Champion boxer Ava Knight has been boxing for more than half of her life. Starting as an amateur in her teen years, she quickly ran out of opponents and opportunities. After turning pro at age 19, she has won several championship title belts, including the International Female Boxers Association Bantamweight Championship, International Boxing Federation Flyweight World Title and World Boxing Council Silver World Title, and trained some of the biggest names in the music industry, all the while keeping her signature positive attitude and indelible work ethic. She’s also the first female boxer from the United States to win the World Boxing Council Diamond Belt Championship. She is a tremendous ambassador of her sport, and a bright light in the sometimes-dark world of professional boxing.
Knight is also part of a list of elite athletes who have come out on the side of cannabis and its medicinal benefits. She, along with a growing number of high-caliber athletes, are trying to combat years of misinformation and attacks on a plant whose healing benefits they have felt firsthand. Fighting takes a tremendous toll on your body—not only during the actual fight, but in the thousands of hours spent preparing for the bout. As injuries and fatigue take hold, Knight has used cannabis as part of her healing regimen and sings its praises.
CULTURE was able to sit down with Knight to discuss her boxing career, training Wiz Khalifa and Joe Jonas, comparing women in boxing and Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and how women’s boxing can compete with men’s boxing.
Have you always been into contact sports?
Yeah, I started at the age of 13, and since then I have always been into contact sports. Since I’ve started, I’ve taken about two years off, and that’s it.
Did you immediately take to boxing?
It was kind of a weird thing. I started going to the gym with a friend as a teen. I had never watched a boxing match. I had never been involved in any type of contact sport before that. It was just kind of an accident that happened to be a blessing, in that I got to find my calling in life. After trying it at a young age and wanting to do it, it became a passion after about six months of doing it. I just fell in love with it.
“To be a female gladiator is still kind of unheard of.”
In the early days was there an abundance of female opponents?
Coming from Northern California, there was barely anyone involved where we were at. But we would drive down to the Bay Area all the time. We would find fights in Oakland and San Francisco. I would fight the same girls three or four times as an amateur. It was always hard to find opponents on a steady basis. I had gone to a national tryout in 2006, and they told me that women would never see the Olympics. It was kind of heartbreaking, but at that moment I decided that I had gone as far as I could as an amateur and turned professional. By going professional, I had the opportunity to fight more often.
Can you tell us where your nickname “Lady of Boxing” comes from?
My first coach Joe Rodriguez, the one who started me out and kept me going, would always call me a lady. He was a very old school military man, and I when I would come to the gym, I wouldn’t be rude or talk back to anyone. So, since I was nice and polite, he would call me a lady. The nickname has stuck with me ever since then.
You recently came back to the ring after a two-year absence; have you or the sport changed?
The break didn’t start out as something I wanted to do. Women’s boxing was really bad, and nothing was happening at the time. I got an amazing opportunity to become Joe Jonas’ personal trainer on the road. So that was a blessing, and it was great to teach him boxing, while I got to still have some passion in what I did and travel the world. But I did see that during that time, that women were starting to become mainstream, getting on television and things were starting to look up for women in boxing. So, I decided I wanted to come back. And while I can’t say it is a whole lot better, they have taken some steps forward.
Aside from Joe Jonas, you’ve also been training with former CULTURE cover Wiz Khalifa. Are they training to possibly fight, or more for fitness?
Joe just did it for fitness, to get into shape and look great. He did an awesome job with it. And Wiz is amazing. He has taken up Muay Thai, and I’ve done some boxing with him. I’ve held pads for him and sparred with him as well. He is catching onto the sport so fast, so well that I’ve told him that he should do an amateur fight. He’s really thinking about it. He told me that there are only a few things he loves in the world—his son, his music, his weed and the gym. It was awesome to see that he really loves his contact sports.
“…they can’t keep denying that there are some world class athletes that smoke and train and break world records.”
Do you enjoy training fighters; is it something you could see yourself doing when you hang up your gloves?
I do, because when I was hurt or couldn’t find a fight, the only way I could get my excitement was teaching people to box. You get that little spark inside of you that you got when you fought in the ring. I want to start a gym in south Texas. I know it’s a really poor area down there, but fighting is a poor man’s sport. I started it as a kid in a family with no money, and it kept me going. It’s not making most of us rich, but it fulfills a deep passion within.
How has it been working with Mayweather Promotions?
Working with Mayweather Promotions is great. So far, they’ve been very good to me. They’ve got me on my last two cards really quick. I don’t know Floyd [Mayweather] very well, but at the end of the day, when it comes to boxing, this man knows his stuff, and he is very supportive of the people he puts in the ring.
