By Thomas Gerbasi
There is no dingy gym, no broken down rings or sketchy neighborhoods to walk through in Torrevieja, Spain for Cecilia Braekhus as she prepares for her Friday bout against Erica Farias.
Call it the perks of being the undisputed welterweight champion of the world and the queen of the pound-for-pound list.
“I’ve already done the running in the snow at seven o’clock in the morning, in rain, and in German weather,” she laughs. “I’ve done all that, so I thought now I can make it a little bit more comfortable. I have a couple of good years in front of me, and when I train, I want to have it the way I want it. In Germany, I had the kind of old school training which was very good, because you get very tough. But now, I can do a little bit more of what I like to do.”
Unbeaten in 30 pro fights, with every belt a fighter can possibly win in her division, the 35-year-old Braekhus has earned her “First Lady” nickname. But if you think she’s grown complacent at the top, all that needed to be seen was the look on her face when she took in the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs bout at Madison Square Garden in March. As the two middleweights battled it out, Braekhus shut out everything around her and zoomed in on the action in the ring. It proved that as much as she has accomplished in boxing, at heart, she’s still a fan.
“That is everything,” she said. “That is the reason why I can do this. I was at the GGG fight and I had an amazing experience, and then I was at the Wladimir (Klitschko) vs. (Anthony) Joshua fight in England and those were two great experiences. I loved being there, I love boxing and I love these competitive fights. It inspires me to continue my training and to develop and to bring the biggest fighters to the ring with me. It’s all about always learning and getting inspired and seeing what’s happening out there. I’m still curious about everything in boxing. It’s a living mechanism. There’s always something happening, always new things. Boxing never sleeps.”
It’s why at a time when many top-level fighters begin to take the foot off the gas, Braekhus is speeding up. On Friday, she will fight in her adopted home country of Norway for the third consecutive time since the ban on professional boxing was lifted. And in front of an expected 15,000 fans, she will battle another fighter on the pound-for-pound list in Argentina’s Farias, a two-division world champion who will be making the move from 140 to 147 pounds for this bout.
“She’s definitely a strong fighter, and this might be my biggest fight and toughest fight yet,” Braekhus said of the 24-1 “La Pantera.” “She has good technique, but she can also make it very ugly. She wants to get on the inside and bang against the ropes, and I definitely don’t want a fight like that, so I will have to try to use my strengths and do what I do best to get her to fight my fight.”
These days, Braekhus’ fighting style has morphed from boxer to boxer-puncher under the tutelage of Johnathan Banks, and she promises more of the same following her fourth camp with the protégé of the late, great Emanuel Steward. But as far as wondering how her career would have looked with Banks in her corner the whole way, she doesn’t play that game.
“I never think backwards, I always think forward, and now I only think about what Jonathan and I can achieve together in our next fight.”
Whatever happens, it will be a special night for Braekhus, who sold out two fights in Oslo against Anne Sophie Mathis and Klara Svensson. On Friday, she will fight in her hometown of Bergen for the first time.
“My hometown in beautiful,” she said. “It’s surrounded by seven mountains, and for me, it was a childhood playground with all these mountains. We were running around, skiing, playing in the trees and the air is so fresh there. We’re also very famous for our fish market. It’s almost like you can just put your hand out in the sea and pick up some fresh fish. It’s a beautiful city – fresh air, a lot of nature, and the people there are extremely friendly and nice. This is where I was raised and this is like the real homecoming. The atmosphere when I fought in Oslo and did the homecoming there was amazing, but I think this will turn it up a couple of notches when I get to Bergen.”
It may also turn women’s boxing up a couple notches in a year when the top names on the men’s side of the sport are making the big fights happen. Now it’s the ladies’ turn, and who better to lead the charge than the “First Lady” herself?
“I hope this fight can bring women’s boxing to the next level and I can hope it can be good for boxing all over,” Braekhus said. “The guys are really stepping up now, and we girls cannot stay behind.”