Kaliesha West Pt. 2 – Southern California Star and Two-Division World Champion
By David A. Avila
Kaliesha “Wild, Wild” West dropped into the professional fight scene with an instant army of fans and followers in the Inland Empire.
In many ways West’s arrival along with a few male counterparts created a boxing explosion in the area known as the “I.E.” It’s now the eye of the hurricane for boxing worldwide, not just Southern California.
Whenever West fought hundreds of followers would attend, except overseas, but especially in the I.E. an area comprising San Bernardino County and Riverside County in Southern California.
She was like a match that lit the stick of dynamite for boxing in the Inland Empire.
On February 23, 2006 West made her pro debut and hundreds of her fans arrived at the San Manuel Indian Casino in Highland, California. It was the first time a female boxer headlined a card at that venue. It was West’s pro debut.
“My first pro fight as a pro it was against Suzannah Warner. I remember I wasn’t supposed to fight Suzannah Warner because of her experience and my dad just wanted to slowly bring me up. Not just throw me in there with anyone. But we had sold out the seats and everything. It was packed and promoted. And she was the only one available ready to go ready to scrap. We took that fight with her,” said West.
“And I just remember thinking oh my God. This is it. This is all or nothing. I just went in there crazy. I don’t even think I had a battle plan. We probably did, but I just threw it away and just brawled it. That’s funny. I knocked her down too,” said West of her pro debut fight in front of a packed crowd at the Indian casino.
Despite experience for seven years as an amateur it was West first time boxing without head gear and over-sized boxing gloves.
“I remember when I turned pro I could see more. I remember without that head gear I could see everything. I got fatigued quicker because of the energy and the spotlight and the heat in the ring. And it was a slower pace. I felt like the pace was just tense. Everything was happening in slow motion,” said West of her fight with Warner who already had four pro fights. “In amateurs it’s just like ding-ding, Next. Next. You’re like just another number. I remember in the pros everything you do is just slow pace from the weigh-ins to the press conference to the actual fights and the waiting room. It was so cool. I loved the pros.”
After four lightning rounds of speedy blurring combinations and a knockdown scored by West in the second round, the fight ended in a win for the 18-year-old fighter by unanimous decision. The crowd erupted in cheers and applause for the Afro-Mexican American fighter.
Warner would later drop down in weight and win an NABF atom weight title and contend for several world titles.
West fought a total of five times in 2006 which included two fights in Northern California and all ended in dominant wins by unanimous decision. Her speed, technique and power separated her from the opposition in almost every fight.
Her reputation soon spread and it became more difficult to find opposition in 2007. But one fight against Carley Batey at an outdoor venue at Harrah’s Rincon Casino and Resort in San Diego County proved to be an intense battle. West would win with a booming attack to the body, though Batey proved to be a very difficult opponent.
In 2008, unable to find anybody new, West faced Elizabeth Cervantes for the third time. Two prior fights had ended by decision in favor of West.
“There are just some girls that I fought no matter how hard I hit they were just a knucklehead that punches don’t hurt them,” said West about Cervantes. “She kept saying I can still beat you. I ended up having to put to sleep Elizabeth Cervantes.”
After that knockout win West was now undefeated with 10 wins. She accepted a fight in Northern California against another undefeated fighter Ava Knight.
After dominating the opposition for two years West, who is trained by her father Juan West, decided they were ready for the upper tier, the more skilled and dangerous opposition.
Ava Knight was Northern California’s version of Southern California’s West who is six months older. They agreed to meet on November 18, 2008 at Table Mountain Casino in Friant, California. After eight turbulent rounds Knight was deemed the winner by unanimous decision.
“I remember losing to her. I should not have lost that fight. Even though she was one of the hardest hitting females I ever fought, I should not have lost. It’s tough. I didn’t care if I got hit,” said West of her first encounter with Knight. “It was close but she won the majority of the rounds. I felt defeated. I felt like I got hit a lot.”
