Step Into the Ring with Overthrow’s Alicia “The Empress” Napoleon

Alicia “The Empress” Napoleon is the girl who you want on your side of the ring. This 31-year-old powerhouse is a force to be reckoned with and, if last year was any indication, she'll undoubtedly achieve great things this year. She's already racked up quite a ranking with seven wins and one loss, and was named the World Boxing Council's Silver Super Welterweight Champion of the World.

Alicia is unapologetically religious and takes comfort in knowing that her faith in God will help her win, heal, and move forward. She’s kind, creative, strong in every sense of the word, and comes from a long line of hardworking Italians that honor family bonds and hearty meals. She’s also one of the brains behind Overthrow New York, which first opened in New York City’s Soho in 2015. A new Williamsburg, Brooklyn, location is expected to open this year inside what was once Trash Bar, the beloved neighborhood dive.

Step inside the ring, get to know Alicia Napoleon, and then decide what you’re fighting for.

You started boxing in your late teens. How did you stay focused and find the confidence to keep at it, especially in a male-dominated sport?
I’ve always had an interest in contact competitive sports and never paid attention to whether it was male-dominated or not. I just knew what I wanted to do and wasn't going to let anything stand in my way. The more I heard things like “This is a boy’s sport” or “Girls aren’t allowed to participate,” the more I wanted to fight for it.

I liked mental and physical challenges, and boxing gave me both. There’s nothing like accomplishing something that others view as impossible. I say anything and everything is possible. I was a child with a strong will and self worth. Though I had my share of struggles with acceptance and confidence, I think that’s something we all go through as human beings. It’s more about how you channel that energy and mindset and how you pick yourself back up after the falls in life. Not giving up on myself and staying true to what was in my heart kept me focused, despite what anyone thought or said about me.  I was meant to be a champion in many things.

Your nickname, The Empress, is pretty bad*ss. Where did it come from?
For many years competing in the amateurs, I had several different nicknames. Silly names that fellow teammates and friends would call me in the gym, like “Wonder Woman,” “Napoleon Complex,” “Boxing Barbie,” “Boxing Ballerina,” “Betty Boom Boom,” etc. But none of them felt right until I fought for the NYABC Belt. The ring announcer asked me what my ring name was, and I told him I really wasn't sure.

He looked at the bout sheet for my name and said "Napoleon! With a name like that, you’re ‘The Empress.’" At that very second, I knew that was my name. I knew I was going to take the name “Empress” into the pros with me and live up to it.

With any sport, there’s an immense amount of pressure to win. You were undefeated until you fought Tori Nelson in December 2016 for a second World Title. Despite the loss, you still left the ring with a positive attitude. How have you learned to proudly celebrate the wins while gracefully accepting the losses?
When we fall, we should be joyful. It means we are being pruned and remoulded. I don't believe in losses. I believe in learning and lessons because there is a greater reward to come. At the end of the day, it’s all in God’s hands, and I live according to His will. Knowing I’ve put in the work and conquered my fears, I believe that the Lord will carry me through the rest.

Even though my heart was broken after the fight against Tori, especially because I've never lost before and I went into that ring confident, fearless, and sure my hand was going to be raised after the fight, I still held my head up high showing dignity, integrity, and class. The crowd looked at me the way God intended them to — with respect. My loss was a part of God’s greater plan; one to strengthen and prepare me for what’s next. I know I am a great champion with more to come because I have a great attitude. Attitude is everything. It makes and breaks all situations. When you channel the bad into the good, you will always win.

Do you have any rituals before or after a fight?
I always bring my Bible to the fight. It’s very important that my team and family join hands and pray before I get into the ring. I also must have alone time to pray and meditate on whatever Bible scripture I choose for fight time. I usually choose a different scripture every fight. I also like to fight in different outfits. I never like to wear the same fight outfit twice - every fight is a grand occasion and deserves a new outfit. “The Empress” should always be dressed like royalty in the ring. Before my team and I started fighting out of state, I would have a ritual of attending weigh-ins and then taking the team to Cafe Napoli in Little Italy to enjoy an Italian feast on me. It always feels good to treat the team to a piece of my culture, while at the same time showing my appreciation for their hard work and dedication.

What’s the best piece of advice someone’s given you during training or before a fight?
As an amateur, I’ll never forget how scary it was to get into that ring and fight in front of a crowd. A coach came to me out of the blue, as if he read my mind, and said, "Remember, the person standing in front of you is just as scared as you are, so go in there and fight. You have nothing to lose."

