Let’s not mince words when it comes to Kali Reis. Simply put, the WBA junior welterweight champion, who defends her crown and attempts to add the IBO belt to her collection when she faces Diana Prazak tonight in a bout airing on UFC FIGHT PASS, doesn’t need boxing.
She’s won titles at 140 and 160 pounds, has been in with the likes of former undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus, fought on HBO, has called fights on Fight Pass, and is most recently garnering critical acclaim for her role in the film “Catch the Fair One,” which was recently bought by IFC Films.
Yet she still fights. Why?
“I finally have a really solid team behind me as far as management and promotion, and an actual "team" going forward in my career, and I feel like I'm in my prime,” she said. “I had three world titles as a middleweight, self-made with no promoter, no management, and it's been a rocky, helluva road that I've been on through this journey of boxing. But I've still got a lot left in the tank and I got a few more fights that I definitely want, and I have an opportunity to be the undisputed 140-pound champion, so why not?”
Well, because after hitting a home run on the silver screen her first time out and likely not the last time, there’s gotta be an easier way to make a living. But the way the 34-year-old Rhode Island native sees it, boxing and acting are separate entities and will remain so as long as she laces up the gloves.
“I think my boxing career is separated from this newfound acting career, and it speaks for itself,” she said. “I've had some historical fights - the first female fight on HBO, being the first and only one to drop Cecilia Braekhus, and I've had some really great fights. I've had a really good boxing career. I haven't had the best boxing career as far as getting built up, but I wouldn't change it because I've learned about myself, about the industry and about boxing itself. So I would never, and I won't, bring my acting career to boxing and say, ‘Hey, look at me, you should fight me because I'm an actress.’ No, I say you fight me because after August 20th, I’ll have two reasons to fight; I’ll have the IBO and WBA super lightweight world championship. My acting has nothing to do with it. The only thing I bring in the boxing ring with me outside of boxing is my activism and bringing awareness to different Indigenous and Native American issues that I find important.”
That activism has been a part of her life for years, and always will be. So when she was approached by director Josef Kubota Wladyka regarding working together to develop “Catch the Fair One,” the storyline guaranteed that she was going to go all-in on the project. And four years later, she surprised the film world with her stirring performance, but did she surprise herself a little bit, too?
“Yes and no, only because acting is just another form of art to me, just like boxing is art, and being an artist and very expressive, I've always been interested in acting. I just didn't know where to start. I thought maybe I'd start in a candy or a Pepsi commercial or something. I didn't think I'd have a writers' credit and be starring in my first film. But I was surprised at how well I received things and got things so easy as far as even the lingo that they use in the film industry. Then again, I wasn't because it was such an important story to be told. The character, her name is Kali, I play a boxer, but it's still a character and if you do see the film, you may think it's a story about boxing, but boxing is the last thing that this film is about. It was a very tough role to take, so was I surprised at my performance? Yes, I was very surprised, and proud of myself, with the way I was able to convey the character and get the message across.”
It was a star-making turn, one that will really heat up once IFC gets the film out to a wider audience, but in the meantime, Diana Prazak will be looking to take her title tonight. And though Prazak is a respected former world champion, the Australia native was also on the sidelines from 2014 until she returned in March with a decision win over Milagros Gabriela Diaz. Was that enough to shake the ring rust off? Reis doesn’t care, because she’s expecting the best version of the challenger at the Sycuan Casino in El Cajon, California.
“It's boxing,” said Reis. “You know the game. It just takes one millisecond, one inch, one millimeter, one thought, one punch, so I approach this fight like I do every fight. She had a long layoff, but she was a world champion and she is very strong. They approved her for a title fight for a reason. She's a durable opponent, a very tough opponent, and this is boxing. We're gonna go ten rounds, maybe less, come August 20th and this is the first time I get to defend my title and fight for another title, so I trained harder than anything. Just because it's an opponent that's been off for seven years, that could have been a great seven years for her to be off. She could come back stronger than she ever has. So I don't really have to worry about what she's doing, I just make sure that I trained accordingly and take every opponent serious.”
That intensity is evident, even in interviews, but especially in the ring and on screen, and it’s not surprising that she approaches everything in life as a fight, because it has been. But her determination and willingness to walk through fire to get what she wants isn’t just for her; it’s for the kids who look up to her.
“Even before this film came out, that was my biggest thing,” Reis said. “I've been working as a residential counselor in group homes since 2009 and I love that work because I always say, I fight for all nations, and that means that I fight for all Indigenous nations and especially for the young ones who look like me and may not think that they're worth anything because of all the negative things that come with being an Indigenous person, being an Indigenous mixed person or even just being a woman in a male-dominated sport. Throughout the years I've gotten countless amounts of messages and emails from kids about to commit suicide and parents thanking me for being who I am and being proud of being mixed because their kid is and they get bullied at school. And that is worth so much more than any title belt, any TV recognition or anything. This is why I do this. It's so much bigger than what I am because I was that kid that was told I wouldn't be s**t and that I wouldn't amount to anything. I just try to be that person that I wish I had when I was the age of those kids.”
In other words, being an undisputed champion and getting some more big fights is nice, but what really keeps Kali Reis fighting is something a lot more important.
“Absolutely,” she said. “Because it's so hard to find motivation because after 13 years as a pro, and everything gets kinda auto-pilot, but you're exactly right. I keep going because I have a bigger purpose. I could have quit a long time ago. I could have quit when I won the WBC middleweight world championship; that was one of the belts that I wanted to get. But there's so much more to do.”