Antonia Kay: “I definitely think about turning pro one day, but I will know when I am ready.”

Antonia Kay: “I definitely think about turning pro one day, but I will know when I am ready.”

The route to boxing differs for every fighter. The lazy assumption is that all fighters are born on the streets, and the way into boxing is one of desperation. But that assumption, the perceived narrative is often wrong. Every story differs, and every route into the Noble Art has a different beginning.

The story of Antonia Kay and her entry into boxing is an unusual one. The formative years were spent in Athens, Greece. Over Zoom, Kay told me it was a love for music that saw her leave everything behind and move to Australia:

“I had no interest in boxing I didn’t even know about it when I was young. But my love was music and still is. I’ve been singing since I was 12 when I won a singing competition and after that, I took piano, guitar and singing lessons and started writing songs. That was the reason I left Greece to pursue music and get comfortable speaking the language because I knew if I wanted to sing in English I needed to get comfortable communicating so I could understand everything.”

The early years in Australia were purely focused on music and becoming fluent in English. There were no thoughts of any sporting endeavours, let alone a sport that was very much alien to her. But a combination of writer’s block and being in recovery from a toxic relationship, Kay was drawn to boxing by another art. An innocent unsuspecting evening at home watching the TV, and boxing found her by an unlikely method:

“I’ve been in Australia for 10 years now, for the first couple of years, I was just doing music. But then I was going through a hard time and I couldn’t write anything. I had just finished my music diploma and I couldn’t find any inspiration to write. I had also just broken up from a bad relationship like a mental abuse type of thing so I was in a bit of a dark place. I was then watching a movie, The Divergent, and there were some boxing references in there. There was a girl and she was like punching a bag and something sparked in me it was like a calling. The same night I watched that movie I started searching for boxing gyms.”

Kay referenced it as a calling, very quickly it became an obsession, a passion that changed her life. The search for somewhere to learn her new life began instantly, the first entry into the world of boxing has never been forgotten Kay told me:

“I still remember the first day I walked into the gym. I saw this girl and she had muscles and abs and I thought wow. I said something that everyone must say, I said how long have you been training to get this body because I wanted a body like that. From there I jumped into the class and I can remember my coach saying you must have done this before, I said no, I don’t even know what a jab is. After that first session, I just fell in love with boxing. When I got home I Googled boxing and Floyd Mayweather came up. He was a defensive genius and I just loved how he fought and when you don’t know boxing it was really impressive and I wanted to be like him and fight like him.”

The change to her life and her daily routine was instant. The boxing rookie was now a sponge for more. Kay wanted to fight almost immediately, six months into that new life, she got her wish. Only six months into her new journey, Kay had her first fight. Before laser corrective surgery to repair her then limited eyesight, Kay had to wear contact lenses for everyday life, including in her first foray into boxing. The dream debut in a new world suddenly took an unexpected twist. One lens coming out was bad enough, but losing both, was a nightmare way to start her boxing career:

“It was freaky, I could not breathe because I was panicking. Back then I couldn’t see properly, I couldn’t even see if they were very close to me. I was freaking in between rounds trying to put the contact lens back in, in the end, I said just leave it. It came out in the first 20 seconds just the one in my right eye. And then in the 2nd round, the other one came out. I couldn’t put them back in because I had my boxing gloves on and my coach didn’t know how to put them back in.”

But Kay recovered and after that initial setback, she became a fighter of some stature. By 2018 Kay was developing into an elite amateur and shared a ring with a fighter who is now a reigning world champion. Just before Ebanie Bridges turned professional, Kay fought the Australian in the trials for the World Championships in 2018, beating the future world champion on points by way of a split decision. It is a fight Kay remembers fondly:

“I won against Ebanie. It’s great to see her doing so well now in the pros and how much she has grown and transitioned. For me, it was one of my favourite fights, having someone come forward and make me think and counterpunch her. I was fighting her on my back foot a lot and catching her on the way, so that worked for that particular fight.”

