A Trained Dancer
Slick is Alicia Ashley’s nickname. When asked why she says with a mischievous smile, ‘she so slick she never get hit.’ Ashley is sitting in her office in Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, the walls are covered with framed pictures of her in the ring and her winning belts are displayed triumphantly from up high. It’s hard to believe that she is forty-seven years old as she exudes a youthfulness that is at odds with the fact that she has been boxing for twenty of those years. She is a boxing genius, and is a four time world champion.
Her path to boxing is inextricably linked to her brother Devo. When they were growing up he was involved in karate, kickboxing and boxing. At the time Ashley’s interests lay elsewhere. Her father was a professional dancer and choreographer, her goal was to follow him into the dance world. ‘I started dancing at age six in various different styles from ballet to modern and plenty in between. I got dance scholarships but in my first year at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater I tore my meniscus which meant that I couldn’t dance anymore, it was devastating.’
Her brother encouraged her to take up kickboxing for exercise, the time she had spent studying to be a dancer instilled an athleticism and work ethic that meant it was easy for her to transition into it. ‘At my first kickboxing match I fought a boxer, you get to kick eight rounds. Boxers usually get that out of the way first so when she started punching I really didn’t know what to do, I had to keep her on the outside to my legs to win the fight. After that fight I knew I had to get my hands better so I went into boxing and I realised that I really liked it.’
She soon was excelling at the sport and commentators noted the way she carried herself, ‘I move like a dancer instinctively there is a fluidity in the way that I move but my posture was way up here,’ she holds her hand above her head, ‘in boxing it needs to be lower. It was really hard for me to keep my head forward and close to the person I always wanted to pull back. It took many years to get my posture right,’ she points to the photos of her on the wall to explain the change.
‘I regret going pro as you don’t get as many fights.’ Ashley loves to box and when she was an amateur she had many fights to enter however when she turned pro the dynamic shifted, ‘if you’re not signed to a promoter you’re an opponent and you have to look for fights. Boxers that are signed by promoters can say I don’t want to fight her! It’s not like in the old days when fights were mandatory.’ Her frustration is palpable, it could be interrupted that she’s being punished for being too good.
She never expected to make big money from boxing so whilst she was fighting she continued to work full-time as a computer technician, ‘most men get sponsored to train but the majority of women that box have to work full-time to support themselves.’
She’s a natural performer and is happiest when centre stage, it’s what makes her tick. ‘You have boxers that just want to kill, I never had that killer instinct, I just want to perform. If I hurt you I will take a step back and be like, oh did I hurt you? will I keep going? Then someone in my corner will be shouting keep going! And I’m like, oh yeah!’
She is more well known outside the United States then in it in spite of her accomplishments. Her country of birth is Jamaica and they have presented her with a lifetime achievement award. Something that she is visibility proud of, they invite her back every year to give seminars, ‘it’s really nice when I see young girls at them,’ she beams.
In the 1990’s there was a boom in women’s professional boxing with names like Christy Martin and Laila Ali but Ashley says that flash of attention is gone. ‘The US is supposed to be a progressive country but they didn’t even show the women boxing in the 2012 Olympics on regular TV. It’s disheartening because the women were the only ones that came back with medals. Claressa Shields won gold and Marlen Esparza won bronze. It’s very disappointing because you think if they don’t should amateur then they probably will never show professional.’ Ashley doesn’t do self pity, even in her tricky situation, she’s upbeat and laid-back. ‘I’m hopeful that the younger generation of promoters will take more chances on women versus the older promoters that have used the playboy model angle.’ Lingerie Football being a product of that thinking.
She still is boxing but as mentioned earlier the fights are not as often as she would like however she now trains men and women full-time, something that she loves doing.
Film is a recent area that she has branched into, the most memorable appearance being in Girlfight where she played boxer Ricki Stiles. Her second degree black belt in karate has helped towards her becoming a stunt coordinator, a new challenge that she enjoys but is still incredulous at some of the things she’s agreed to. ‘In one film I fell from a three storey building into cardboard boxes!’ She rolls her eyes in disbelief.
What is very clear is that her need to perform can never be stifled and the stunt work has been an unexpected but welcome addition to her life, ‘when I box I have this mentality that I am the star and you’re the background,’ she says softly, ‘I’m going to look good and you’re not!’ Now her star is transcending the ring.