Women’s boxing has always stirred controversy. The people who think it should be banned say that nobody likes a woman with a broken nose or a cut eyebrow. That’s true, but what about all the beautiful girls who fight professionally and keep their beauty intact? Another argument against female boxing is what happened to Maria De La Nieves on June 1998: the ring doctor discovered that she was pregnant and her fight against Christy Martin was cancelled. And so what? Henry Akiwande should have fought on that same card, but couldn’t because the doctor found out he had hepatitis. His fight at New York’s Madison Square Garden on June 6 was cancelled.
These things make me understand how essential it is to have a good State Commission for the safety of the fighters. The most common criticism that everybody makes is that fights among women are all too often mismatches. They have a point. I read somewhere that there are about 2000 women fighting in the United States. If you talk to the people who work in the business, they will tell you that the real professional women fighters are less than 200. In fact, the rankings made by independent media rate less than 10 fighters in some weight divisions. Anyway, there are some outstanding fighters who give get and give good publicity to women’s boxing.
One of them is Alicia Ashley. Born in Jamaica, she became one of the top competitors in the United States and was later hired by foreign promoters to face the local stars. In Argentina she twice defeated Marcela Eliana Acuna. In Germany she beat Alesia Graf for the WIBF and GBU interim bantamweight belts. She also fought in Guyana, Austria (losing by split decision to Esther Schouten) and Canada (another split decision loss). Today, Alicia’s record stands at 12 wins, 5 losses and 1 draw. Only one victory came before the final bell, but it was a meaningful one: against the highly respected Elena Reid (7th round TKO). Alicia also won two official (not interim) world titles: the IWBF super bantamweight and featherweight championships. Her accomplishments brought her to the attention of the showbiz world. Alicia worked with Hollywood stars Michelle Rodriguez (in the movie Girlfight) and John Leguizamo (in the HBO production Undefeated).
I met Alicia Ashley during my last visit to Gleason’s Gym. The owner, Bruce Silvergrade, wanted me to know her because she is one the best in the business. She was more than happy to talk about her career and the state of the game.
Alicia, tell us your story.
I was born in Jamaica, in 1967. When I was six years old I started dancing because my father was a dancer and I wanted to follow his footsteps. Years later, my brother convinced me to try kickboxing. He is a professional.
What’s his name?
Devon Cormack. He has been world champion in the bantamweight, super bantamweight and featherweight divisions. He fought in Atlantic City (packing the Tropicana) and also abroad. He started training at Gleason’s to improve his boxing ability (kickboxers score most knockouts with their punches) and now he works as a trainer. I became a trainer too. One day, I decided to turn to boxing.
You decided soon to pursue a pro career?
I needed four years of hard work to get ready for my first professional match. It would be more correct to use the expression semi-professional.
Because the purse was ridiculous. When I started fighting more often, the purses didn’t raise much. In fact, I never left my job until last June. Now I consider myself a real professional because I earn most of my money through boxing. I train with Hector Roca.
How many women choose boxing to keep in shape?
More than anybody would think. Boxing allows a girl to lose weight, to raise her self-esteem and to learn self-defense. If somebody doesn’t agree, I ask him if he ever saw a prize-fighter out of shape or without confidence in his capabilities. Besides, if the people know that you can fight they will never bother you. A good trainer doesn’t allow the girls to fight for real until they have learned the defensive strategies. When the students spar, they do it wearing headgear, a mouthpiece and big gloves (to better protect their hands and deliver less damage to their opponent). That’s why incidents are rare. Nobody wants a girl to go back home with a broken nose.
What do you say to the girls who want to become professionals?
I ask them what they expect from boxing. If their desire is to make millions, they should choose another profession. It’s stupid to give illusions: in boxing, women make no money. A standard purse for a world title fight is around $5,000. Can you imagine a man fighting for that kind of money? No way. And it is dangerous; you can die in the ring. If a girl doesn’t really love boxing, shouldn’t even consider becoming a prize-fighter.
What do you think about Laila Ali?
I respect her because she became the icon of my sport and improved a lot technically, Buddy McGirt is to be credited for that. Laila was very smart in choosing one of the best trainers in America; she learned how to throw combinations and capitalize her natural power. In fact, she is still undefeated and has won 18 fights (out of 21) inside the distance.
Sometimes, the fights among women look more intense. Is there a reason?
Yes, that’s because every round lasts 2 minutes. We can fight at full force, throwing more punches. With 3 minutes rounds, we would have the time to rest between combinations. The same for the length of the match. Our world title fights are scheduled on 10 rounds, we cannot afford to throw away even one of them. With 12 rounds, we could use a couple of them to stay away from our opponent even if that means losing those two rounds.
Tell us about your experience in the movie business.
When they proposed me to work in Girlfight, I accepted with enthusiasm because I thought it would be my only experience in the showbiz world. Later, I was offered jobs in The Opponent, Undefeated and in the TV series Into Character. I just finished working in the movie Strangers with Vandy. It has been presented at the Sundance Film Festival. I also work a lot as stunt-girl and stunt-double.”
What’s the difference?
A stunt-girl acts in fighting scenes, even telling a few lines. You can see her face. A stunt-double, is the substitute of an actress. You never see her face. You know, this job was considered a man’s business: now, girls do it better than men. Just like boxing.
Hometown: Westbury, New (You'll find her at Gleason's Gym)
Manager: Devon Cormack
Trainer: Hector Roca
Record: 12 wins (1 KO), 5 losses, 1 draw