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Body and Soul

An ex-reporter takes up pro boxing to show what she's made of--and to slay her inner demons.

October 15, 2000|REED JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

As her opponent's swollen, blood-spattered face darts briefly out of view, a wave of disgust steals over Alicia Doyle. But not for the obvious reasons. Moments earlier, Doyle was happily scrutinizing a tape of herself throwing vicious left jabs at the split upper lip of Lisa Valencia, her gritty adversary in Doyle's professional boxing debut last month.

But the spectacle has shifted. Instead of two determined women making each other's heads snap east-west, north-south, while bathing spectators in perspiration mists, Doyle's tiny TV screen now shows a blond babe jiggling her way across a boxing ring, bearing a sign announcing the onset of round 4. Doyle winces as if she'd caught a left hook to the chin.

"See," she blurts out, "that's exactly the image I'm trying to get away from. I hate that [stuff]. That's sending the message women are just about T-and-A." Then Doyle adds softly, almost apologetically, "That's just my opinion."

If the 30-year-old Sherman Oaks resident sees herself as a crusader for female equality, which she adamantly does, Doyle has picked an unusual, some might say crazy, way to prove her point. Four months ago, Doyle quit her job as a newspaper reporter for the Ventura County Star to join America's small but growing cadre of professional female boxers, who now number about 400. Armed with nothing more than an ironclad will and a hard, trim physique, Doyle has embarked on a vocational path so mined with danger that her mother can't bear even to watch her daughter train, while her boyfriend wavers between supportive admiration and gut-churning apprehension.

"That's my baby girl!" exclaims Patsy Kong, a Woodland Hills resident studying to be a minister in a metaphysical Christian sect. "It's real hard to see somebody punching on your child, even though it's a professional trained sport."

Nothing tested the stomachs of Doyle's loved ones more than her Sept. 16 four-round bout with Valencia in an open-air ring at Castaic Brickyards near Magic Mountain. By all accounts it was an exemplary brawl, one of the region's best women's fights this year. In the end, Doyle's more experienced rival won a unanimous decision, impressing the judges with her aggressiveness and shudder-inducing left hook.

But it was Doyle's self-sacrificing stubbornness in the face of Valencia's assault, her willingness to absorb four or five punches for the sake of landing one good shot, that raised the fight to the level of primal theater. "They just whaled on each other," marvels Dean Lohuis, chief inspector of the California Athletic Commission, which oversees the state's boxing, wrestling, kick boxing and mixed martial arts.

"Doyle, she gave her heart, she really put up a good fight," says Jerry Valencia, Lisa's father-manager.

For Doyle, who was paid $650--a pittance compared with the purses male boxers command--the fight was more than just a brutal debutante ball. It was "the most intense, exciting, dramatic" thing that's ever happened to her. Better than seeing her first newspaper story in print. Better than sex. A life-changing revelation that makes Doyle shrug off the lingering deafness in her right ear.

"Competing like that shows you what you are made of, inside and out," says Doyle, who has written occasionally for The Times. "What it takes to get in there comes from inside your mind and your heart. That's what enables you to get in that ring, overcoming your fear, overcoming your doubts." And, in Alicia Doyle's case, overcoming the dark phantasms of rage and regret that have shadow-punched her down through the years.

Until her bruising baptism in boxing, nothing could silence Doyle's inner demons. Throughout her early adulthood she was haunted by visions of her parents' screaming matches, memories of clutching her father's leg when he was leaving the family, her parents' divorce and her mother's subsequent nervous breakdown, the halfhearted suicide attempt at age 13, when Doyle gulped down a box of sleeping pills. Though lately they've begun to reconcile, for a long time, Doyle was so angry and conflicted about her father that she would tell people he was dead. "It's all a kind of blur now," says the woman nicknamed "Disaster Diva."

In recent years, Doyle's life had come into focus. She had found a creative outlet through her writing, specializing in stories about people who'd overcome long odds. She had taken up Tae-Bo, a fusion of aerobics, boxing and tae kwon do, and reconnected with a long-lost half-brother. But it wasn't until she started bashing a heavy bag at a Simi Valley gym two years ago that the Chatsworth High graduate feels she began to truly confront her old ghosts. And while she relishes her 10 previous amateur fights (five wins, five losses), she swears nothing compares to pro boxing, where there's no protective headgear and the women sport 8-ounce gloves, "which is almost like hitting somebody bare-fisted."

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