Anything boxing related - just ask Chris
Anything boxing related - just ask Chris
Fate seems to revel in delaying our forward progress by placing obstructions of varying magnitude and measure of difficulty in our pathway. Worse still is that this occurs without the benefit of an instruction manual or roadmap to navigate our way around life’s potential pitfalls. Left to our own devices, the choices we make can be dubious at best, sometimes downright self-destructive. Only after gaining the kind of perspective arrived at by way of having taken detours down some of the darker roads the human mind can conjure did Alicia Doyle figure out the optimal trajectory.
“The only way out is through,” the two-time Golden Gloves winner philosophizes in her newly-published memoir, Fighting Chance. Alicia’s narrative provides the reader with a proverbial ringside seat to her revelatory journey through a hardscrabble life wherein she discovers not just one but two saving graces, journalism, and pugilism.
Written in engaging and conversational prose, Doyle categorizes her book as a “nonfiction novel” and begins each chapter with inspirational quotations, the majority of which come from three specific individuals. “Muhammad Ali, Cus D’Amato, and Jake LaMotta seem to understand that boxing is also a metaphor for life,” Alicia explained to me. “I chose these gentlemen because of the deep spiritual meaning behind their quotes, which relate to each chapter. I also love that these quotes are timeless and can be applied to life in general, not just boxing.”
Doyle’s childhood was marred by a turbulent home life, and Alicia happened to be an especially easy target for bullies in grade school and beyond due to the fact that her nearly total lack of self-worth resulted in continual overindulgence in comfort food and little concern for her personal appearance. Overweight, despondent, and increasingly desperate, the social isolation Doyle experienced in her formative years further fueled a deepening depression that led to a suicide attempt in her early teens.
Fortunately, she maintained a close relationship with her father Frank, an engineer who worked on the Cassini Spacecraft which, in October 2017, completed its twenty-year mission to study and photograph Jupiter and Saturn, with special emphasis on the ringed gas giant and its many moons and satellites. Even if he could not always be present in her life in a physical sense, her dad remained a source of emotional strength, moral support, and intellectual insight.
“One thing my father has consistently told me is: never change. This means the world to me, coming from one of the men I admire most,” Doyle states with undeniable pride. “My father knows my dark side and what I survived, and continue to battle emotionally. He has never told me that something is wrong with me, which I believed for many years. I thought I was broken. My father has always reinforced that I am who I am today is because of my life experience; I am strong today because of what I survived and continue to survive.”
While in the process of earning her Associates Degree, Alicia found an exhilarating and much-needed creative outlet in writing after fortuitously deciding on Journalism as an elective course. Doyle was a campus reporter for the Pierce College Roundup and would eventually serve as the university newspaper’s editor-in-chief, a valuable experience which ultimately led to her name appearing on bylines for the Larchmont Chronicle, LA Times, San Diego Union Tribune, and Los Angeles Daily News. It was during her subsequent stint with the Ventura County Star that Alicia was sent on assignment to cover the destruction wrought upon Simi Valley’s Kid Gloves Boxing Gym by the terrible force of nature known as El Niño.
Owned and operated by Robert Ortiz, a former bantamweight known in his fighting days in the 1980s as ‘Too Sweet’, Kid Gloves specializes in boxing programs designed for at-risk youth, “mostly Latinos and latchkey kids” as Alicia specifies in her book. Thanks to fundraising efforts, Ortiz’s gym was able to reopen in a new location in Simi Valley where Kid Gloves still functions as a vital part of the community to this day. More on that later.
Shortly after her two-part feature on Kid Gloves was published in the Ventura County Star, Doyle caught her boyfriend in the act of being unfaithful and, if that indignity wasn’t awful enough, he then chased Alicia down and physically assaulted her. Her desire not to become a statistic or be thought of as a victim brought Doyle back through the doors of Kid Gloves to participate in Robert’s boxing classes which, she was happy to discover, helped sculpt her muscles and build her self-esteem in equal measure. Although she quickly earned a reputation as one of the gym’s hardest workers, male or female, Ortiz responded to Alicia’s interest in pursuing prizefighting in an unexpected and admittedly hurtful way. “You’re too pretty to box,” he told her.
Ortiz worked past his initial reluctance to assume a prominent place in Alicia’s life. Doyle even credits Ortiz with dubbing her the ‘Disaster Diva’, a moniker he came up with after Alicia won her first Golden Gloves title by technical knockout in Lincoln Park in 1999. “Robert worked my corner during this bout, in which I was pitted against Robert’s sister-in-law, Shannon Ortiz. I dominated the ring during this battle and never backed down,” Alicia told me. “I stood my ground no matter what Shannon threw at me. From that point on, I was known as ‘Disaster Diva.’ My ring name further solidified with subsequent battles in which I drew blood. I earned a reputation for my bloody brawls, and the fact that I could break a woman’s nose with my left jab.”
