By Thomas Gerbasi
The challenges and adventures only seem to getting bigger and better for undisputed women’s welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus. So should we take it as a hint that she’s been seen courtside recently for a couple NBA games in Portland and Los Angeles?
“No,” she laughs. “I have been to two basketball games in a very short time, my first and second basketball games, and I’m becoming a fan. But I think that time has passed for me to start a new sport.”
What happened to looking for new mountains to climb?
“That’s quite a mountain at my age,” she laughs. “But never say never.”
That’s okay, because the 37-year-old has plenty of business to take care of in the ring before she starts shooting hoops. The next step is a Saturday title defense against Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes that doubles as the first HBO card headlined by a women’s bout, and the final HBO boxing card. It’s historic for women’s boxing and Braekhus, but history is becoming a regular thing for the “First Lady.”
And whether it’s fighting or HBO, locking up all the belts at 147 pounds or getting the ban lifted on professional boxing in her adopted home country of Norway, it all comes down to the fight for Braekhus, who will be making her third walk to the ring this weekend. That kind of activity is virtually unheard of at the highest level of the sport, but it’s been the M.O. for the 34-0 Braekhus for years.
“I think for the American audience and reporters, this is a little bit new,” she said. “But for me, it’s nothing new. In all of my years of fighting, I’ve always been fighting three or four times a year and I do that because I really like it. I enjoy it, and I keep myself motivated by having the best opponents and the best sparring partners. Right now, I have (super middleweight contender) Maricella Cornejo in the gym as a sparring partner and we are going at it. I look forward to every gym session and every sparring session with her because having such an elite fighter in the ring to help you, it’s tremendous and it’s so fun for me.”
Adding to the sense of adventure for Braekhus at this point of her career is working in Los Angeles for the Lopes fight, and she’s embracing every moment of her time in a city far removed from Bergen.
“There are almost more people in LA than in all of my country, so it feels very different, and I like LA,” she said. “It’s sunny, it’s warm, and the boxing knowledge is very big and the boxing tradition is huge. And this is the right age for me. I’m going to basketball games and it’s fun and I’m enjoying myself, but it’s not taking my focus away from my training. I think if I came to America at a younger age, there could be a lot of distractions which could be bad for me. (Laughs) So I’m right where I need to be. I’m settled, I’m focused, and I’ve been in this business for a long time, so I’m pretty used to everything.”
And what she’s not used to, she can get used to, especially when it comes to her time in the gym. She recalls the seven years she spent training in Germany, where things were quite more regimented than they are in the City of Angels.
“It’s a whole new world,” she said. “In Germany, you have snow during training, music is not allowed, everyone has to line up and talk to the coach for 30 minutes before every training session, and here in America, it’s open training. It’s loud, you have the music on, and it’s completely different. And of course it’s warm and it’s always sunny. In Germany, we were running in the snow at seven o’clock in the morning. So this is new experience and it’s fun. I’m just taking everything in and enjoying it.”
Braekhus shouldn’t be having such a good time. At this point in her career, she should be burned out from the sport, disgusted of the business and tired of talking about it all. But there are few fighters as well-adjusted and graceful in the spotlight. And when it comes to the fighting life, her joy for it is genuine. So while having an unbeaten record and all the belts is an impressive feat, what we really should want to know is how she pulled off all that other stuff.
“I love boxing and that’s the only reason I’m doing it, because I love to box,” Braekhus said. “I don’t do it for the money or the fame or a certain image for me to obtain. That’s why I’m one hundred percent free. And the second thing is, I look at everything like an adventure, an experience. I’m having fun with all this celebrity and the media, but this is just a part. And when I’m done with it I’m going back to my normal life, my boring normal life. I’ll be with family and friends and I do stuff that is very boring and very simple, but it keeps me happy.”
So those friends and family don’t call her the “First Lady” at home?
“No, not at all,” she laughs. “I’m not getting any special treatment. At all. And this is a very good thing.”
On Saturday, the adventure continues. And though she plans on continuing this one for as long as she possibly can, there will come a day when she hangs up the gloves. When she does, how should history remember Cecilia Braekhus?
“I hope I will be remembered for opening some doors and shattering some glass ceilings and being a part of boxing history,” she said. “That is my dream and my goal.”