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Hardened by world title fights Hannah Rankin heads home

Hannah Rankin
Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA
Hannah Rankin returns from New York with lessons aplenty ahead of Saturday night’s showcase in Glasgow, writes Matt Christie

IT’S Hannah Rankin’s ninth day of 10 in New York. She sits in a café showing off the remnants of a black eye that she picked up in nearby Gleasons’ Gym while preparing for her upcoming bout with Sarah Curran. It’s a trip she has funded herself, breaking into her savings so she can sample some of the finest female punches the city has to offer.

Thousands of miles away is Rankin’s home of Glasgow where she will be showcased against Curran on Saturday night. The darkest corners of that city can be compared to the grey streets that sit beneath the entrance to Brooklyn Bridge outside, particularly on this day when pouring rain smudges views of the New York skyline. But everything else is a world away from her roots and that’s the whole point.

“There’s things I’ve got to catch up on,” Rankin, 28, tells Boxing News. She turned professional with minimal experience, turning her back on an amateur career so she could retain the services of pro trainer Noel Callan and former manager, Derek Williams. “There’s things that other fighters have been doing since they were 10,” she continues. “It’s something that sticks in my mind because I’m playing catch up all the time.”

“She’s a completely different fighter from when we started, both physically and mentally,” Callan explains. He sits next to her but jokes he’s keeping a safe distance because her mood could plummet at any moment due to the weight-cutting process.

“She is now an athlete,” he says. “When we started this, we did try and convince her to go down the amateur route, but she didn’t want to leave the team. I took her to spar [former leading professional] Kelly Morgan and she got a hiding. What made me decide to stick with her is, after that hiding, she came away and said, ‘I want to do that next week, how do I get better?’ And that was literally 20 minutes after getting her arse handed to her.”

The pride Callan takes in Rankin’s subsequent transformation from wide-eyed beginner to gnarled contender is obvious. He nods knowingly as Rankin tells BN that Noel is the only person who can deal with her when she’s this deep into training camp.

Even her fiancé and partner of 13 years, Mike, stays away when a fight is nigh. Yet Rankin glows when she talks about the support network she has.

“As long as Mike’s known me, I’m always going to go and do things that I want to do,” Rankin explains about the man she plans to marry next year. “So when I told him I was going to become a professional boxer he was like, ‘Why am I not surprised?’ 

“He’s been very supportive but it’s difficult being the other half of a boxer when they’re cutting weight. That’s never fun and it’s why I go away for most of my camps because I don’t like to be that angry person in front of my dad or in front of my fiancé. It’s hard enough, and they know I’m working hard to get my body in shape. The only person who can really deal with my mood swings is Noel.”

Callan is the missing link in more ways than one. He’s the one who has honed her style and been the voice in her ear offering encouragement and honesty as Rankin has emerged as one of the leading fighters in the world. He has also been the trusted insider who her family go to when they know better than to contact the fighter herself.

“Every time she fights, on the day of the fight, I’ll get texts from her dad and they’re always the same,” Noel chuckles. “’Is she okay? How is she feeling? Has she got any injuries? How do you think she’s going to do?’”

Rankin laughs too. “I didn’t know about this until recently,” she says. “It’s really good that we’ve all got this relationship. If I had a daughter and she was in boxing, I’d want to see that she had a strong team and people that care for her. I think that’s what my dad sees in Noel.

“My dad is really proud of me,” Rankin continues. “I’m really lucky to have a very supportive father and fiancé. They come to all of my fights, even the ones that have been abroad. I think as a woman in this sport, it’s very important to have support from the men in your life because sometimes it can be quite difficult. When I started as a professional Noel said, ‘I’m not being archaic, but speak to your dad, speak to your fiancé and ask them how they feel about because at the end of the day, they’re going to be the ones who are going to watch you getting punched in the face’.”

Rankin lost her mum to cancer six years ago. It was a pivotal time in her life and she thanks the sport for giving her the strength to cope, as her focus darted between boxing and her lifelong passion. Since turning professional in 2017 she’s won six of nine bouts and been outscored in two bids for world titles, losing to Alicia Napoleon (who Rankin has been sparring in New York) for the WBA super-middleweight title and the all-conquering Claressa Shields in a high-profile challenge for the IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight straps last November.

Claressa Shields
Claressa Shields is probably the best female fighter in the world today Stephanie Trapp/Showtime

Eyebrows were raised when Rankin accepted the bout with Shields such was the gulf in experience and accomplishment. Yet the Scot held her own with the touted American before losing on points after 10 rounds in Kansas.

“I didn’t go into that fight with any illusions that she wasn’t going to be really good,” Rankin says about Shields. “I fully understood how good she was. She’s a two-time Olympic champion, a two-weight world champion, you don’t get those without having talent. I totally didn’t underestimate her. But she was quicker than I expected her to be. The game plan was to continually move and not let her set her feet because that’s when she gets her power. I was constantly making angles so she couldn’t do that, but I think I ultimately lacked a bit of experience to let my hands go after I’d done the movement. But you live and learn.”

On Saturday night (June 15) Rankin tops a Sam Kynoch-promoted bill at Paisley’s Lagoon Leisure Centre determined to show off her education. The bout – which will be broadcast live by BBC Scotland – is for the IBO super-welterweight title. The title may not be as prestigious as those she’s fought for before but in many ways it’s her most important fight yet. This homecoming is about Hannah Rankin – a newcomer no more – showing everyone what she has learnt. 

“I’m not underestimating Curran because where she is now is where I was when I first fought for world titles,” Rankin says. “She’s got an opportunity to change her life and that’s where I was. But the advantage does lie with me because I’ve done three 10-rounders now and I know that 10 rounds in a fight is very different to 10 rounds in sparring. I’m not under the pressure of being on someone else’s home turf, dealing with their fans supporting them and not you. I’ve dealt with those things, she hasn’t, so I think it’s going to be an interesting experience for her.”

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