TWENTY years after she poked her head through the back-stage curtains of a smoke-filled working men’s club in Saxton Gardens and began her ascent to boxing greatness, Nicola Adams is set for a rather different reception in her beloved home city.
Those one hundred or so club show diehards will be replaced by up to 10,000 cheering supporters as the double Olympic champion faces Mexico’s Maryan Salazar in her second professional fight at the First Direct Arena in Leeds.
Adams has seldom fought in the city since her debut as a precocious 13-year-old, although Yorkshire Evening Post archives reveal she sustained a standing count en route to a points win at the local Irish Centre in December 2000.
If such reports serve to dismiss the much-promoted notion of this being Adams’ first return since her debut, they also indicate how far she has come since the days when she first stepped into the ring inspired by images of Muhammad Ali and Prince Naseem Hamed.
Adams told Press Association Sport: “My mum took me up to the gym and I didn’t feel nervous about being the only girl there at all – it was when Naz was near his peak so I just saw boxing as another form of showmanship.
“I had always been pretty confident at school and taken part in shows and stuff, but I just needed another way to channel my energies. I took to it straight away and it never really seemed like an unusual thing for a girl to be doing.”
Adams is no longer in contact with her first coach, Leroy Brown, who was in her corner for her first fight and stayed with her for around 10 years until the pair parted on not exactly the best of terms.
Brown, who still runs his ‘Sharky’s’ gym in the city, told Press Association Sport this week: “She turned up at the gym with her mum one day and she was messing about a bit, but I stuck her in with the lads and she seemed to get to grips with it straight away.
“She didn’t really like the discipline and she would get a little bit too nervous at times, but we settled her down and set her on the path to where she is today. When they get to a certain level they move on and you’ve just got to move on too.”
Such issues will be the last thing on Adams’ mind as she prepares to fight over three-minute rounds for the first time against Salazar, an 18-year-old novice who won her first five fights before losing her sixth on points in February.
Promoter Frank Warren is already hopeful of steering Adams towards a shot at the WBO women’s flyweight title before the end of the year.