Despite the loss West and her team accepted a fight against a heavier opponent Rolanda Andrews the next year to get back into the groove. It was a close fight where Andrews showed her power at 126. West was able to use her speed to win by close decision. It was her only fight in 2009.
Next was former world champion Ada Velez a cunning Puerto Rican fighter who was a hero to West. They fought at San Manuel Casino and it pit West’s speed and power versus Velez experience and skills. After six tense rounds the fight ended in a majority draw.
After that, West headed overseas on March 2010 for back-to-back assaults on foreign territory. It began her exploration to international fame.
“Europe wanted me or Jennifer Salinas. I was their first pick,” said West of her trip to Denmark to face Anita Christensen for the vacant WPBF bantamweight world title at Kjellerup, Denmark. “We were always invited. United States was not a fan and California may not have been a fan of Kay West. But other countries would think I was just a mega star. People would ask if I could bring Justin Bieber. I felt famous and I was treated that way too. I do remember.”
Christensen was a former three-time bantamweight world champion and would only lose one fight in 28 pro bouts. But that night West battled the Danish fighter to a fierce draw after 10 rounds. It remained a tremendous highlight in West’s career.
Following that draw West accepted a fight in South America three months later on the under card of her friend WBA super featherweight titlist Kina Malpartida. That night the Southern Californian West won by knockout in the fifth round in Lima, Peru.
“You have good and bad experiences. I never experienced better times than my fights in Denmark, Peru and Mexico,” explained West of her overseas ventures. “I just felt like ‘how did I get this lucky’.”
The team of West had been chasing a world title bid and knew that it would take more than a good record. One of the people helping West was another resident of the Inland Empire and a business person with a gift for convincing people to open doors.
Claudia Ollis was involved in the clothing business and had a gift for selling. After being introduced to a powerhouse promotion company she convinced Golden Boy Promotions to back West in a battle for the vacant WBO bantamweight world title. They consented.
It was agreed to put West on the under card of Sugar Shane Mosley versus Sergio “the Latin Snake’ Mora middleweight fight at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 18, 2010. The opponent was Angel Gladney who had six victories and only two losses.
“I was just so, so prepared for that fight. It didn’t matter who was in front of me. They were going to be in a rude awakening. I’ll be honest, in front of most of my fights I always had some unfortunate events going on. I just never talked about them but I always had some mad crazy drama going on. But for that fight it couldn’t have been more perfect. That fight there couldn’t have been a more perfect training camp. And I love that when I going into something like that I was beyond ready,” West said.
After showing speed and skillful exchanges, West connected with a perfect left hook and down went Gladney in the seventh round. West became the WBO bantamweight world champion though no one except her many fans inside the vast arena saw the fight. The female world title fight was not televised that night.
It was a common maneuver by promoters to refuse to televise female fights. But at least West got an opportunity to fight for the title. What most fans do not know is fighting for a world title like the WBC, WBA, WBO or IBF cost a couple of thousand dollars for sanctioning fees.
West walked out of Staples Center with the WBO bantamweight world title.
After that title fight West would nearly lose her life in a car accident.
While driving home on the I-215 Freeway the front of her car was smacked by a driver in another car on her right side that did not see her and sent the car careening out of control from one side of the freeway to the other.
“I didn’t get hit across a five-lane freeway and I did not hit anyone,” said West about her good fortune despite spinning around the freeway during the accident. “I couldn’t take a shower for six weeks. My team was like we can’t let anyone know how much she was damaged. Because we don’t want opportunities to go down the drain. We don’t want sponsors to think she is damaged goods.”
But West was damaged and could not defend the title in the allotted time. She petitioned for an extension and it was granted. Despite bodily injuries she accepted a fight nine months after winning the title and after a serious car accident against the only opponent that beat her Ava Knight.
Fight for Free
Female prizefighters get paid far below their male counterparts. World champions are no exception and though West was the WBO bantamweight titlist she had to pay a sanctioning fee to defend it.