Several profound quotes leapt off the page at me while reading Alicia’s book. This is a prime example. “You only find yourself when you fight yourself.” These words of wisdom were spoken to Doyle, after losing her first amateur fight, by Stan Ward who unfortunately passed away just recently at the age of 70, but had once slugged it out with some of the top names in the 1970s and 80s heavyweight division such as Mac Foster, Ron Lyle, Mike Weaver (three times, winning once), Greg Page, and Gerrie Coetzee. His heavy hands and imposing physique earned Ward the nickname ‘Avalanche’, but Alicia Doyle, as did countless others whom he mentored with tough love and devotion, referred to him as ‘Coach.’
“Stan Ward had a tremendous impact on developing my fighting skills because he nurtured my mental side,” said Doyle with regard to how Ward helped raise her ring IQ, tutorials which also translated into coping mechanisms that could be easily applied to dealing with troublesome issues outside the ropes as well as within her own mind. “He always taught me that boxing is only 10% physical—90% mental. This lesson was valuable in training and competition, because the stronger the mind is, the stronger the body is. Every time I thought I couldn’t finish a sparring session or even a fight, Coach would always tell me, ‘you can do this!’”
The brain may not be a muscle, nor does it technically function like one. However, there is a trace amount of muscle to be found among the gray matter and cellular structure, and the brain without a doubt demands just as much exercise and development as any other muscle, lest it atrophy. For those whose idle thoughts can become menacing ones, this is a serious business.
“My battles with feelings of social isolation, depression, and suicidal thoughts helped me prepare mentally and emotionally for the ring because I’ve battled, and survived, these feelings for as long as I can remember. I figured if I can overcome these debilitating thoughts, which take daily practice, I can survive a one-on-one battle in the roped-off square, which lasts a matter of minutes,” Alicia illustrated for me. Buddhism, the central tenet of which teaches its practitioners that “life is suffering”, has proven to be a critical component to her existential well-being. “Battling my emotions has been one of the biggest challenges in my lifetime, and something I have to work on every day. The pain I suffered, and continue to suffer, from these negative emotions were far worse than any physical battle I faced in boxing.”
Doyle begins Fighting Chance by recounting her first exhibition bout at the Simi Valley Boys and Girls Club. Her opponent? None other than a pound-for-pound living legend in the making. “Layla McCarter was one of the biggest role models I had while I was boxing. She was a teenager when I first competed against her, and she possessed wisdom far beyond her years,” recalls Alicia. Almost as if preordained, she and Layla would cross paths again in the 1998 National Blue and Gold championship tournament. McCarter is currently an eight-time, five-division world champion who has not lost a bout in over thirteen years and has been tellingly unsuccessful in acquiring a title fight against undisputed welterweight titleholder Cecilia Braekhus despite repeated attempts to do so.
“Layla and I didn’t talk much when I was boxing back in the 1990s. We never communicated other than seeing each other at matches, but we had developed tremendous respect for each other after we fought twice. We didn’t become friends until my book came out in February of this year and Layla and I reconnected,” Alicia informed me. “It’s been awesome knowing Layla on another level twenty years later; she’s HUGE in the world of women’s boxing and I couldn’t be happier for her. I will see Layla again in 2021 at the International Women’s Boxing Hall of Fame event. This was supposed to take place in Vegas this year but due to the virus, it’s been rescheduled for spring of 2021.”
I have long been a fan of Layla’s, and it is a genuine pleasure to have previously worked with her on a handful of feature stories. In fact, it was on her recommendation that I first contacted Alicia and bought a copy of Fighting Chance. Naturally, I reached out to Layla so that she could share some personal sentiments. “Alicia Doyle improved a lot from our first exhibition fight to our fight in the Blue and Gold Nationals in Baldwin Park. She kept improving because it was clear that she was determined. I had the experience but she had so much heart that I had to work for every moment of the fight to overcome it,” McCarter fondly remembers. “Her very dedicated mindset made me respect her and so I was happy to later help in her corner with my friend Robert Ortiz. You can’t teach heart. You either have it or you don’t…Alicia has it! I’m proud of her accomplishments in and out of the ring and was very impressed by her book. Her recollection of events as they happened helped me remember how things were and how I was during this time. Proud of the journalist, the boxer, the person that is Alicia Doyle.”
How’s this for some heavy-duty ideology? In her book, Alicia remembers ‘Coach’ Stan Ward saying, “One day, you’ll no longer need boxing to tell you who you are.” That day came soon after Doyle’s one and only professional fight on September 16, 2000 at the Castaic Brickyard opposite Lisa Valencia, who came into the ring with a 1-1 record and would likewise never again compete professionally. Valencia squeaked out a closely-contested unanimous decision in their action-packed four-round donnybrook, but losing the bout, disheartening though it was, ultimately played no part in Doyle’s decision to hang up the gloves.
“Boxing revealed to me that I care more about myself and my well-being than I realized; I also discovered that I had imposed myself in this world of pain—the hurt business. This was a conscious choice I made, and the longer I did it, the more I realized I didn’t want to hurt anymore,” confessed Alicia, a tenacious and resilient woman with not an ounce of quit in her. How could there be after toughing out every trial life had put her through? “I spent most of my life in emotional pain as a result of the circumstances around me. But when I decided to box, it was my choice, and I realized that I had put myself in a world of hurt. I had to ask myself why I was choosing to be hurt, or hurt others, in the sport. My pro fight was an incredibly difficult epic battle and I got hurt. My right ear has been altered to this day. After that pro fight, I realized I loved myself more than I thought. I cared about my brain and my physical well-being, and I didn’t want to get hurt anymore.”
