Even with an imperfect record and maybe a few too many blemishes in recent years, Kali Reis wouldn’t change a thing.”I’d rather have the experience, because I’ve had the losses,” Reis said, “but I haven’t gotten beat. I’ve learned a lot more from the losses than the wins.”
Reis’ career is like that of many female boxers. Without financial backing or influence from major promoters, many of whom don’t see the value in developing female fighters without the promise of television dollars in return, most of them wind up having to fight their own way to the top.
Such is the case for Reis (7-5-1, 3 KOs), a Providence, R.I., native, who parlayed early success on the local circuit into four world-title shots in four different countries over the past two years, among them a knockout win over Teresa Perozzi in November of 2014 in Bermuda to capture the then vacant International Boxing Association (IBA) Female Middleweight Title.
Raised by a single parent, her mother, Patricia Baptista, the Native American Reis is a Seaconke Wampanoag who also descends from the Nipmuk and Cherokee tribes. The temptation of drugs and alcohol in her neighborhood led her down the wrong path early in life before she found her way to the gym at the age of 13, where she began training under the guidance of Peter Manfredo Sr. and Roland Estrada.
Having fought everywhere from Costa Rica to Germany — not to mention a scheduled bout in New Zealand in April for yet another world title — Reis is the true definition of a boxing road warrior, but before she packs her bags two months now, she makes a rare appearance in her backyard Friday, Feb. 19th, 2016 to fight for the Universal Boxing Federation (UBF) World Female Super Welterweight Title at Twin River Casino, her first fight in Rhode Island in more than three years.
“I’m excited. I need the hometown support. It means a lot to me,” Reis said. “Being a road warrior does take its toll mentally. I’m always the underdog and I’ve kind of welcomed that, but sometimes I need support from my hometown, that hometown crowd, with the right coaches in my corner. I need that feeling.”
Not only will Reis get to sleep in her own bed before her next fight, she’ll also have the support of one of boxing’s biggest ambassadors for female fighters, CES Boxing president Jimmy Burchfield Sr., who successfully guided Jaime Clampitt, Missy Fiorentino and Shelly Vincent to world championships and helped revive the career of former world-title challenger Sandy Tsagouris in the mid-2000s.
Reis’ short-term plan is to take care of business on the 19th against New Mexico native Victoria Cisneros (12-18-2, 5 KOs) in the 10-round co-feature of CES’ 2016 season debut, then head overseas again in April to bring the vacant World Boxing Council (WBC) World Female Middleweight Title back to Providence.
The constant travel, jumping from one weight class to the next, it’s all par for the course in women’s boxing, where fighters need to be flexible in order to stay relevant.
“It’s my job, so I have to do it,” said Reis, who will fight at 150 pounds on the 19th and then jump to 160 when she travels to New Zealand. “That’s just women’s boxing.
“It doesn’t get the same exposure and respect in the [United States] as it does overseas. I’ve experienced in Germany, they treat you really well. In Europe, South America, it’s such a different dynamic as to how they treat their female athletes in general.”
Reis has fought for world title in three different weight classes, starting in 2014 when she faced Tori Nelson for the Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) World Welterweight Title. She later fought 18-0 Christina Hammer for the World Boxing Organization (WBO) World Female Middleweight Title, dropping Hammer in the 10th and final round, and then five months later dropped to super welterweight to fight Hannah Gabriel in Costa Rica for another WBO crown.
The combined record of Reis’ last four opponents is a staggering 61-8-4 and she went the distance three times on enemy soil against fighters ranked among the top 3 in the world in their respective weight class.
Maybe she could’ve taken an easier path — maybe not — but the reality is Reis is battle-tested as she enters the next phase of her career, a road that begins with a much-needed return to her old stomping grounds.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself, about the business side of boxing, I’ve learned a lot skill-wise,” she said. “It’s been great to travel the world and learn how women’s boxing works in different countries, and boxing as a whole. I would never change my experience.
“I haven’t had anyone say, ‘K.O., hang it up. That was a bad fight.’ I’ve just gone back to the drawing board. ‘You didn’t do this. You did this right, but you didn’t do this.’ Throwing enough punches is always the name of the game and we’ve pinpointed why.
“We’ve been working on it, so, moving forward, I like the experience I’ve gotten because it’s taught me a lot. I have a solid foundation to build a lot of success on. I’m ready now.”