Spartan-like existence that consists of working daily as a valet in a local hospital, going to the gym for three hours then running from three to five miles at night, West has a close relationship with her family.

“I love movies and playing video games. I’m really good with computers too,” said West, who adds computer analyst as a possible career in the future.

She had planned to compete in the Olympics but the organizing committee decided against allowing women to box. So, after more than three dozen amateur fights, West decided to become a professional.

All eyes were on me

“Since I was six I wanted to box professionally,” says West, who also likes acting or entertaining a crowd.

On February 2006 she entered the ring at San Manuel Casino for her first professional fight. The opponent was Suszannah Warner who would later in the year become a world champion. But not that night.

“It was nerve-wracking,” said West of her pro debut. “All eyes were on me. I finally felt all the hard work had paid off.”

West proceeded to dominate Warner with her speed and movement that many compare to Shane Mosley. Warner was dropped in the second round from a left hook but managed to finish on her feet and lose by decision.

West was ecstatic.

“It’s so different from fighting amateurs where it is all routine and they run you in…next, next, next,” West said. “In the pros they take their time announcing. This is what I was waiting for.”

Undefeated after six pro fights. West intends to win a world title, but that’s not enough.

“I want to be well known around the world. I want to be as famous as Oscar De La Hoya,” she says.

It’s her enthusiasm that catches the eye.

On a Wednesday night West is finally finished galloping around the track. It’s about 10:20 p.m.

“She’s so energetic,” says Percival. “Nothing gets her down.”

As she catches her breath after sprinting several 100-yard dashes, she notices that the photographer may not have captured her properly.

“Want me to run some more?” she says enthusiastically. “I love taking pictures.”

Win or lose the Moreno Valley female prizefighter will entertain.

“That’s what she is, an entertainer,” says her father.

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