Alicia Ashley in the ring to win back her WBC Title on 10/29/2015
Alicia “Slick” Ashley remains one of the most compelling fighters in women’s boxing not only for her longevity in the sport (she fought in the first ever U.S. nationals as an amateur in the late 1990s), but in her ability to perform at the top of her game as a virtuoso of the art of boxing. And no wonder too, Ashley started her career as a dancer before embracing kickboxing and eventually the sweet science.
At 48, (yes that’s a story too), Ashley will be heading back into the ring on October 29th at Aviator Sports & Events Center in New York City (a complex located on the famed Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn) with a view towards reclaiming the WBC Female Super Bantamweight Titlebelt she lost, some would say controversally so, to Jackie Nava thirteen months ago in Mexico. Ashley will battle against Ireland’s Christina McMahon (7-0), a 40-year-old latercomer to the professional side of the sport who holds the current interim WBC Female Bantamweight Title. The co-main event is on a Brooklyn Brawl card promoted by Dimitry Salita.
Ashley’s career has tracked alongside the near-on tragic highs and lows of women’s boxing in the panoply of American sports television with its boom-bust cycle of support, promotion, paydays and opportunities for the talented working professionals who grace the boxing gyms of the U.S. across the country with their remarkable work ethic and love of a game that at best ignores them and at worst actively seeks to keep them off the air–and thereby out of the running for the opportunity to earn a living.
That tide of lows *may* be on a slight uptick given that CBS Sports (cable) aired the four-round Amanda Serrano v. Fatima Zarika fight on 5/29/2015 (the first such fight on the network since the late 1970s) and the very public statements by Shane Mosely castigating the boxing industry for keeping women’s boxing off the air. To prove that it wasn’t just all “mouth,” he went on to put the Maureen Shea v. Luna AvilaIBF World Female Super Bantamweight ten round title fight on his Pay Per View card on 8/29/2015 with the promise that there will be more to come–although there has been little to no discussion about it since.
For Ashley, long an advocate for equity in the sport, the potential uptick–which those of us in the game who truly advocate for women’s boxing watch as avidly as the Dow Jones–this may mean the opportunity for slightly higher pay days, but given that she is a champion four times over, she’s far from being known as Alicia “Money” Ashley, and can only earn a decent payday in places like Mexico (likely the equivalent of “Money” Mayweather‘s tips after a night out in Las Vegas). And by a slightly higher pay-day, I mean the chance to take a vacation or upgrade the equipment she uses as a boxing trainer at Gleason’s Gym where she works from early in the morning till late in the day, six days a week.
This is the life of a female boxing champion–our Bernard Hopkins, if you will, whose dancer-like poise, defensive genius and ring savvy thrills each and every time she steps into the ring.
Ahead of her championship title match, Ashley continues to labor at Gleason’s Gym where “camp” means adding in an extra couple of hours a day to spar and train in addition to working with her clients. This is not an unknown as other female boxing champions/trainers such as Heather Hardy, Shelito Vincent and Keisher “Fire” McLeod must do the same to earn enough money to compete. On the “bright side,” being a trainer means pretty much staying in condition, if not in boxing “game day” shape. Hmmm….
In between her busy schedule, Ashley took the time to respond to a Girlboxing Q & A. Here’s what she had to say:
1. You’ve got an upcoming WBC Female Superbantamweight fight on 10/29/2015 at Aviator Sports in Brooklyn, NY for the vacant title against Irish boxer Christina McMahon. Although at 41 years of age she’s only 7-0, she does have the interim WBC World Bantamweight title. What can you tell us about her and how this bout came together?
I actually don’t know that much about Christina other than her going into someone else’s back yard and winning the title. There isn’t that much video on her and I feel her record doesn’t fully speak to her experience. She, like I, joined the sport after fighting as a kickboxing champion and that in itself means she’s not new to the game. Every opponent is dangerous no matter their experience.
