MORENO VALLEY, CA.-Each morning, regardless of the day of the week, Kaliesha “Wild, Wild” West wakes up groggy eyed around 6 a.m. to start another busy day of school, work and training in the daily 100-plus summer temperatures of the desert region.
West, 21, doesn’t have to combine all three laborious activities, but her dreams of cracking into stardom won’t let her seek an easy path. Boxing is her doorway to success.
“I don’t like boxing,” said West (10-1) with a short pause. “I love boxing.”
That simple statement says it all about West and the hundreds of other women who partake in prizefighting, a sport that seems to overlook them like used gauze.
The petite West attends classes to learn ultra-sound techniques in Riverside County, then catches a ride to a hospital in San Bernardino County where she works as a valet. Her lunch breaks are a staggering 15 minutes then it's back to the pavement, running after keys and parking cars.
Ironically, she doesn’t have her own car. It broke down during a collision.
Around 5 p.m. she catches a ride with a friend back to her Moreno Valley home, where she takes a quick nap before heading to the boxing gym around two miles north.
Training daily takes place for West regardless if a fight is scheduled or not. Her father Juan West, a former pro fighter, has worked her corner since she was 10 years old and beginning in the amateur boxing program. Nothing has changed. The only day the Wests don’t train is on Sunday.
“My father likes me to be ready, just in case,” says West, an energetic young woman whose personality surprises most. It’s in direct contrast to the way she fights: intense, aggressive and menacing. “I look forward to training.”
What she has to look forward to is running, exercising, hitting the speed bags and heavy bags and sparring young men. On weekends the whole boxing team jumps into several cars and heads to other parts of Southern California to partake in sparring in sweat producing gyms in Maywood, Azusa, Duarte and South El Monte.
“Sparring is my favorite part of training,” says West, whose training usually ends around 9:30 p.m..
This week training is especially heightened. A match against a featherweight named Rolanda Andrews has been made. They’ll fight six rounds on Saturday Aug. 1, at Agua Caliente Casino near Palm Springs. It won’t be televised.
Andrews, a southpaw, is best known for knocking out Mia St. John and giving the well-known fighter her first pro loss. A right hook did the damage but the southpaw can hit with the left and has boxing skills to boot.
It won’t be an easy fight for West who normally fights in the 118-pound bantamweight division. She’s moving up two weight divisions to fight Andrews at a mutually agreed 125 pounds.
West lost her last fight to Ava Knight, a good bantamweight from Northern California. They fought last November where Knight won by close decision. A rematch was sought, but refused. It’s one of the problems with women’s boxing. Good fights are hard to come by.
“If I had fought her in Southern California and beat her I would have given her a rematch,” said West. “But she doesn’t want to fight me again.”
West is one of the new wave of female fighters that have a little of everything including an exciting fighting style and attractive looks. There are many others like the Southern California prizefighter who pack skills, looks and an exciting fighting style.
In Mexico, former junior bantamweight world titleholder Mariana “Barbie” Juarez (20-5-3) is set to face Venezuela’s Carolina Alvarez in a 10-round flyweight battle for the interim WBC title on Saturday July 25, in Tijuana. Erik Morales is promoting the fight card.
Juarez, who formerly fought out of South El Monte, was once pursued by Vogue magazine to become a fashion model. The Mexico City native ignored it to chase her dream of fighting professionally. She wants another world title, especially after losing the IFBA title in Korea. They even took her title belt that she loaned for a photo shoot and did not replace it.
Women’s boxing is making big leaps in Mexico. Last year, when one of that country’s television networks decided to put a boxing card on one of its prime slots, they quickly discovered that viewers still love the sport. They also discovered that female pro boxers were quite popular as well. Now Juarez has become a regular on Mexican television.
Melinda Cooper, a former flyweight world champion now fighting at bantamweight, was enticed by Mexican boxing promoters to cross the border and ply her considerable boxing talents in their country. She fights Esmeralda Moreno on Aug. 1, on a fight card in the tropical paradise of Cancun.
Like West and Juarez, the Las Vegas-born and raised Cooper has that combination of looks, skills and an electric boxing style that has seen her knock out 11 opponents in the ring.
“I never look at tapes of my opponents,” said Cooper (20-0). “I let my trainer tell me how to fight them.”
Doldrums for women
The past two years have been pretty slow for women fighters. Though a few top-notch girls like Holly Holm, Terri Cruz and Melissa Hernandez have found work inside the ring, many others in the U.S. have been stuck searching for bouts.
Only European girls are busy enough to earn big paydays and enough matches to keep busy. Girl fighters in Europe earn much more than American girls for their bouts and often fight in front of more than 10,000 fans. They’re also televised.
Not so in the U.S.
Only ESPN, Fox Sports and a small few pay-per-view cards have ever shown female prizefights. Showtime and HBO have never shown a female boxing title fight. Mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano has been seen on Showtime, but never a female boxer.
It’s ironic when there are many more female boxers than MMA fighters and with more skill.
A few boxers have like Elena “Baby Doll” Reid, Wendy Rodriguez and St. John have jumped into an MMA cage or ring to fight.
“I just want any kind of fight,” said Reid, who is undefeated as an MMA fighter at 3-0.
Laila Ali is back in a boxing gym and ready to get back into the sport. She left boxing for two years to get married and have a child.
“I only want big fights with big names,” said Ali, who still seeks a match with Ann Wolfe. “I don’t want to fight somebody that nobody knows.”
At the time of her departure Ali was the top attraction in female boxing.
If any fighter could draw a big television audience it's Ali. Aside from being the daughter of the great Muhammad Ali, the undefeated super middleweight is only 31 and still undefeated.
In one pay-per-view fight card, Ali fought Christy Martin and in front of more than 10,000 fans beat the smaller but game former welterweight world champion. Martin is still fighting and will be performing next week in West Virginia on Aug. 1.
Two women fights at Agua Caliente
Eager to get back in the ring after eight months of prize fight inactivity, West relishes the long days and meager six and five hours of sleep. She’s in a hurry to make her mark in boxing.
Along with West vs. Andrews, popular Filipina prizefighter Ana Julaton fights Melissa Hernandez for her WIBA junior lightweight title. Both fights will be held on the Timothy Bradley vs. Nate Campbell world title fight undercard. That fight and Junior Witter vs. Devon Alexander’s fight for the vacant WBC title will be televised. But not the two female fights.
It’s only a matter of time before America discovers female prizefighting as Europe, Asia and Mexico have discovered.
If it’s this year, next year or five years down the road, you can bet West, Cooper, Juarez, and Ali will be ready.
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