Because of business complications her team opted to not fight under a promoter willing to stage her fight. But the promotion company they found could only budget a certain amount of money. Nobody wanted to fight West for the WBO world title for less than a certain amount of money.
Finally, Knight accepted the fight but for an amount that would leave West to fight for free. West accepted the terms and the two rivals fought each other at the outdoor arena Pico Rivera Sports Arena in Pico Rivera, California.
“I did not make any money for that fight. I remember six weeks prior to the fight a Colombian girl I was supposed to fight fell through. Another girl from New Mexico also fell through,” said West. “I remember my dad said there is no one else the commission is going to approve. Ava wanted so much money I had to give her my purse too.”
West wanted the fight and especially to avenge her loss to Knight years before. It was a fight the father Juan West did not want his daughter to accept especially after her car accident and injuries.
“I couldn’t even do a push up,” said Kaliesha West.
It was a cool night on June 18, 2011 and the lighting was very poor. West jumped out in front quickly with her speed and agility. Knight could not get a bead on West for the first four rounds.
“She wasn’t going to hit me this time. I’m going to respect her punch. Because I didn’t respect her in the first fight,” said West about losing the first time to Knight in 2008. “I felt really light on my feet I felt really comfortable and not really getting hit in the face like in the first fight.”
West slowed down in the second half of the fight perhaps due to the accident and also the body punches coming from Knight. It was difficult to see the speedy exchanges between the two top bantamweight fighters. But after 10 exciting rounds in front of more than 2,000 fans, the fight ended in a majority draw.
West was surprised by the decision. She felt the fight was clearly hers to win.
“I’m really fast. I was just thinking maybe the judges couldn’t really see what I was feeling in my hands. I was feeling me land a lot of shots and get off. I was able to get off. I didn’t let her get off and get comfortable,” said West. “I just remember catching her so many times clean.”
Despite the majority draw West retained the WBO bantamweight world title.
Next for West was a contract with a Mexican boxing promoter. South of the border female prizefighters had begun to enjoy tremendous success and opportunities. She signed and fought twice in defense of the WBO title and won.
Then the Mexico promoter released her contract and eventually folded.
Upon West’s return to fight in the U.S. the Moreno Valley fighter moved up a weight division and fought the always tough Christina Ruiz for the IFBA super bantamweight world title on October 2012. After 10 rounds featuring West speedy combinations she emerged the winner and became the new IFBA super bantamweight champion.
She would fight only two more times before retiring due to a bad back and lack of opportunities to showcase her talent.
The spunky two-division world champion says she wishes social media outlets like Instagram and Pinterest were big when she fought; and also that female fights were shown on television or streaming like today.
“I never had an opportunity to be televised by a major network. I’m really f*****g good and have a pretty face and have a big ass mouth. I’m fast, I have charisma, I have what it takes. I never was the hardest hitting fighter but I was a special gifted fighter. I say this because now I’m a mom,” said West, 32, who has a son who turns one year old soon.
Twice she was promised her fights would be televised and were not shown. She also feels her generation of fighters came and went without the fanfare enjoyed by today’s generation.
“Carina Moreno didn’t get much recognition. Ava Knight, Wendy Rodriguez and especially Melinda Cooper didn’t get recognition though she was an incredible fighter,” said West about her contemporaries. “Even Mariana Juarez should have really been recognized in the US. Nobody knows her in the US and that’s B.S.”
Despite the lack of recognition and exposure West was part of a movement that brought both amateur and professional boxing to the Inland Empire. Today the I.E. is now home to several high powered boxing training camps in Riverside, Indio, Big Bear and Coachella housing many top prizefighters from around the world.
“I wouldn’t take any of it back,” said West of her past experiences. “But I would return and move up for a big money fight against a Mikaela Mayer or Amanda Serrano. No tune up necessary.”
Wild, Wild West has spoken.