Kuiana Butler’s voice is a soft monotone. She can’t pose for a photo because she’s too busy blushing and shying away from the camera. Finally she gets focused long enough to complete the assignment. Snap. Picture taken. That sums up the 14-year-old boxer to this point, reticent, yet all about business.
She loves to box. No one would know it, however, unless they saw her in action. Ashlee Frazier certainly didn’t think so when she first met Butler. Frazier is a boxer herself, and administrative assistant at Prize Fight Academy in Southaven, Mississippi. Frazier was the very first person Butler encountered when she entered the facility.
“I thought to myself, she will never make it,” Frazier said of her first impression of Butler. “Her demeanor was just ... let’s just say she didn’t have a 'go get it' attitude. She was really shy and quiet.”
What Frazier didn’t know is that Butler had already won her first fight, which was convincing her dad to let her try boxing. She had watched boxing on television with him for years. It was their bonding time. She told him she wanted to give it a try. Hoping she was caught up in the moment he ignored her. But she came back again.
So Butler’s father suggested she play softball, a sport where she was less likely to get hurt. But his daughter was persistent. He finally made a deal with her. He wanted to know if her actions would speak louder than her soft words. He told her if she would find a gym then he would let her give it a try.
The DeSoto Central eighth-grader hopped online and found Prize Fight. Butler had some more convincing to do. When she and her father arrived at the gym, Frazier was not the only member of the staff not impressed with Butler, gym owner and boxing promoter Brian Young had concerns also.
Butler was 12, yet she weighed nearly 230 pounds. “I thought she would be a project,” said Young. “Most kids don’t stick with the program.” It is particularly true of ones with slow hands like Butler.
The experiment was awkward from the start. Butler wouldn’t talk unless she was asked to do so. Being one of a short supply of girls at the gym proved to be problematic as well. “She had to learn to take a punch,” said Frazier. “But the guys were afraid to hit her.” Frazier had to figure out a way to calm their fears of hurting Butler.
Although she was about 100 lbs lighter than Butler at the time, Frazier decided to get into the ring with the silent warrior. Butler took her share of lumps from Frazier, who is 15 years her senior. But more importantly, Butler began to learn to defend herself, and to throw punches as well, hard punches. No talking needed. Now the boys had to hit her back in self defense.
Still there was more work to be done. Losing weight took a lot of work: sit-ups, pushups, and running. She changed her eating habits, cutting out foods high in fat. During the process she also began to improve her fighting technique. “When she got her pivot and hip movements down, the hand speed came immediately,” said Frazier. Butler continued to quietly go about her business. The pounds began to disappear. Still something was missing. Unbeknownst to Young, he possessed the missing piece.
Young noticed that Butler’s favorite color was pink — pink shoes, pink boxing gloves, pink boxing trunks. So he started calling her “Pinky.” The nickname not only stuck, it was a game-changer. “When she got the name, that did it,” said Young. “It took a year for to feel comfortable with us. But it finally happened after she got the nickname.”
Butler began to open up. “They are like family to me,” Butler said of Young and Frazier. “I can talk to them about anything.” And that she did. She became more comfortable talking to others, too, and answering questions about her love for the sport of boxing.
Did you fight as a kid?
“I attended a Memphis School in elementary. Oakhaven. I got into several fights there.”
Did you get in trouble?
“No because we didn’t get caught. We would fight in the hideaway spot on the playgrounds near the swing sets.”
If you fought 10 times at Oakhaven, what would you say was your record?
“Probably 8-2, but I didn’t fight that much. Plus I fought kids older than me.”
Did you ever start these fights?
“No I never started them. But I always finished them.”
What were you all fighting about?
“I don’t even remember. Probably nothing. Just being bad kids, I guess.”
Did you fight at home?
“Yes. I have four sisters. I fought with the three that were older than me.”
Did they beat you down?
“(Laughter) Yeah they did.”
You pattern your boxing style after who?
“When I work on foot movement it’s (Muhammad) Ali. Strength it’s Mike Tyson. Defense it’s Floyd (Mayweather). Speed, again it’s Ali.”
She was more Tyson than anyone in her very first fight, which ended in victory before the first round was over. “I wasn’t nervous at all,” she said of the experience. The momentum of the win carried over into the summer. In June, Butler won the Title National Championship amateur series in Holly Springs, Arkansas, in the 178-lbs lightweight 15-and-under division. She followed that up with a title in Atlanta, winning the Paul Murphy Invitational in September.
Butler now weighs 175 lbs and has her eyes set on another championship. She will box in an amateur event in Jackson, Mississippi in November.
She understands she has a lot more work to go and more weight to lose to get achieve her ultimate goal as a boxer. “I plan on being in the Olympics,” she said.
“I’ve never been so happy in my life,” she said while smiling. And never as talkative either.
You can follow Jamie Griffin on Twitter at @FlyerPreps.