A professional prizefighter she may be, but monetarily, Ava Knight has little prize to show for her toils in the boxing ring.
Her current training quarters — a 7-by-15-foot staff room above Oakland’s Boxing for Health gym — justify that.
There’s no shower. No kitchen. Not even for the women’s IBF flyweight champion of the world.
"We call it ‘Thuggin’ it out,’" said Knight, who lives out of the narrow space for the duration of her training camps. She has an air mattress, a TV, a fridge, a seldom-used microwave, and little else.
She can’t afford much else.
"How many people would live like this for the amount of money that I’m making?" she asked, admitting that she’s never cleared a four-figure payday, despite being among the best in the world at what she does.
But the pay isn’t what matters most.
"I really do want it, and I want it because it’s in my heart," she said. "It’s nothing else but that."
The 23-year-old Knight (8-1-3,
5 KOs) will defend her crown Saturday in Torreon, Mexico, against Susana Vazquez (8-6-1, 3 KOs), a furious Mexican brawler who loses about as much as she wins. The Mexican, however, is no easy mark.
"[Vazquez] is a bull," said Ben Bautista, who has trained Knight out of San Francisco’s SFC Boxing Club since 2010. "I know she’s gonna keep on coming forward. But I believe that Ava’s speed, power and will are going to lead her to victory."
Favoring the tactic of destructive assault, Knight is among the hardest hitters at 112 pounds — generally more interested in striking a blow than dodging one. And though tall for her weight at 5-foot-4, Bautista praises Knight’s tactics.
"I’m happy that my fighter can crack," he said, "I don’t like leaving fights in the hands of the judges."
But there was a time when Knight wasn’t the one delivering the hardest blow.
Ten years ago, a 13-year-old Knight and her friend by chance stumbled into a boxing gym in Knight’s hometown of Chico and sparred.
"Once she knocked me down, that’s when I figured out I wanted to keep doing it — because I didn’t want that to ever happen to me again," Knight said. She hasn’t been downed — by a female — since.
But it was in Chico, shortly after her lone defeat to Mexico’s Ana Maria Torres in 2009, when Knight’s career was on the ropes. She had not a trainer, nor a gym.
And then Bautista, scouting the local talent, saw her.
"I was like, ‘They don’t know about you. To me, you’re the best out here — pound-for-pound,’" he told Knight. "‘And I’m going to make you the best female pound-for-pound.’"
This weekend, Bautista — and Knight — will each have their shot.
Ava Knight vs. Susana Vazquez
WHAT: IBF flyweight championship (122 pounds)
WHERE: Torreon, Mexico
RECORDS: Knight (8-1-3); Vazquez (8-6-1)
KNIGHT FILE: Lives in Oakland; trains out of SFC Boxing Club in San Francisco; nicknamed the “Lady of Boxing”