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Kaliesha “Wild Wild” West – A Warrior Untold
By: David Matthew

February 7, 2012

     
   
   
   
   

(FEB 7) There are a lot of reasons to like Kaliesha “Wild Wild” West (14-1-3, 4 KOs). She has a vibrant personality, a pretty face, and a smile that can light up an entire room—that is when she’s not firing off precision combinations at opponents in the ring. For West, her journey through the sport of boxing is that of a Warrior Untold.

 

As I learned more about Kaliesha West as a person in a recent interview, I became instantly intrigued and felt as if this was the story of a superstar in the making. As I continued to study film of West, concentrating on her abilities as a boxer, it became increasingly perplexing to fathom how this fighter has not received more mainstream media coverage. However, one becomes less perplexed when they consider the politics and vacuum-control that a tiny elite holds over the sport. That said, regardless of the meager coverage that women’s boxing and West have thus far received, the story of Kaliesha West is one that should be told not because of her immutable characteristics as a woman in boxing, but because of her warrior-grade dedication to continuously perform at a high-level in a sport very few have mastered, regardless of gender.

 

Despite the fact that West had a glittering amateur career with over 100 fights, is the current WBO bantamweight champion, and is regarded by many to be the rising number one fighter in women’s boxing, she performs at a very high-level with very little recognition or respect in a sport that refuses for the most part to acknowledge her accomplishments.

West enters the ring donning a robe and an eye-catching mask reminiscent of the “Immortals” who were depicted as the elite soldiers from the Achaemenid Empire in the motion film “300”. Appropriate, considering that while she does have a following, her ascendancy to the top-tier of the sport is still widely invisible to the masses that have likely not even seen a short highlight clip of West in acton. “I thought the Immortals were the coolest when I saw them wipe out the 300 Spartans,” said West. “I bought one of the masks one day and showed it to my dad, and it was a wrap. I had to wear it during ring walks.” Given the present climate of women’s boxing in America, perhaps Kaliesha should keep the mask on when she fights, as it’s likely fans wouldn’t be able to discern her gender if they can’t see her pretty face, and would just see a supremely talented boxer performing at an extremely high level.

Fitting that West would be so receptive to warrior culture, as fighting is something that she describes as being in her blood ever since she watched her father—former professional fighter Juan West—battle in the square circle when she was just in second grade. Now, the roles have reversed, as her father both observes and trains his daughter as she campaigns through the top ranks of the sport.

 

“Kaliesha’s heritage is mostly Native American—and I get my mind in a zone of war before a fight, banging my mitts like war-drums in my hand,” Juan West explained. “Kaliesha has been trained to know what war means. War means you may get shot on the battlefield. You may be executed, you may be killed. When Kaliesha was younger I would let the crowd know that I’m putting my daughter in there to fight to the death and the whole crowd gave her standing ovations because every time she fought her heart out.”

Despite the passionately supportive nature of Kaliesha’s father, he wasn’t always excited about the prospect of his daughter fighting. “When Kaliesha first started boxing, I took it as a joke. I said, ‘girls don’t fight. I said no for awhile but then I realized that Kaliesha had a champion’s gene. She would be in the garage smacking around her brother’s friends and persistently trying to box. I was amazed at her competitive spirit and I knew she had the heart of a world champion.”

One of the most impressive facets of West is that she is rising to the top of the sport with a display of pure technique, not brute force. While some of the great women fighters like Ann Wolfe dominated the sport with superior physicality, West has excelled with a sophisticated command of the science of boxing. West’s technique is fluent and disciplined. She features eyebrow-raising footwork as she works behind an extremely effective jab. An adept combination puncher who can fight inside and outside, West also has the ability to fire off counterpunches with accuracy. Her craft is something that fights fans would greatly appreciate, if they only had the chance to watch her fight. “I have a very good jab when I choose to use it,” said West. “I throw it very accurately as a way to throw opponents off their game, enabling me to do what I need to do. Technique will defeat all. I focus on technique as it can beat natural talent/strength. This is why you sometimes see underdogs win and beat fighters who are more talented than they are—because of superior technique and strategy.”

