Kali “KO” Mequinonoag Reis is a professional boxer and actress. She hails from East Providence, Rhode Island, and is a member of the Seaconke Wampanoag Tribe, and is the first Indigenous Woman fighter to become a World Champion. Before joining the Zócalo program “What Does Boxing Owe Its Champions?”—presented in partnership with UCLA College, Division of Social Sciences and ASU Global Sport Institute—Reis chatted with us in the green room about food she can’t resist, parallels between boxing and acting, and the most memorable fight of her career.
What is your favorite ring entry song?
Every time I come out, I come out to traditional drums and dance, especially when I’m home. Or I’ll have the chance to have the dance of the people of the land I’m fighting on. For example, I fought at Sycuan Casino [in El Cajon, California], so the local Sycuan tribe, the bird singers, were able to come out and honor their land and their people; because that’s not my territory. Every time I’m able to represent myself as an Indigenous woman but also welcome whoever’s land and territory I’m on in whatever way they represent themselves, that’s my favorite. It’s not a specific song. I just like that. It gives what I do and what I fight for more purpose, because there was a time when we weren’t able to sing our songs, dance, speak our language.
What’s one thing you do to get ready for a fight?
Keep things as calm as possible, especially right before the fight, you go to the back room and it’s like somebody died. Just keep it chill, casual, laughing and joking. I ground myself right before to remind myself why I’m doing it. It’s not me, it’s “we” for the things I fight for.
If you could have dinner with anyone right now, alive or dead, who would it be?
My brother Drew (Andrew). I’d love to hear his update on life.
What do you do to decompress?
I like to listen to music, watch movies. I like to hang with family. I like to get out of the city and just connect with nature. Laugh, I love to laugh.
What would you say is a similarity between boxing and acting?
The repetition of learning, having to do things over and over and over again so that it sticks. Also, being very, very present. You have to be present in the moment, you can’t worry about what happens, what’s going to happen. You have to worry about what is happening in front of you.
Where do you go to feel creative?
I love being around my family because I’m calm. There’s no threat, there’s no having to prove, no anything. It brings me back to remembering that we’re all very creative beings just bouncing off one another. They know me, they all crazy as hell and funny. Just being able to let my hair down and talk about anything.
You’ve been to a lot of different boxing rings. Which venue has been the most memorable?
I have quite a few memorable venues, but the most memorable fight and venue would have to be when I fought for the IBA Middleweight world title in Bermuda. Being where I am from—my ancestry, Indigenous background—being able to fight in Bermuda where our ancestors were taken as slaves, and fighting there for a bigger purpose, and bringing it back home. That was the most significant.
Do you have a favorite comedian?
I gotta go with Dave Chappelle, always been one of my favorite comedians and people in general. I like old school: Richard Pryor, Robin Williams. I have dark humor, so the darker, the better—like things I probably shouldn’t be laughing at.
What’s one food you can’t resist?
Any food? I love food. But I will live off of spoonful of peanut butter. It’s protein, it’s fat, it’s everything you need, so. When I want something, but I don’t know what I want, especially at training camps, I’ll just have a spoonful of peanut butter and go to bed.
What’s your favorite boxing movie?
So cliche… the one movie I watch every time it comes on: Rocky. That, and Raging Bull.