THE laugh is instant, genuine and infectious. Undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus was in Mexico for the recent WBC convention, and the topic that garnered such a reaction was my assertion that I was a bit skeptical when she told me before her last couple fights that she was still finding motivation despite winning all the belts at 147 pounds with no real challenge left in sight in that division.
Maybe it’s because I caught her. She laughs again before admitting that after making history in May of 2018 by becoming the first woman to be featured on HBO World Championship Boxing, that ever-present optimism and motivation for what was next was waning.
Braekhus did fight twice more after defeating Kali Reis on HBO last year, successfully defending her titles with a win over Inna Sagaydakovskaya two months later before closing out HBO’s boxing program with a victory against Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes last December.
But then, it was time for a break.
“It was very important,” she said of the 11-month stay on the sidelines that will end on November 30 when she meets Argentina’s Victoria Noelia Bustos in Monte Carlo. “Actually, my last fight, I was kind of wondering if this was it. And that was just because I was very tired; mostly tired mentally. Being a fighter, there’s so much going on, not just inside the ring, but also outside the ring. So for me to just disappear for a couple of months was a big deal and exactly what I needed to get back fully motivated.”
And though the 38-year-old’s in the ring ledger shows nothing for 2019, she has not been idle this year, as she followed up her break from all things boxing with a switch in trainers from Johnathon Banks to Abel Sanchez and, perhaps even more notable, a signing with Matchroom Boxing.
“I had to decide what I wanted to do,” said Braekhus. “After HBO shut down (its boxing program) I had a choice to make. I am in that stage of my career that this will probably be some of my last fights, and what my next decision would be was pretty important. We talked to a lot of different potential options, and after a long process, this was the best option we landed on and I’m very, very happy about everything.”
The alliance with Eddie Hearn’s outfit gives Braekhus another worldwide broadcast outlet through DAZN, and it also puts her in line for the super-fights she’s wanted, ones that can allow her to put a final stamp on a career that will undoubtedly land her in the hall of fame. And the excitement in the Colombia-born Norwegian’s voice is evident when the topic of future battles with Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano comes up.
“That’s one of the reasons why I chose Matchroom, because I’m hoping it will get me closer to fighting both Katie Taylor and Serrano,” she said. “I love both of these girls inside the ring and outside the ring, and I know I’m the one to beat them both, and I hope we can make both of those fights happen. I also think what they [Matchroom] are doing right now with DAZN is great and I love the way they’re using social media, so it’s the full package and I’m very happy with what we achieved.”
Finding new mountains to climb has been difficult for Braekhus, whose list of accomplishments include the aforementioned HBO date, becoming one of boxing’s rare undisputed champions, becoming the Boxing Writers Association of America’s first recipient of the Christy Martin female fighter of the year award, and leading the ultimately victorious fight to remove the ban on professional boxing in her adopted home country of Norway. And though she’s beaten all comers at 147 pounds en route to a perfect 35-0 (9 KOs) record, that defining showdown with someone deemed as her equal has eluded her thanks to timing, weight, or a mixture of all of the above.
That may finally change in 2020, and while she is in the twilight of her career as she approaches 40, having Sanchez – who has trained the likes of Gennadiy Golovkin and Terry Norris – in her corner has also given the “First Lady” a positive jolt of energy leading into the Bustos bout as she trains in the high altitude of Big Bear, California.
“It’s a lot of different things,” said Braekhus when asked why the pair clicked. “Of course there’s Abel and all the experience he has training multiple world champions up in Big Bear. It’s high altitude, but it’s also the group up there. Training with hungry, young fighters really gives me a run for my money and the training is very hard.”
Braekhus talks of fighters leaving the mountain during camp because they had enough, and while that would mark Sanchez as a disciplinarian to most, she sees him as a motivator who also has a sneaky sense of humor.
“People don’t know that he’s really funny,” she said of her new coach. “He’s hilarious, and when you are doing this kind of training, the number one thing for you is to have a good motivator, and Abel is definitely that. So I feel very safe with his boxing experience and having young, hungry up and coming guys who are looking for belts and glory. They go to every training session like I did when I was their age, like every session is their last one. All these aspects together, it’s very good for me.”
So will we see Braekhus adding some knockouts to the nine already on her record?
“I can definitely tell you that you will see a big difference, for sure,” she laughs. “He [Sanchez] is very, very aggressive in his style and with the Mexican style, and I’m not saying I’m gonna lose everything I have (already shown), but I can say you will see a huge difference next time I’m in the ring.”
Sounds like the lady with nothing to look forward to at the end of 2018 has made a 180-degree turn as 2019 comes to a close. “Oh yes, definitely,” Braekhus said. “I have some great motivation, and hopefully next year will provide me with the biggest fights. All in all, it’s been like a second wind for me. I’m very happy, very motivated and I’m ready to make a statement on November 30.”