What can the sport do to elevate women’s boxing to the level of the men?
The women in the sport are doing what they do very well, and that’s boxing. It’s hard now that we live in a society with social media. You become more popular on Instagram with likes than you are if you’re just a badass boxer. The world has changed in the sense that entertainment and money has fallen into the politics of boxing. But the women are doing a great job of being fighters. The problem in boxing is that the men don’t support us as much as they do in sports like MMA. MMA puts them on the top screen, they put their pictures out there, they advertise them very well and they get them sponsors. The world for women in boxing is going backwards. We don’t have that support, like you would find in other mixed gender sports like tennis or MMA. MMA is doing great with the women.
In MMA, you had Ronda Rousey who became as famous, if not more famous, than her male counterparts. Do you foresee a time that boxing follows suit?
If it is a possibility, and I am being as positive as I can, it is not going to be anytime soon. The problem in boxing, that is different from MMA, is that boxing is an old sport. It is run by a big group of old men who might not want to accept women into the sport, whereas MMA is fueled by a younger crowd who accept different things better. They bring women into the gym and train with them. In boxing, it can be hard to walk in and be treated like a reputable fighter. There’s always someone trying to pull you back when it comes to boxing. To be a female gladiator is still kind of unheard of. No matter where you go people are still surprised that you’re a female boxer. It would be nice to see that part change. Once it changes in the gyms, it will spread to the higher-ups.
Would you be interested in switching from boxing to MMA for those reasons?
I’m definitely thinking about it; only because that seems to be the way women are going, especially the good ones in boxing. Not that I am following in anyone’s footsteps. I have my own plans for my career, and I want to see some good things come from it.
Do you consume cannabis or cannabis products?
Marijuana is such a taboo thing in the athletic world, and I questioned admitting that I smoke weed, but at the end of the day I feel like it’s such a positive plant, that has medical benefits to it, that I feel like I can’t deny it. I use topicals, and I do smoke.
“Marijuana is such a taboo thing in the athletic world, and I questioned admitting that I smoke weed, but at the end of the day I feel like it’s such a positive plant, that has medical benefits to it, that I feel like I can’t deny it. I use topicals, and I do smoke.”
How has cannabis helped in your recovery from fights?
I use the Dixie Elixirs balm. I use it on my wrists. I severely hurt my wrists during the first fight I had this year, and every day I go to the gym I use this balm on my wrists, and since the last two fights I have not had pain at all. Even now I can turn it, move it and there is no inflammation. It is getting better and better every time I use it. I’ve tried so many other things like Tiger Balm and things like that. My dog had surgery the other day, and she was swollen. The only ointment that could get the redness away from her chest was the Dixie Elixirs balm, and it did wonders for her. When I do smoke though, my friend grows his own marijuana, and it helps me sleep. I have insomnia, and it has helped me 100 percent.
How prevalent do you think cannabis is in the boxing world?
I want to say it’s everywhere. The biggest fighters I know do it but keep it under wraps. I would say like 50/50.
“I also think that all the people that have a criminal record because of cannabis should have their records expunged. The country should be free to use and smoke as they please.”
Do you think boxing’s unwillingness to embrace the medicinal properties of cannabis stems back to that “Old Boys” club you mentioned?
Things are always “too new” for the sport. Just like women in boxing, they can’t keep denying that there are some world class athletes that smoke and train and break world records. But with boxing, since it is so old school, I just don’t see them changing their minds.
You live in Las Vegas, Nevada, where cannabis is recreationally legal. Do you feel it should be readily available nationwide?
I think cannabis should be legal for recreational use throughout the country. Canada just did it, and we could do the same thing. We could tax it and use it to build up the country. Also, we should be allowed to grow it and do things organically without getting in trouble for it. I also think that all the people that have a criminal record because of cannabis should have their records expunged. The country should be free to use and smoke as they please.
What is your favorite memory as a boxer?
People think winning world titles is the best part of boxing. But I think the most memorable and happiest moment for me in boxing is bringing it home to my parents. I think knowing that I made my parents proud of what I’m doing, and the road I’m going down is probably the best feeling in the world.
Who’s your favorite boxer?
Tommy Hearns was my favorite. He was tall and lanky and could throw with power. He wasn’t undefeated, but that man fought everybody. He was just an amazing fighter.
If you could box anyone from history, who would it be and why?
I’m going to go for a swing here and say Donald Trump. Maybe it’s just a celebrity boxing thing, but I disagree with so much of what this man says that I would just love to get into the ring, and just get my problems out of the way with that. Get that anger out.