2. You lost the title a year ago to Jackie Nava, a fight some observers felt you may have won or at the very least fought to a draw (as one judge saw it)–with the loss coming because of how your style (you are called “Slick” for a reason) is one that the Mexican judges may not have felt showed enough to score rounds in your favor. Even with that loss, you had a TKO win over Grecia Nova two months later in Haiti–where you continued to fight in your cool “slick” manner. As you prepare to fight McMahon — what are you focusing on to ensure that the judges will see the fight your way if it goes the distance?
I can only ‘fight’ my fight. Yes, I am a slick boxer and although the desire is to never leave it in the hands of the judges, sometimes there is nothing you can do about it. I’m not known as a knockout artist but I think my style of boxing will definitely be appreciated more here in the US. It’s not just about being a hard puncher, it’s about being effective.
3. We’ve talked before about the state of women’s boxing, the frustration of finding promoters to put women’s bouts on cards, the frustration of seeing cards put together only to fall apart (as happened with this fight originally scheduled for September), the intense battle for pay equity (a losing one for certain right now), along with the continued absence of female bouts on television in America with very few exceptions. Given that Amanda Serrano appeared on CBS in late May, and Maureen Shea on Shane Mosely’s PPV card at the end of August, along with two female bouts on PBC cards on 9/11/ & 9/12 respectively, if not on television–in your view, is there any reason for optimism?
I should hope that there’s always reason for optimism, but its disappointing that in this day and age the amount of female fights broadcast can be counted on one hand. I’ve been in this business over 14yrs and am still shocked that I’m more well known in other countries. That they are more inclined to showcase female fighters than we are. This I feel is the main reason we continue to get astronomically low wages. In fact, 10 years ago when I fought for my first title I earned more than they are offering women now. How can we continue to accept way less than we are worth and then expect it to get better? This battle cannot just be fought by a few women.
4. I’ve been fortunate enough to have observed you take a wide range of male and female boxers to school sparring at Gleason’s Gym, not to mention having seen a few of your fights in person over the last few years. At 48, you are continuing not only to fight competitively, but seemingly to remain at the top of your game. Win, lose or draw on the 29th, are you of a mind to continue boxing competitively for the foreseeable future?
I continue to fight not only because I love the sport but because I do remain competitive. I can honestly say that I leave my fights and sparring without any serious damage. That is the main reason I have longevity in this sport, the ability to not get hit. Other than people being shocked at my age, which is not noticeable in or out of the ring, I’m not battle weary in any way.
5. You are an inspiration to female boxers and have developed into a phenomenal trainer and coach. Do you see yourself pushing on that front to start seeking out professional women to train and take into that aspect of the sport–or will you continue to focus on women new to the sport or pushing their way into the amateurs?
Thank you. I feel its important to pass on any knowledge that I have and am very honored at the women, amateurs or professionals, who seek me out and are accepting of it. The one thing that I’ve been working on is doing a female fight seminar. This is more about being able to break down fighting styles, picking up the nuances of a technique and being able to adjust accordingly. Quite a few females that I’ve sparred, especially in round robin, are surprised at how well I can adjust to the different styles and I believe experience with seeing the ‘bigger picture’ is an important tool to the trade. Anything that I can do to elevate women’s boxing, I will.
6. What do you tell your young female fighters who may want to enter the sport professionally? Or put another way, is there a future for them to seek out?
I’m hoping that with each new generation of female fighters that there is some kind of progress in the right direction. I try to be realistic with my fighters and they are not clueless. Most, if not all the female fighters, have a full time job and don’t expect to break the bank as a professional. What we are hoping is to at least be able to live comfortably and at this point very, very few women can attest to that.
7. You always talked about boxing as performance–if you do decide to wind down the competitive aspects of your career in the sport do you see other avenues for expressing art in the public realm?
It’s very hard for me to look past boxing right now. It was the same with dance. I had no other avenues mapped out before I was injured and its the same now. I’m currently teaching the sport so I essentially I already am in that new chapter.
