Stepping through the doors of a boxing gym saturated with blistering 106-degree heat, Kaliesha West casually floats around the athletic facility greeting and chuckling with people inside. She’s a people person eager to greet friends and strangers.
On this hot Sunday morning, she slowly begins the ritual of putting on the hand wrappings, boxing gloves and headgear. Layer by layer West slowly transforms from the laughing 18-year-old high school senior into a feared boxing machine who’s eager to perform. Many consider West one of the top young prospects in professional boxing.
“I love fighting for crowds,” said West (3-0). “The more people the better.”
The Moreno Valley resident enters her fourth professional bout against Maria Contreras (1-4) at the Monterey Conference Center on Saturday. The fight card is promoted by Twelve Sports Production but will not be televised.
West loves to fight. It’s apparent in her facial expressions whenever she talks about her sport.
But there are sacrifices. While many of her peers graduated this past June, West spent the past year home schooled and still has about six weeks to go before completion of her required courses.
“It takes a lot of time,” says West, who formerly attended Moreno Valley High until her senior year. “Sometimes I think about how I missed out on the prom, having my old school friends, or missing out on the yearbook. But then I look at it and realize it’s only to better myself. I had to think what’s more important: being with friends and creating memories or doing something to better my career.”
While most teens are busy carousing in malls, beaches or in their living rooms watching television, the lithe caramel-colored West, with pronounced cheekbones and laughing eyes, occasionally runs three miles twice a day, trains in the boxing gym for one hour, and spars with anyone willing to stand in the boxing ring with her.
“It’s hard to find sparring,” says her father Juan West, a former prizefighter who guides her life in and out of the ring. “Kaliesha likes sparring against the best.”
Even in her younger teens, West jumped in the ring against some of the top female pro fighters like Chevelle Hallback, Mariana Juarez and Marilyn Salcido.
One week before the scheduled fight, West engages Fontana’s Heather Percival, a 5-foot-6 blonde with slick boxing skills. Both are familiar with each other’s style.
“Kaliesha has fast hands,” said Percival, 23, who just returned to the ring after a few weeks off. “I’m not ready for eight rounds. But I’ll do my best for her.”
Both fighters easily glide around the ring, like they were on a pair of roller-skates. For three rounds the two Inland area fighters trade jabs, feints and combinations. Then, in the fourth round, the sparring kicks into overdrive.
“We agreed to go slow for the first three rounds so I could get my legs,” Percival said.
Like watching a movie on fast forward the two female boxers fire combinations in machinegun fashion. Punches are fired smoothly with oiled precision.
Five years ago, this kind of sparring session would have created a stir in the boxing world. But the skill and talent of female boxers has nudged up a few notches aided by the swelling ranks of female amateur boxing.
West learned most of her craft in amateur boxing that included winning a junior national title and nearly winning two open national titles.
“She lost by one point to Vanessa Juarez,” said Juan West, mentioning another former amateur star from Texas now plying her skills in the pro game.
In her professional debut, West signed to fight Suszannah Warner at the San Manuel Casino last February. The Moreno Valley girl knocked down the British fighter with a concussive left hook that would make some male fighters envious. She eventually won by unanimous decision.
“Kaliesha is a great body puncher,” said Larry Ramirez, who trains Percival and runs the Fontana Boxing Club. “She has a very good left hook.”
When the two female prizefighters end their sparring session, Ramirez grabs a large cushion that resembles a shield and invites West to continue. He pushes and pressures the 116-pound boxer for two more rounds in the stifling heat that makes it hard to breathe. When it’s finally ended, West is completely spent.
“I have another work out later tonight,” she says with a slight smile. Within minutes the energy seems to be flowing back into her body and a complete smile returns.
With her next bout only days away, West doesn’t think about losing. She only thinks about her dreams that include a world title, going to college and finding fame.
“When I was young (eight years old) I used to go to auditions for shows like ‘Family Matters’ and movies like the first ‘Jurassic Park’ and the ‘Barney’ movie,” West says, adding that her acting days were cut short because of a lack of transportation. “I had an agent too.”
As energetic as West seems in the gym, she’s equally juiced about her future. Whether it be acting, going to college or winning several world titles, the teenager is truly driven.
Boxing is only Act One for the effervescent West, but it’s going to be a doozy.
Other top female prospects:
Heather Donoho (3-0) – This former amateur standout from the San Diego area is small in size, but big on technical skills. Donoho is already capable of fighting anybody in her weight class right now. In a few years she should have a world title. She currently fights in the junior bantamweight level, but easily could go down to flyweight. The bantamweight and flyweight divisions are the toughest in female boxing. In Mexico alone there are a dozen world-class fighters in those two weight classes.
Vanessa Juarez (1-0) – After an impressive amateur career the Fort Worth, Texas fighter now attempts to duplicate her feats in the professional bantamweight ranks. Juarez won National titles as an amateur with her attacking, buzzsaw style. But sometimes, professional judges aren’t impressed with a fighter who simply throws nonstop punches. We’ll see if Juarez can adapt a pro style that takes her to the top.
Lissette Medal (2-0) – She’s short for the lightweight division, but she’s a very good counterpuncher and has quick feet and quick hands. Medal fights out of Maywood, California, an area that is quickly gaining a reputation for luring top-flight boxers. The talented Medal is seeking opponents. So far, the only fighter willing to engage has been Oxnard’s Crystal Morales.