Fight fans aren’t used to seeing women fight with such a nuanced technique. Women’s boxing hasn’t even been around long enough on the American landscape to enable women to develop the craft of boxing in their formative years. However, a new wave of women with sufficient training under their belt is emerging. In fact, this is the first year in the sport’s history that women will be featured in the Olympics. “The new women fighters are going to be killers,” insisted West. “We’ve had the chance to grow since pampers and have had the opportunity to develop.”

There’s been an astounding lack of will to accurately showcase women’s boxing. If you’ve been to live boxing events, you may have seen women fighting on the expansive undercard of a big fight. However, it’s highly likely that it wasn’t a serious fight with top contenders in the sport. Either somebody got on the card because they “know” somebody who was part of promoting the card, or they were featured because of reasons unassociated with their boxing acumen. That is, maybe a girl has a pretty face, but little to no boxing experience, so they put her on as a spectacle. Or as was the case on the Bernard Hopkins vs. Chad Dawson card that I covered at Staples Center just a few months ago, the women featured resembled something more like a circus than a boxing match. I witnessed two women, overweight and severely out of shape, fight on a major card. These women clearly had no legitimate experience and hadn’t developed any notable boxing skills. They were tough, but they were throwing wide, bar-fight like undisciplined punches and were simply there to generate a few laughs and cheap entertainment. This is a disgrace to the sport when there are serious women fighters out there who can truly entertain a crowd with actual skill and craft. “They are not watching the right fights,” said Juan West, referring to fight fans. “The promoters are putting on old ladies and girls with no experience. They put on the wrong fights and ignore the fighters with tremendous amateur backgrounds who are able to showcase real ability. “

Despite the fact that we have flourishing women’s sports (such as tennis and basketball) in America, women’s boxing is lagging far behind other countries when it comes to promoting our fighters. “Other countries are further ahead of the game than us in many ways,” West explained. “Even in Mexico, they promoted women’s fighters, models, etc., way before America did.” To illustrate Kaliesha’s point, women’s boxing is drawing huge interest in Mexico. A recent women’s boxing bout in Mexico between Jackie Nava and Ana Maria Torres did 31.3 million views. Considering that the all-time most watched fight in Mexico was Pacquiao vs. Marquez III with 43.2 million views, this is a remarkable statistic.

It’s not that women’s boxing can’t be popular; it’s simply a matter of giving it an opportunity to flourish with proper media coverage and a respect for the warriors engaged in the sport. The story of Kaliesha West shows us that we still have a long way to go when it comes to providing an equal playing field for women in sports. At present, antiquated misconceptions about women fighters are still constricting women’s boxing and preventing it from expanding into the mainstream sports consciousness. However, as more people get a chance to watch Kaliesha West and other master pugilists do battle in the ring, it will inevitably begin to catch on. “The majority of society are followers,” said West. “All it takes are a couple of big dogs to say that women’s boxing sucks—and next thing you know the rest of the committee just follows suit. We now need some big dogs to say that women’s boxing is on. When they give us some respect, you will see the rest of society follow.”

As West plans to move up to 122 pounds to conquer a new weight division, perhaps 2012 will be the year that fight fans get exposed to this unheralded warrior from Moreno Valley, California. Perhaps West will soon get the respect she deserves from the sport and be able to quit her full-time job so that she can wholly focus on boxing—as our other champions do.

As I concluded my interview with Kaliesha West, she said something that struck me: “Imagine you are a father, and that you have a daughter who chooses to box and dedicates herself to the sport. You want a bright future for your daughter and you want her to have the same chance everyone else does. It’s not just about my career, but it’s about the whole state of the sport in general.”

Perhaps you will read this and decide to follow women’s boxing more closely, realizing that what you’ve been told and fed from the higher-ups in boxing about women fighters is a lie. They can fight, they should fight, and they do fight in an entertaining style that features real crafts(wo)manship. We just haven’t been paying attention.

 

 

 
     
     
   
 
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