8. I look upon you in awe sometimes as a professional fighter, body artist–because to tell you the truth that how it appears in your case–and talent when it comes to coaching and mentoring. What does it all feel like as you perform in those roles and as you look to embark on yet another performance on the 29th? In other words, what is that is motivating you to express yourself so strongly and with such power in the ring?
I’m in awe myself when people express such respect or inform me that I’m an inspiration to them. As you know, I always equate my boxing as a performance and its my duty to entertain and captivate the audience for 20 minutes. Attention span is so short nowadays that its a challenge in itself to keep people mesmerized and that is all the motivation I need.
Alicia Ashley versus Jackie Nava … you be the judge.
Six Women’s Boxing Champions at Gleason’s Gym: (l to r) Melissa St. Vil, Fire McLeod, Heather Hardy, Ronica Jeffries, Susie Ramadan, Alicia Ashley. Photo credit: Hosking Promotions
Women’s boxing has garnered a fair amount of press in the United States of late from the split-draw IBF Female Super Bantamweight title fight between Maureen “The Real Million Dollar Baby” Shea(24-2-1) and Luna “La Cobrita” Avila (12-2-1) on Shane Mosely’s Pay Per View extravaganza, to the announcement that Holly “The Preacher’s Daughter” Holm (33-2-3) will fight UFC’s reigning WMMA champion Ronda Rousey in November on the UFC193 card in Melbourne, Australia.
Action will also be heating up in September with a series of bouts featuring East Coast professional female boxers including the return of Alicia “Slick” Ashley (22-10-1) in a WBC Female Superbantamweight title fight on September 15th, Shelito Vincent (14-0) in an 8-rounder at Foxwoods Casino on September 12th (with the top of the card broadcast on NBC), Ronica Jeffrey (13-1) in a 6-rounder on September 11th, and Amanda Serrano in a 6-rounder on September 10th.
Added to that mix will be Australian boxer “Shotgun”Shannon O’Connell (11-3) making her North American boxing debut in Toronto against Canadian fighter Sandy “Lil Tyson” Tsagouris.The two will battle in an 8-rounder on the undercard of a PBC/Spike TVcard headed by the Adonis Stevenson v. Tommy KarpencyWBC World light heavyweight title fight.
Ahead of her fight, Shannon O’Connell along with two-time world champion Susie Q. Ramadan (23-3) have embarked on a tour of the U.S. with their trainers, promoter Lynden Hosking of Hosking Promotions and U.S. advisor, Eddie Montalvo. The tour has led the two fighters to New York City, and the world-famous Gleason’s Gym where both women had the opportunity to meet with the likes of Keisher “Fire” McLeod,Ronica Jeffries, Melissa St. Vil, Alicia Ashley, and Heather Hardy–a veritable who’s who of women’s boxing champions.
Girlboxing had a chance to meet and talk with O’Connell, Ramadan, promoter Hosking and Heather Hardy who sparred Ramadan for three tough hard-fought rounds. While the interviews were brief, the sentiment expressed was one of optimism for the sport over all and most importantly of the need for connection and support among the fighters as they battle for recognition and opportunities to practice their art.
Women’s Boxing: Thinking about “What Matters, What May Never”
Chris Namus (left) and Leli Luz Flores, Monetevido, Credit: Pablo Porciuncula/AFP/Getty Images
Lyle Fitzsimmons over at Boxing Scene.com has a provocative piece about the state of women’s boxing.
Entitled “Reading the Reactions: What Matters, What May Never,” his thesis is that despite great strides in women’s boxing and his own personal hucksterism, if he judges support for the sport based on reactions to his columns it barely registers as a blip on the screen.
Given the momentum of a steady increase in positive press, such phenomenal fights as the recent Torres vs. Nava battle and the fact that women boxers are filling the seats with paying customers at stadiums and other venues all over the world, Fitzsimmons’ prognosis is depressing indeed.
