“It’s an uphill battle for all women, regardless if you’re a champion. It’s a luck of the draw…”
When a boxer wins his or her first world title, it’s a time of reflection and accomplishment. Kaliesha “Wild Wild” West felt those sentiments last September win she won the WBO bantamweight title via a seventh round TKO over Angel Gladney. This Saturday (June 18), West makes her title defense against Ava Knight, the only woman to defeat her in the ring. It’s not just her own redemption that West fights for; the scrappy 23-year-old views every battle as an opportunity to galvanize respect and exposure for women’s boxing.
In this exclusive interview, Kaliesha West speaks on challenging sexism, downplaying her sex appeal, and even predicts the outcome of Mayweather-Pacquiao. Get familiar with one of boxing’s young stars.
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: It sounds like you had an intense workout today. Run us through your daily routine.
Kaliesha West: Well my Dad (Juan West) also trains a couple MMA guys and they come whenever we have a lot of cardio workouts. It’s non-stop. For each round they’ll be three of us around a bag and he’ll call a punch and say 10 straight. Or power shot four to the body. It’s back to back to back. We do eight rounds of that, then six rounds of mitts. Then we did jump rope and hit the heavy bag, sit-ups and push-ups.
Cardio training is hard because is not focused on power. It’s about trying to get us as exhausted as we can possibly be. Some guys were throwing up. When I was out of shape it had me spitting up and gagging [laughs].
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: You’re opponent, Ava Knight, was just named a few weeks back. How difficult is it to start a camp not knowing who your opponent is going to be?
West: Boxing is unpredictable and we have no seasons. One thing I’ve always done is stay in the gym. Not training extreme, but just to stay around my weight and in decent shape. So if we get a call for a fight next month we can just step it up. With boxing you never know when the opportunity comes, when an opponent is injured and you’re the back up. You have to stay ready.
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: Even though you won the title in your last bout, what are you looking to improve on?
West: My last four fights I’ve been real calm, relaxed and content in the ring. Like B-Hop, you can see how relaxed he is. It allows you to see everything. Early on in my career I wasn’t like that. I let the crowd get to me and other people hype me. I’d always go all out like a rookie or amateur. One of my goals is to remain calm and alert so I can put everything together in the ring. I’ve been doing good in my last few fights, but I want to make sure I continue that.
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: Was your previous lack of calmness the reason Ava Knight beat you the first time?
West: I don’t want to blame the crowd or anyone because in the end it was me who let the crowd get to me. When we fought it was a crazy crowd; we got a standing ovation. It was a small venue so you could hear everything. I still remember someone telling me what to do in round six. I fought with a lot of emotions. After the loss I cried so hard. It was my first title opportunity. I was still young, about 20. I wasn’t even old enough to drink yet [laughs].
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: Do you feel you’ve become more of a target now that you have a belt?
West: Well, in women’s boxing it’s a little different because it’s still so new in the United States. I can say I’ve been called out by a few people, but the circumstances were so unrealistic that it wasn’t even a fight that could be made. When you have Timothy Bradley calling out Manny Pacquiao, that’s a fight that can actually happen.
In women’s boxing it becomes about what promoter will pay the sanctioning fees, get a decent cut for each fighter and other things. It’s an uphill battle for all women, regardless if you’re a champion. It’s a luck of the draw.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: It seems like this is a labor of love because the big money isn’t there yet. In the few years you’ve been in the business have you seen any significant improvement?
West: People who see me locally and around California all say, “Oh my God she’s a beast, she fights like a dude!” I’ve seen myself touching everyone’s heart wherever I go. You’ve got to capture the fan’s hearts. I’ve done that win, lose or draw. Once we get that opportunity on TV, that’s when things will be amazing. The Olympics are around the corner so I can see it, the writing’s on the wall. It’s just a matter of time.
I don’t let it get to me that I’ve been dealing with the sexism and lack of equality over the last five years. I do it for the love. Of course it’s a slap in the face. It hurts when people say they don’t deal with women’s boxing. But it makes the fight better because we’re fighting for something more than just the win.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Do you find yourself having to correct and debate a lot of people who ridicule women’s boxing?
West: Yeah! It’s a stereotype that’s so old school. People who think that way are simple. I’ve had people who don’t know anything about boxing say “You box? You’re
too small. Why do you want that pretty face to get hit?” I love this sport. People need to treat it like a sport. If you don’t want to support than don’t say anything at all. People don’t show love until someone close to them wants to do it. That’s what has been happening lately. There have been a lot of females that want to box now. Next thing you’ll know everyone will know a woman who’s boxing.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You’re also a boxing writer so you have an insight that many journalists don’t have. From what you’ve seen from other writers, what do you think needs to be improved on?
West: I’ve been told I do great stories when covering fights, like when I did Canelo and Hatton. A lot of writers have never really stepped foot in the ring. So they only see who wins the round and who lost. But they don’t really get into detail of how the fighter won the round. If they improved their detail it would make readers go ballistic.
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: I spoke with Naazim Richardson a few weeks back. He believes that every boxing writer should be required to spar a few hours out the week.
West: Yeah, because then they’d know what they’re looking at! It’s like seeing something in black and white. With that experience they’d see it in color.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You have a very diverse multi-cultural background: Mexican, Asian, black etc. Out of all the traditions within you, which music styles do you gravitate more towards?