That helped me as an amateur, and I took it with me into the pros. My current coach, Danny Nicholas, has shared so much wisdom and said many things that have built my confidence and helped me win. Most importantly, Danny genuinely told me that he wholeheartedly believes in me, that I'm his champion and he's with me till the end. When a coach pulls you aside to reconfirm who you are and what they see in you, it's extremely important. Danny has helped me believe in myself and believed in me when no one else did.

What does a typical training week look like for you?
In between fights, a typical training week would be running three to five miles, six days a week. I box six days a week, including shadowboxing, heavy bag work, speed bag, double end bag, slip bag, pad work, drills in the mirror, and/or sparring. Then two or three days out of the week, I do strength and conditioning workouts like sprints, plyometrics, calisthenics, and weight training.

“There’s nothing like accomplishing something that others view as impossible. I say anything and everything is possible."

You’ve been quoted saying “Strong is the new sexy.” What does this mean to you? And how can women start adopting this mentality when the media constantly portrays women as otherwise?
Yes, I believe strong is the new sexy. I love my body! I especially love it when I'm in tip-top condition and my muscles are lean and mean. People are always going to have something negative to say, but you can’t forget about the ones who are on your side and think the same way you do. Physically, I think there is nothing more beautiful than a woman building up muscle and toning her body. You look better in clothing. You feel better physically and mentally. And you feel healthier. It’s a new world today, and women are finding their strength in more ways than one. Society seems to think that skinny is feminine and muscles represent masculinity. Strong women are motivated, leaders, trendsetters, confident. They’re the women who aren't afraid to be themselves and love themselves. Women today seem to be making an impact on the fitness movement by embracing their bodies in a new way.  We were born with muscles, why not use them?

In 2015, you co-founded and opened Overthrow, an underground boxing gym in Manhattan. The brand is dedicated to preserving old-school New York and is inspired by “underground activity” that once took place at that very same location. Why is it so important that you maintain the integrity of yesteryear?
I think keeping true to the roots of our building and to the activists and trendsetters that came before us is very important. We live in such a superficial, commercialized world today. There are many traditions lost and mentalities that have changed for the worse.

From a business perspective, there were many new boutique boxing gyms popping up around our area, but they don't have what we have, which is good old authenticity. The Yippies that were there before us set the tone for us today. We might not be Yipsters, but we're definitely Yippy-flavored. They were an interesting group of activists; a group of young kids like ourselves at  Overthrow today. They knew they had a voice and used it. They were politically sharp, fearless, and thrived on getting a reaction from society. They were rebels as they followed their hearts and beliefs in an artistic, free-spirited way, and didn't care what anyone said or thought.

We have that same spirit today at Overthrow. We're a very diverse, fun, and interesting group. We all bring something special to the brand. No one there is cookie cutter. We all had to fight for something in life and are still fighting for our individual beliefs. We're one big happy dysfunctional yet functional family.

For someone who’s never tried boxing or is on the fence, can you explain the benefits of taking classes?
There are many benefits to taking boxing classes. It boosts your self-esteem. You learn self-defense. You lose weight while enjoying it. You gain strength from head to toe. There’s no other sport that’s more empowering than boxing.

You’ve been blessed with the opportunity to train some pretty high-profile clients like Adriana Lima, Britney Spears, and Will Smith. Who’s your dream client or who do you hope to train in 2017?
I have trained some pretty high-profile people, and that’s always fun and cool. But my dream client is a student who truly wants to learn the art of the sport. There's nothing better than someone who appreciates your knowledge, is humble, and is willing to put in the work.

If I had to pick a high-profile person it would be Ronda Rousey. I think she's a great champion despite her last two back-to-back losses. If I could just get my hands on her and teach her how to move her head and feet like a boxer she would be dominating in the UFC. My heart really broke for her on December 30, [2016]. I really wanted to see her come back with a victory.

Finish the sentence.

I can’t train without... a bandana, Double A boxing boots, and a gallon of water.

I’ve been listening to... Bachata and Merengue on repeat.

If I’m not at Overthrow you can find me at... Siggy's Good Food on Elizabeth Street.

The biggest misconception about female boxers is... we're mean, ugly, and masculine.

This year, I really want to accomplish... winning another world title, increasing the business at Overthrow, and getting my story and voice out to the world so I can be in a position to serve as a positive role model for generations to come. Ideally, doing everything I was able to do in 2016 - just bigger and better. Last year was a fabulous year. I couldn't have asked for anything more. So if I can continue on this path, I’m sure 2017 will be remarkable.

Photographer: Paulsta Wong