Having left her secure position as a reporter to dedicate herself to training full-time for her professional debut, Doyle was faced with the challenge of consequently transitioning to an existence that did not involve benefitting from the fraternal atmosphere found within a newsroom or boxing ring. That said, Alicia became a freelance journalist who has since been called “The Writer Specializing in Good News” due to her propensity for covering a myriad of fascinating human interest stories. And then there is Robert Ortiz who it seems extended an open-door invitation for Alicia to return to Kid Gloves which she has in the role of volunteer coach, instructing and mentoring boys and girls between the ages of five and fourteen.
“Robert was always reinforcing that any dream or goal is possible. Robert’s always reciting the ABC’s backwards: Conceive, Believe, Achieve. I LOVE passing this wisdom along to the girls in the boxing class,” enthuses Alicia. “It’s hard to describe the elation I feel when I see a girl master a combination or execute a boxing move perfectly after weeks of practice. I especially love the look on their faces when they succeed—this is priceless! I love watching their confidence soar. I am honored to have the opportunity to share what I learned.”
It is undeniable that great advancements have been made in the realm of women’s boxing over the last several years alone, but it’s no less true that there are still inroads to be made in the struggle for equity, respect, and media coverage. “I’m extremely happy that Women’s Boxing is now allowed in the Olympic Games, which was made possible in 2012. While this effort has brought more legitimacy to women’s boxing, women in the sport still have a long way to go,” Doyle acknowledges. “There’s still a huge disparity in the pay women receive compared to men in the sport of boxing; yet women work just as hard training for these pro matches.”
During her admittedly brief boxing career, which saw Doyle tally up an amateur record of 5-5 with 3 knockouts, she was no stranger to cat-calls, wolf-whistles, and all manner of demeaning objectification. She is hopeful, however, that the time will come, sooner rather than later, that female fighters being viewed as novelty acts and second-class citizens will continue to slip away into the past with other antiquated notions, giving rise to a more generally enlightened mindset. “It’s going to take time to improve people’s perception of women’s involvement in boxing,” Doyle admits, “because the sport has been male-dominated for so many decades.”
Not until last year did the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York finally include female fighters on its induction ballot. Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker, and women’s boxing trailblazer Barbara Buttrick were voted in as of December 2019 and will be enshrined next June alongside three other female competitors who will be elected to the class of 2021, standing on the dais in the company of their male counterparts. “It wasn’t that long ago that women were allowed the right to vote, which took many years of changing perceptions,” says Alicia pragmatically. “The best way to change people’s perceptions of women in boxing is for more women to get involved and showcase their athleticism in the sport. It’s also helpful that MEN are promoting and supporting women in boxing; men still have a stronger voice because this is a male-dominated sport, so men who promote women in boxing help promote our cause.”
Just last month, Alicia inked a deal with Empowering Entertainment to bring Fighting Chance to the big screen. “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Alicia wrote to me, adding that the idea of having her life story being made into a movie “feels surreal!” Film producer, award-winning screenwriter, and best-selling author Slavica Bogdanov is spearheading the project as well as having personally adapted Alicia’s book into a screenplay.
“We are currently in development. We have a director reading the script and once he is on board things will start to accelerate. The film will most likely be released sometime next year, probably in the summer,” Slavica informed me by email. “Alicia’s story teaches us about inner strength, perseverance, and determination, that we can achieve anything if we put our minds to it and that our past is definitely not a life sentence. I loved her vulnerability and openness. It makes us relate to her. I think her story can inspire many to reach higher and become better than they are.”
Bogdanov related to many facets of Alicia’s story on a personal level and hopes that others will be similarly uplifted by its positive message, which is something I think we could all use right about now. “I decided to make this film because Empowering Entertainment is all about creating powerful stories to inspire and empower millions worldwide,” she elaborated. “I love female-lead true stories that elevate our spirits, transformational tales of strengthened souls. I am looking forward to producing the film. We plan some big name talents involved. It will be a must-watch and, who knows, maybe there will even be a sequel.”
If it were up to Alicia Doyle to cast the role of herself in the film version of Fighting Chance, I was curious to know who she felt might be the perfect fit. “Maggie Q (from the Divergent trilogy, as well as the recently-released Fantasy Island) is a choice because I’ve been told I look like her,” Alicia responded. “There’s an unspoken intensity behind Maggie Q’s eyes that I feel would be fitting for the role. I also love the intensity and strong female presence of Korinna Moon Bloodgood (Terminator Salvation, NCIS: Los Angeles). Whoever portrays me will need to be able to convey the light and the dark side as well as extreme vulnerability—and above all, strength.”
Fighting Chance is available through online book retailers, primarily Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Better yet, pay a visit to www.aliciadoyle.com to order a personally autographed copy.