West: I listen to a lot of weird music [laughs]. When I was coming up I listened to a lot of gangsta rap in high school like NWA, Bone, Too $hort and DJ Quik. As I
got older I started getting into Don Omar and Spanish music. And European techno like Passion Pit. I just love dance music now like LMFAO. I don’t really like the radio. I have my Pandora set up. I’ll put on a Spanish song in a second. Whenever I go out I can dance to whatever music you put on.
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: You’re a very attractive woman, but I noticed you keep a line when it comes to the level of sex appeal you show in your photos…
West: Yes! In my past I was required to do a photo shoot I wasn’t comfortable doing. I had a lot of makeup on my face. I want people to see me as a fighter. The #1 thing I don’t like is when people say I’m too pretty to be a fighter. It is almost like being underestimated. No one likes that. I try to put my image out there in a classy way, but I grew up a tomboy. I always wore basketball shorts and had my hair tied back in a ponytail. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started dressing like a girl. I wore my first pair of heels last year.
I’m a very conservative girl with my body. I had to get used to wearing a sports bra for fights. I’d rather people see a fighter first. Once I get that respect in the ring, then I’ll start showing that softer side outside it. But don’t ever ask me for a nude shoot. I’m telling everyone that now [laughs]. That would just change the whole idea of what people would see me as. I want the image of a great fighter and person over sex appeal.
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: I know you’re big Muhammad Ali fan. Who are you Top 5 favorite boxers?
West:Ali, Bernard Hopkins, Edwin Valero, Brandon Rios and of course Manny Pacquiao…. And Floyd, too! Throw him in there.
Beats,Boxing & Mayhem: I take it you were very upset with how Valero went out…
West: Ah, man I was so mad! I had just jumped on the bandwagon. He had become my favorite fighter after hearing his story about the blood clots and still fighting. He had a good story and fought with heart. He was two inches away from being a household name. Everything was lined up. I was upset because in this era people who don’t really know boxing don’t know him. He was destined for greatness.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: I saw your prediction of Pacquiao beating Mayweather, but that was before Manny fought Mosley. Did that fight change your opinion any?
West: [Pauses] Nope, not at all. I just feel that Manny Pacquiao is kryptonite for Floyd. I know he will give him hell. Floyd’s not an idiot. He knows. That’s why
he’s trying to get as much money as he can get out of it because it might take his flawless record away. I have a lot of respect for Floyd; I know he’s a great technical fighter. But I also know what can beat him, and that’s a strong, good southpaw in my opinion.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: You still have faith we’ll see it?
West: I do since Golden Boy and Top Rank are no longer beefing. But time will tell. Anything can happen. Floyd may want too much or Manny may get sick of out. Manny has done enough. After that fight with Floyd he should retire.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Since we’re getting Pacquiao-Marquez III next, do you think Juan Manuel has any chance against Manny above 140 pounds?
West: [Laughs] Naaaah. Marquez is a great fighter. But if you watch the two times they fought, it was Manny dropping Marquez. Manny was a little, scrawny dude back then. Now he’s all lumped up and big. If he drops now I don’t know about Marquez getting up. He’s a totally different fighter now. He’s a lot more accurate and less wild. Marquez, he seemed that same when he fought Floyd. Level-wise I think Manny’s above him.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: The card that you’ll be fighting on is mixed with boxing and MMA fights. Do you think these audiences are close enough to where this can start being a regular occurrence on a national level?
West: I think it’s kind of a conflict. I’ve been to two of them in the past. It’s funny because you have some people waiting for boxing, and others for the MMA. I see it more so as increasing the peace because there is a lot of beef between the two. If they continue to unite these people, it’ll become more of a acceptance thing. We both fight in the ring, have rounds and train the same. MMA fighters have boxing coaches to help their stand-up. We gotta respect each other.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Ava’s only had a few fights since your last encounter with her. Had you seen any significant improvement with her on tape?
West: I saw when she fought Gloria, but that fight was so short I couldn’t get anything out of it. Ava’s a deadly fighter. She’s strong girl, has a lot of experience and was tremendous in the amateurs. Any fighter who has that type of background, regardless if they’re active or inactive, they’re going to be deadly. B-Hop was still deadly even after not fighting for a year and a half.
I will tell you this. When I fought her the first time I had no footage. I didn’t know anything about her besides she was a world champion. I knew nothing about her style. Now that I’ve fought her it’s priceless experience. A rematch is better than any footage.
Beats, Boxing & Mayhem: Last question, Kaliesha. Have you mapped out your career to the end, or are you just taking it fight by fight?
West: My goal was to retire when I was 30, but if it is a little sooner I might do that. I’m going year by year. My health is of course #1. Far as I’m concerned, I still feel great and have plenty of years left in the engine. I don’t plan on retiring anytime soon.
I appreciate all the love and support. I read everything people say on Facebook and Twitter. I appreciate people who believe in me and that the sport will eventually change. It’s a warm feeling.
Tickets for Kaliesha West vs. Ava Knight can be purchased via www.ifspro.com, and at the door tomorrow night at the Pico Rivera Sports Arena. Kaliesha West can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.