Alicia Napoleon slides off her multi-diamond halo engagement ring and tucks it into a safe place.
Her nails are painted candy pink and silver. She is wearing lipstick and her trademark cat-eye eyeliner. She begins wrapping her hands, getting ready to go to war.
For the next two hours or so as she works out with her coaches at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn, Napoleon will empty her mind. She won’t be thinking about selling tickets or doing interviews or picking up wedding invitations or renting a limo. For the next two hours, the 32-year-old Lindenhurst resident will think about nothing but hitting 28-year-old Scottish boxer Hannah Rankin.
“You have to be able to turn it on and turn it off,” Napoleon says.
Imagine having to get ready for the two biggest days in your life at the same time, and then you will have some idea what it’s like to be Alicia “The Empress” Napoleon this past month.
Napoleon will make Long Island history Saturday when she walks into NYCB Live’s Nassau Coliseum in sparkly pink-and-white boxing shorts and defends her WBA super middleweight title against Rankin (5-1) in the first women’s boxing match to be held at the arena. Seven weeks later, in Miller Place, she will marry her longtime boyfriend, Roberto Espinoza, in a ceremony and reception for 240 guests that features two dresses, six bridesmaids, a band, a DJ, an Italian singer and more food than you could ever imagine.
“She’s a diva,” laughs Espinoza, who will serve as cornerman and groom on the two big nights.
A diva with a decidedly pro-woman message that has made Napoleon a sensation on YouTube and may help bring more attention to women’s boxing.
Napoleon’s video for Allure magazine last year about dispelling beauty myths and loving her strong, curvy body went viral. She has been an outspoken advocate for women getting paid what they are worth, both in her sport and in the wider world outside of it. She also is a big believer in following your dreams, that women like men deserve to try to have it all.
“I believe that society makes you feel like you have to pick,” she says. “Are you going to have a normal nine to five job, husband and children? Or are you going to choose success and fame? Pick one. …..Why should you have to do that?”
Napoleon acknowledges that it’s a pretty unconventional belief for someone who grew up in what she describes as an “old school Long Island Italian family” that had very conventional ideas of what a young girl should aspire to do.
“They were like ‘Go to school, be a nurse, get married have kids, you’re done,” she says with a laugh.
Napoleon’s family didn’t quite know what to think about their oldest daughter, the one whose first career goal was to be a Major League Baseball player. They soon learned that once she set her mind on something, there was no stopping her.
“There was a time she wanted to play football, but they wouldn’t let her,” her mother, Linda, says. “She was on the wrestling team in junior high school and she was beating the boys. Then she did karate. Alicia, she’s a fighter. She fights for what she wants. She always has been that way.”
Napoleon’s father, Anthony, has never missed a fight and is now her biggest fan. It wasn’t always that way.
The owner of Savway Fuel/Corsair HVAC in West Islip, Anthony used to take his daughter on jobs when she was little more than a toddler. Later, he taught her how to work on the oil truck, pulling the hose and making deliveries. When she was 18, she came home and told him she wanted to start boxing and he thought it was time to draw the line.
“I said forget about it,” Anthony says. “I don’t want you in the ring getting hit like that. What about your face?”
It quickly became clear to her family that she had found her passion and there was no turning her back. This also was immediately clear to Espinoza, who says it was love at first sight when he first saw her boxing at a health club in Massapequa eight years ago.
“I was covered in bruises, I was sweaty and he thought I was beautiful,” Napoleon says.
Napoleon turned professional in 2014 after a successful nine-year amateur career that included multiple Golden Gloves titles. She is 9-1 as a pro with five knockouts, her only loss coming against then-unbeaten Tori Nelson in a world title fight in 2016.
Saturday’s fight at the Coliseum is on the undercard of a welterweight contest between former champions Andre Berto and Devon Alexander. It is also Napoleon’s first defense of the title she won on March 3 at the Barclays Center in a 10-round decision over the previously unbeaten Femke Hermans.
While Napoleon is fighting for herself, she said she also is fighting for women’s rights in the boxing world, where she said most women don’t make enough to make a full-time living because networks are not interested in putting them on television. In addition to training for her fight, Napoleon works a full-time job at boxing clubs she co-owns in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
“We need to change the mentality that women are just as much of professional athletes as men and we deserve equal opportunity,” Napoleon said. “We deserve an equal spotlight. We sacrifice just as much as the men, if not more.”
Lou DiBella, Napoleon’s promoter, admits he was not a fan of the women’s game when he was a senior vice president at HBO. That changed about 10 years ago when DiBella started noticing the number of women boxing recreationally. Now, he is the biggest promoter of women in the game, with a half-dozen women under contract and another six with whom he does some work.
“I saw that landscape was changing,” DiBella said. “I saw the women’s athleticism on the rise, I saw it become an Olympic sport and I started making a point of putting a female fight on my shows. To me it’s become a cause. Look at what is going on in our world. There’s a lot of reason for women to be ticked off, they’ve been subjected to sexism and demeaned. You get a good workout by going out and hitting something. It’s an emotional release.”
DiBella isn’t sure what it will take for sports executives to notice and start putting women’s fights on television. He does believe Napoleon has the “whole package” in that she combines personality, photogenic looks and the ability to “punch like a mule.” She also has an inspiring message about following one’s dreams, no matter what anyone else says you should do.
And that’s exactly what Napoleon will be doing Saturday night before she walks into the Coliseum for her first title defense in an arena a dozen or so miles from where she grew up.
She plans to eat breakfast with her father at a diner in the morning and spend the rest of the day thinking about the fight and praying, first alone in her apartment and then later at the Coliseum. She will block out the whirlwind that her life has been over the last couple months as she prepares for the first of two of the biggest moments in her life.
Her fiancé will be holding onto her ring and working her corner. Her father and many members of her extended family will be watching ringside. And she hopes some young girl will be watching in the arena somewhere, thinking this is definitely something she could do.
“I want everyone to know we all have a dream inside of us,’” Napoleon said. “Follow it.”