Kay has won many titles in her career, but the first was a very special moment for her:

“The first Nationals I won was in Greece. When I had my first Nationals in Australia I lost that. I think I was 10 fights in and lost to a taller opponent and I hadn’t come across that style before. After that fight I was heartbroken and I felt like I had to win something. I was already planning to go back to Greece on holiday, so I called my coach in Greece and said I was coming over in two weeks’ time, is there anything on. He said there were the Nationals in three weeks’ time, so I would get there and have about a week with him. I was already prepared and fit so I just trained through. I had my family there for the first time and I won the tournament so that was a special moment for me. That was in 2017, and I won again in 2018 and 2019 in Australia. The 2019 win was a qualification for the World Championships where I finished top 8. And then Covid happened.”

Melbourne was stricter compared to other states in her new country of residence. It left Kay kicking her heels in much frustration. The fluctuations of various lockdowns left her with no fight in over two years. But when the world started to move again, Kay qualified for the World Championships which were due to be held in Turkey late last year. With the likes of Skye Nicolson, Caitlin Parker and the rest of the Australian Kay headed to Sheffield to finalise her preparations for the forthcoming tournament. But further Covid concerns and restrictions resulted in the World Championships being postponed. A planned tournament in Spain also fell foul due to Covid reasons, and a dejected Kay decided to go back to Greece:

“After all that I needed a break so I went back to Greece. For me, it was like getting ready for fights for two years and they never happened. We were in and out of Lockdown. So I was preparing for fights, and then we would go back into Lockdown. It was really tiring, so I said I would take four full weeks off. I didn’t do anything for a month, I hadn’t seen my family for over two years so I just enjoyed some family time. And then I came back to Australia where I started a training camp. But they told me I was no longer on the team for the World Championships because there would now be a big gap you are going to have to get selected again.”

When attempts to requalify for the rescheduled World Championships and the forthcoming Commonwealth Games ended in disappointment Kay turned her attention to the future. With the Paris Olympics only two years away, thoughts are now aimed at meeting the qualification standards for those Games. The immediate aim is to stay busy, making up for lost time and gain more experience in readiness for when the qualification process begins.

Kay, with much left to achieve in the unpaid ranks, has no immediate thoughts about turning professional. But with women’s boxing currently in an unprecedented boom period, Kay looks certain to join the party in the coming years:

“I don’t think I’m close to turning pro yet. I haven’t achieved what I want to do as an amateur yet. I’m still fairly new to the sport, I’ve only had 30-35 fights. I want to get good, get experience and fight the best in the world. I believe I can get better and fight and medal at the World Championships and the Olympic Games. I definitely think about turning pro one day, but I will know when I am ready.”

But while boxing has consumed much of her life in recent years, the love for music has never dimmed:

“I did the Diploma for Music Performance when I first moved to Australia but then I had a break. I then decided to go back and do my Bachelor’s last year and that will be for another two years or so.”

Kay describes her music as: “Smooth-jazz, neo-soul and a jazz influence style of music.”

Even to an old-timer who prefers the thumping guitar sounds of indie music, the melodies and the wonderful beautiful voice of Kay still please. There has always been some fascination, confusion even, to me when musicians say that they compose the music first and add the lyrics after. The structure of anything written is important, a lost art in many ways in a world of clicks with cameras. And when Kay talks about how a song originates, even to a boxing writer, there is much to learn:

“You can do it both ways. For Simple Life, I wrote the words first and then my producer sent this beat and said what do you think. I said I think I have some lyrics that will fit perfectly for it. So I started working on the lyrics again and started to work on the track adjusting them to fit together. Then I have another track Love on the Telephone. I composed that on the piano and came up with the lyrics and the music at the same time. I was just playing and signing and that song just came like that. There are many ways to write, most of the time lyrics will come first for me or both. I like to compose, so I can sit on the piano and write while I am playing and ideas come to me like that. I definitely want to keep writing and releasing music. I study every single day, and I love to write music. Eventually, I would love a song to be placed in a film, I am doing a songwriting course and film is one of my favourite subjects. I love singing and I am with a band now and we are rehearsing to sing live.”

There was something impressive about Kay during the 40-odd minutes we talked over Zoom. There were echoes of Skye Nicolson, a similar confident manner to her former teammate. A fighter and a person who is in control of her life and career. The boxing and music combination is a strange one, but they help the other you sense.

Hopefully, all the frustration and inactivity arising from the Pandemic and a few lingering injuries that have held Kay back, are now in the past. A return to action is imminent. At 28, the time lost can be claimed back. The peak years are ahead, and once the amateur run is over, Antonia Kay will be a more than welcome addition to the ever-expanding professional ranks.

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