Perhaps part of the problem is that here in the United States it’s hard to see a women’s bout unless one is willing to watch small market presentations, streaming-video on a laptop or after the fact YouTube videos. I mean lets face it, when was the last time HBO, Showtime or Friday Night Fights bothered to put a women’s bout on the air? In HBO’s defense, at least they’ve had women’s bouts on their two most recent undercards!
There’s also the issue of breaking through the “novelty” aspects of the sport that continue as an underlying current in mainstream discussions of the women’s boxing. Meanwhile, phenomenal female fighters in the amateur and pro-ranks continue to ply their trade with hard work and a sense of mission that sees them moving forward no matter the vitriol that is thrown their way in comment boxes across the internet or, as in the case of Fitzsimmons’ thesis, a lack of interest all together.
Even given that I am biased by Girlboxing’s support of the sport, the butts in the seats seem to tell a different tale as a world-wide phenomenon, and while Fitzsimmons laments that the coming 2012 Olympics are a ho-hum moment to his readers, I would posit that given how far the sport has come in less than 20 years is something to spur optimism for its future.
I know I keep harping on this one, but that fact that there is an Afghan Women’s Boxing Team at all sends the message that this sport is not going away, and despite the purported lack of interest among fanatical fans with nothing better to do than opine as to the prospects for the upcoming Pacquaio-Mosely fight, Philippine Pac-women fill the house as did Ana Julatan, the great Philippine-American fighter in her recent main event championship bout in Riverside, California.
Women’s boxing is not going away — and whether there is ever another women’s championship bout on one of the major outlets or not, it is still seen and supported by serious fans of the sport throughout the United States — and in terms of the international embrace of the sport is regularly televised as mainstream national events with huge support from the sports establishment, especially in places such as Mexico, Argentina and Uruguay.
Again, ticket sales don’t lie and seats are being sold — and even if Fitzsimmons’ readers don’t “get it,” the sport is evolving with new generations of fighters crossing the ropes and putting their hearts and souls on the line to make their way as boxers if for nothing else, than for love of the sport.
The Sweet Science.com is carrying a story about the Bob Arum’s move from HBO to Showtime-CBS — and the potential of putting “terrestrial television” aka plain-vanilla broadcast TV back into the mix. The main thrust of Bob Arum and Top Rank’s deal is giving him “ad spots and live coverage during CBS programming [that] will run either the first or last episode of a four-part promotional countdown to the fight show on CBS in prime time (the others will run on SHOWTIME). In addition, Top Rank will be allowed to sell ad spots that help cover the production costs of that show.” [Link to the full article here.]
This is pretty heady stuff and puts in my such glory days of boxing as the kind of main event fights that played on broadcast television from the 1950’s on through the great warrior battles of Muhammad Ali well into the 1970’s.
Howard Cosell and Mohammed Ali
The net effect of Arum’s move to Showtime-CBS will certainly bring more viewers for his upcoming Cotto-Mayorga fight, but more importantly will give him time to promote Manny Pacquiao’s May 7th fight: a cross back into the realm of broadcast television thereby burnishing the place of the prize fighter in American lore.
Imagine this — the deal includes live promotion on CBS Morning Show and will also feature Christy Martin on CBS Talk Shows. As well, in the run up to the Pacquiao fight, a feature spot will run on 60 Minutes one week prior to the fight.
As I’ve stated in an earlier column on the popularity of The Fighter and the splash that the new series Lights On is having on FX, boxing has found new life as people begin to view boxing as a way of battling through their own issues large and small. For the fighter, it may still be a way out of “Palookaville,” but for the rest of us it’s a way out of powerlessness in a world that is moving way to fast for its own good. I don’t know enough about the promoting game to be a fan one way or another of Bob Arum, but what I can say, is that his move to the wider audience of broadcast television shows that he is in touch with the subtle changes in the place of boxing on the American consciousness. From the perspective of boostering women’s boxing, Bob Arum is also placing his money on the future place of women’s boxing in the prize fighting game, and given where we are vis-a-vis the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, that is a great thing.