A week ago, Cecilia Braekhus had a fight. Today, her April 17 bout against Jessica McCaskill is scrapped for the time being due to the Coronavirus outbreak, but as is her custom, it’s all class from boxing’s “First Lady.”
“We’ve been training very hard the last two months for this fight but completely understand the postponement given the Coronavirus,” she said. “Hopefully this will not be a long-term delay and all of the boxers can return to the ring in the near future.”
The bout against the junior welterweight champion was seen as the start of a big year for the undisputed champion of the 147-pound division, with a shot at the winner of May’s Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano bout expected to be the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow if she got past Chicago’s McCaskill.
Not bad for someone who was wondering if she was even going to continue boxing after her December 2018 win over Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes.
“There's so much motivation now,” Braekhus said. “A new gym, a new coach and a lot of interesting opponents out there for me, it's just a wave of women's boxing that's happening right now and I’m able to be a part of that. I've had a foot in the other side. I was a boxer when girls weren't even allowed to go to the Olympics. And now I'm here. I don't think anybody on the outside can really understand that feeling. My heart breaks for all the women who weren't able to be a part of this, but I still want them to know that this could never happen without them - they laid the foundation for everything that's happening today.”
It’s a nod to the past that too many athletes, regardless of sport, don’t make, so it’s encouraging to hear the pound-for-pound queen and a future hall of famer pay her respects to her peers, past and present.
“What also makes me feel a little better about the situation is that these women did what they loved to do. They wanted to do this, they loved boxing, and they're fighters, they're warriors. That's the same if you were Christy Martin, Laila Ali, myself, Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields - that's the one thing we all have in common. We love boxing and we're all fighters. That's what we want to do.”
Braekhus didn’t know if she wanted to continue in late 2018, though. It was a monumental year for her, as she fought and successfully defended her titles three times while making history as one-half of the first women’s bout on HBO World Championship Boxing. Add in all the pulls on her time and the reality that no high-profile opponent was on the horizon, and she thought about stepping away. But by the fall of last year, she was back, like she never left, signed with Matchroom and DAZN and facing a future that was lucrative not only financially, but for her legacy.
“After HBO closed down its boxing program, I wondered what to do next,” Braekhus said. “I even wondered about retiring and then this came up and we saw a long-term commitment here that could be something very good with McCaskill and Katie Taylor and Serrano all in a loop. So that was definitely the reason why I chose DAZN and didn't go with Showtime and Claressa Shields because there were more challenges with DAZN, and they also paid better. (Laughs) I'm just being honest. It was just business and this was the best solution for me. I know Claressa Shields' fans are a little bit hurt, but that's how it is. It's just business.”
These days, the Braekhus business is good, and it also looks different than it did in 2018, as she parted from longtime coach Johnathan Banks and joined up with Abel Sanchez. Her first fight with Sanchez was a win over Victoria Noelia Bustos last November, and while that was a good first step, the McCaskill camp has seen the pair click even more.
“I'm very happy because we didn't have that much time together, me and Abel, but we have a good understanding, we want the same things, and we just started to get to know each other and are understanding what we wanted from each other, so this camp is more about executing everything,” she said. “This camp has definitely been very different from the last camp, which was more about getting to know each other, getting to know Big Bear and The Summit and all the training facilities.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Braekhus’ will to win. It’s led the 38-year-old to a perfect 36-0 record, so it begs the question: when was the last time she lost at anything?
She laughs, hard pressed to come up with an answer. So let’s switch it up. Does she have to win at everything?
“The things I want to win, yeah, I do a lot to win them,” Braekhus said. “But some things are important and some things are not that important. I definitely like to win. I like to make a plan and I like to stick to a plan and I'm not bothered by social media, I'm not bothered by other stuff; I follow my plan and I make my own decisions, and I follow what my stomach tells me, not what's popular or what's hot. I'm just working methodically.
“I do get a little bit upset when I don't win, but that's getting much better. I can enjoy the social stuff more.”
Not too much, though.
“There's a reason why the retirement lasted five minutes,” she laughs. “Nobody could stand me. So this is not the time. There's so much more.”