It seems that every quarter-century boxing introduces us to a breakout megastar who transcends the sport in ways that only a select group have been able to able to experience. It started with John L. Sullivan when he entered a realm where the sheer mention of your name, whether first or last or your nickname, generates a type of buzz that sends chills down the spines of boxing’s staunchest of followers. Jack Dempsey was partly responsible for boxing’s first $1M gate in his July 2, 1921, heavyweight matchup with French boxer-puncher, Georges Carpentier. It was Dempsey’s style of fighting that generated the fan fair. Muhammad Ali was larger than life and it showed with the outpouring he received during the coverage of his famous ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ fight with George Forman on October 30, 1974, in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire). Mike Tyson was destined for championship glory early on when people saw his combination of power, speed, and explosiveness. These three men were the most known sports figures at their absolute peaks. There are countless others who have a claim to a similar status. Now, ask yourself whether you’ve seen this level of buzz and popularity surrounding a female fighter?
Enter Samoa native and current Super Featherweight, Fei Faiva, 4-0 (3 KOs) of Catskill Boxing Club in Catskill, New York. No worries if you don’t know who she is at the moment as her current trajectory will see fit that you do in the near future. Catskill Boxing Club is most famous for the late Cus D’Amato, famous for perfecting the Peek-a-Book boxing style. His most famous protege, of course, was none of than Mike Tyson. I actually caught up with Faiva and manager, Kyle Lyles, as she was prepping for sparing. “I grew up in Samoa,” stated Faiva. “I was there until I was eight years old, then I moved to the states.” I searched for another fighter out of Samoa and didn’t find an active fighter outside of Faiva, which is unique in itself. “Fei was in Memphis, Tennessee until she was 12 years old. She was working out of a gym there and the trainer at the gym referred us to the Catskill Boxing Club,” stated Lyles. It isn’t coincidental that she was referred to Catskill Boxing Club as her style is uncannily identical to that of Tyson’s. “She wanted to fight the Cus D’Amato style and follow in Mike”s (Tyson) footsteps,” stated Lyles. “She’s been training out of the Cus D’Amato Gym for the last five years.”
When asked whether a difference has been noticed since transitioning from the amateurs and pros, Faiva responded “No. I can’t say that I’ve realized a difference as of yet.” This is in part because Faiva is essentially learning on the job. Faiva’s style, much likes Tyson’s, is built around her explosiveness and power. This has resulted in her stopping her last three opponents in the first round. She has a brutal level of pop in her punches at only 18 years of age. This puts the onus on finding the right opponents who are willing to step in and face the mystique. “In the amateurs, she was going to a lot of tournaments and fights and wasn’t getting the fights because people were backing out. It started to be a little political in the sense that she wasn’t fighting. That’s why she didn’t have an extensive record although she had a lot of time in the gym and a lot of sparring,” stated Lyles. This is certainly a familiarity in some regards. Being around the amateur boxing world, there are times when your plans for fighting are thwarted literally minutes before competition.
Faiva went 14-3 as an amateur, which isn’t a ton of fights by any stretch, but they were irreplaceable experiences. It’s essentially the nature of the beast at times and is all the more apparent with female boxers where there is a limited cache overall. That said, you then start to weigh your options as far as how much time you intend to dedicate to the amateur world versus taking your talents to the professional ranks where you get paid for the trade. “She’s going to gain the experience that she didn’t get in the amateurs in the pros,” stated Lyles. “She’s been in the gym and getting the amount of time in the gym and in the ring as far as sparring. We felt it was a good time for her to move because her abilities were that good. So that’s why we moved her to the pros. We’ll continue to move nice and slow to gain some of that amateur experience and get used to the pros. So far it’s been going very well.” There has been a multitude of fighters with a limited amateur background who’ve found success in the pro ranks. Sometimes it’s a matter of them having styles more conducive to the pros. There are also those who’ve learned on the job and built themselves into a Hall of Famer through the pro ranks. This, in theory, is the path for Faiva at this point.
