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A Conversation with Kali Reis

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I had the good fortune this weekend to speak with Kali Reis, who many of you will know from her HBO debut in which she and Cecilia Braekhus became the first women ever to fight live on HBO.

Her story does not end there, and it definitely does not begin there. Kali has over ten years clocked in the sport, fought around the globe, been the WBC Middleweight Champion, and has now cemented herself among the big names in boxing.

I asked Kali how she was feeling going into her upcoming June 30th fight with Paty Ramirez…

..and asked what fans can expect to see from her. She stressed the importance of growing as boxer to me saying, “We’ve had an excellent camp just like the last one, and we kind of got into our groove coming off that last fight. Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted we definitely learned so much from that. [Fans can expect me] to continue to improve and have fun in there.” 

Of course, that last fight was with Unified Welterweight Champion Cecilia Braekhus. Reis lost in a unanimous decision, but as she alluded to it was a great learning experience for her. Coming into that fight Braekhus had never tasted the canvas but with a perfect right – what Reis calls a flash right hand – she floored the champion in the seventh round, something she says she was building to after a slow start. 

“I’ve been working on my right hand, trying to get more snap on my punches. The thing I definitely did learn during that fight was sometimes I think a little bit too much and try to do things way too perfect, instead of just letting it go. In the later rounds we were looking for the right hand, we knew that certain things were definitely going to work and other things we were going to have to time her. I also have that sneaky, flash right hand as well, so I was definitely trying to get her timing down because I knew once it landed it was going to be a big shot.”

It was a big a shot, not only in the seventh with the knock-down but later in the fight when she once again staggered Braekhus with a similar shot. The champion held and managed to stay on her feet. 

Continuing on the topic of learning about herself as a fighter, Reis talked about getting off to a slow start in that fight, and when things started to change for her. 

“Going into the fourth or fifth it kind of clicked for me, like I am supposed to be here. I can actually be better than her if I put my mind to it and just let my hands go, you know what I mean? Not taking anything away from Braekhus or to build myself up, but I had that ‘aha’ moment where I thought, ‘I am better than this chick,’ and then was able to put my foot on the gas. I wish I’d had that same intensity from the start of the fight, but I definitely learned that I belong with the elite fighters, that I am one of them.”

I asked then what it meant for her to be a part of this historic card on HBO, to be part of the instrument that could break the glass ceiling that exists in the sport. To be one of the women responsible for the ever-increasing respect for women in boxing was great for her, Reis told me, but she was sure to include Braekhus in celebrating the achievement, which she says was timed perfectly for her personally.

“It was, and it still is – it’s going to linger for quite some time – such an honour. And for me it was right on time. I know for myself, personally, if that opportunity had come along say two years prior to this, with where I was mentally and as far as not having a promoter, I think I probably wouldn’t have handled it as well I did as far as not being intimidated by the lights, the people from HBO, that calibre of card. It was such an amazing feeling, we were part of history. Not just me being part of history, not just Braekhus being part of history, we were part of that history.”

She went on to talk about the importance of their fight on HBO in the context of women in boxing going forward.

“That was such an important thing, not just for us individually, but for women’s boxing on the whole. We wanted to put on a great show, so we could set that tone. We didn’t want any kind of mismatch or any lowly kind of fight, we wanted to actually bring it, so this can be something that’s regularly seen on networks such as HBO. So that those networks will have cards with more than one women’s fight on the card.”

We talked then about what that future could look like. Does Reis see this as the first of many cards like this, with women’s boxing put where it belongs – on par with men’s boxing?

“I can only hope that this can start the momentum for them to put women’s boxing on more regularly. Luckily, we have Claressa Shields versus Hanna Gabriels and Tori Nelson versus Christina Hammer next week on Showtime, a network everyone watches. So hopefully other networks and promoters will start following suit and this will just be a common thing. There’s so much talent from around the world in women’s boxing, it’s a great time to be a female fighter. Hopefully we can keep it flowing and these cards won’t be something special, they’ll become a regular thing.”

From there the discussion turned to her plans going forward, what she wants to accomplish over the next few years. 

“I just want to stay active, keep learning and keep progressing. And hopefully that rematch comment from Braekhus was truth and wasn’t just something to calm down the boos in the background. We’ll wait and see, but while I’m waiting I definitely want to stay active and busy and keep progressing. Especially being at this elite level I want to stay ready, so I don’t have to get ready. So if that rematch does come along we won’t be going into that first round, it will be round eleven.”

With the topic of the rematch already on the table, I asked Reis if she felt she was entering her prime, and if she felt she was reaching another gear in her career as a fighter.

“I think there’s another gear, I’m definitely entering a level of physical prime for my career, but I think there’s quite a few gears left, that’s why it’s so exciting to see where I am now and where I could be,” she told me. 

Then, describing what has been one of the biggest changes for her, she spoke at length about finally signing with a promoter. 

“I wasn’t signed up until my fight in November [against Tiffany Woodward] to Star Boxing, I had a kind of clawing and scratching career up to this point. I never had a promoter up until that point, I never really had a manager to look after things so I could worry about training camps and be able to focus on what I need to focus on to become an elite fighter. Even though this was my twenty-first fight, I feel like this is just the start of my career as an elite fighter.

“Trying to juggle calling different matchmakers, or even trying to get a coach to go with you some places because they have too many other fighters in the gym, the physical, working out part is easy compared to that. On the flip side, I wouldn’t trade my career for anybody else’s or signing with a promoter for my pro debut and getting built up as opposed to my road warrior type style because it’s taught me so much. Not just the throwing punches part of boxing, but the ins and outs of the business. I’m actually thankful that I had to go through a lot to get here now, but it’s a blessing to have a promoter now. Having a backing so I don’t get low-ball offers because I don’t have a choice and they know I’ll fight anyone, anytime. Having a promoter who can handle all the legal side is great, along with a manger who can handle the rest. All I have to do now right now is box, train, and get myself mentally ready. I can see now why boxers who have a team are so happy all the time.”

Being with a promoter has given Reis more exposure as well, such as her recent interview with NESN during a Red Sox game. She said it was a great experience for her and credits her promoters at Star Boxing for making it happen. “Star Boxing set that up for me, it’s awesome that I don’t have to put myself out there to get these opportunities.” She’s hopeful that, as she calls them, the hardest working promoter in the sport, Star Boxing will eventually work out a deal to have her back on HBO sometime soon.

And hopefully she is back soon. Her next fight is June 30th, and you can buy your tickets here. 

With the big names beginning to emerge in the women’s welterweight division, expect Kali Reis to become a fixture over the next few months. Finally with a great promoter in Joe DeGuardia and with her manager Brian Cohen, Reis is poised to be recognized, possibly,  among the Hammer’s and Shields’ of the world as star in the sport.

 

Read more Penney here.

Thomas Penney is a freelance writer. He writes about boxing for NY Fights, and whoever else will have him. Send tips to tpjp28@mun.ca.

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