The female boxing landscape is at an interesting point right now. The top United States female boxer, and arguably the top female fighter in the world, Claressa Shields, 10-0 (2 KOs), recently announced a deal with Professional Fighters League (PFL), a seasonal mixed martial arts league. This move, in part, was because Shields was unable to get enough fights in boxing along with her view of it being a ‘sexist’ sport while blaming the networks for the faults with women getting their just due. There are certainly vast differences in the pay structures for women in sports. This seems to be more apparent in team sports. With boxing being an individual sport, there is a reliance on the total package that a single entity can generate. Shields has every right to feel the way she does. She currently resides as the Word Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Organization (WBO) Light Middleweight champion of the world. She was previously the undisputed Middleweight champion of the world having won The Ring, WBC, WBO, International Boxing Federation (IBF), and World Boxing Association (WBA) titles. Prior to that, she was the unified WBC and IBF Super Middleweight champion of the world. With such accolades, her star hasn’t shined as bright as the top men in the sport.
Even Shields acknowledge the efforts of Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing in promoting the undisputed Lightweight champion of the world, Katie Taylor, 17-0 (6 KOs) of Bray, Ireland. The Ring dubbed her the #1 female fighter pound for pound in November of this year. Taylor has been a busy fighter and Matchroom has done a great job in introducing fans to Taylor, including a number of action-packed fights. This is certainly. a step in the right direction. Laila Ali is to this day may still be the biggest name in female boxing, but, she was the daughter of arguably the greatest fight ever so that no doubt helps. Every story is different and Faiva’s path is currently being carved. “We want to eventually when covid clears up, try to get as many ladies coming in to spar here with Fei as well as doing a training camp from around the country the top amateurs and pros if we can,” stated Lyles. “This gym is gonna start to be built more like a training camp for women. Not just exclusively women, but we really want to push the sport for the women.”
When you don’t have as many amateur accolades as the aforementioned fighters who were top amateurs before turning pro, you need something else, whether in the ring or out of the ring. Of all the possible things one would need, having some of what Mike Tyson had in the ring is certainly special. Faiva is in a position to have that to a certain degree. There is a limited amount of video on Faiva at the current moment, but when seen in action she is no doubt a female incarnation of Tyson from a visual perspective. Of course, she’s early in her career and is not yet established on a level remotely close to that of the Hall of Fame great, but our eyes have a unique ability to show us what’s in front of us in order to make a determination on what could be.”Fei started off, you know, she’s strong, so she looks for the knockout. We’ve been working on her, footwork, her boxing skills,” said Lyles. “She works with Darren Ruff and George Young. We humble her and tell her all the time that you’re not going to always knock people out so you gotta busy, you gotta stay active, and move, and let your punches fly.”
Currently, COVID-19 has been having a major impact on the sport of boxing from top to bottom. Catskill Boxing Club has been able to say open for the most part during this pandemic. This can have an effect on a fighter’s ability to train and/or focus. Lyles explained how this is working out for Faiva. “She’s a very hard-working fighter. She wants to train three times a day but we try to limit it to two between her strength and conditioning, and all of her skills stuff, so she stays ready.” This in fact important as far as staying in shape and adapting to the situation. “The percentages (COVID) are not really high here, so they haven’t shut down the gyms at this point in time as they have been in the city, so we’re still able to get our work in that we need to get in”, stated Lyles. “As of right now since the gyms opened back up (from the initial outbreak), COVID hasn’t shut us back down again at this point.” Faiva is well-traveled thus far in her career with all of her fights having come on the road. This certainly helps to build character. When the time comes to fight in front of her home state fans, it will be a boost knowing that she can operate in any environment.
Faiva will get another opportunity to display her skills on December 12, 2020. Faiva will be taking on Mexican fighter Anyela Lopez, 1-1 (1 KO). The fight will be on Pay-Per-View via the BPE Network. Like Tyson, Faiva was very blunt in response to my asking her what her expectations were for the upcoming fight. “I have no expectations,” said Faiva. Fair enough, at the end of the day her job is to fight and that’s solely where she’s focused. The rest of the stuff is up to her handlers as far as ensuring she’s in the right positions. Lyles summed this situation up perfectly. “The expectation we have is for her to get in the ring and continue to perfect her style. Get in the ring and hit and not get hit,” stated Lyles. “Whatever the result is, is the result. Whether that’s a first-round knockout out, great, if it’s a fourth-round decision but she basically dominated the fight, we’ll be happy with that. We want to get her ready and look really sharp and continue to move towards greatness.” Well, fans love knockouts. I don’t doubt that fans would follow suit in droves if Faiva continues to dominate because knockouts put butts in seats. As they say, if you build it, they will come.