Cecilia Braekhus makes history as The Ring Magazine’s inaugural female pound-for-pound champion
Amid the biggest event on boxing’s calendar year in 2018, Cecilia “First Lady” Braekhus – the undisputed and wholly unified female welterweight champion – showed up to Las Vegas last week to mark another event that adds to her legacy of many firsts. On Thursday afternoon, in the media center for Canelo Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin II, at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, Braekhus stepped in with little to no anticipation from the media and no assemblage of hangers-on usually equipped with the other bona fide champions of the sport. What separates her from them is blatantly obvious but Braekhus has never seemed to mind nor has she complained.
On this day, Cecilia was awarded with The Ring Magazine’s female pound-for-pound championship belt – the first of its kind – and after an impromptu presentation in the middle of press row with The Ring’s Editor-in-Chief Douglass Fischer, Braekhus collected a brand new belt four years to the day she earned her last strap necessary to completely unify the division.
At first, she seemed somewhat afraid to touch it, keeping her hands on her chest as if the belt were a priceless piece of artwork or perhaps it was a mere gesture of delight. Before handing it to her, Fischer mentioned in his preface that it was a distinction long overdue and, in an off-camera moment after the bestowal, Braekhus gleamed at the belt in private before going through the wringer of various outlets who interviewed her. Eventually Fischer and Braekhus formally redid the presentation for a short promotional video:
Earlier that week on Monday, Braekhus held a small media lunch in Los Angeles to announce not only that she was about to receive such an honor but also campaigned for a new motive that would add to her sustained narrative.
“I want to have a fight that can go global,” Braekhus announced at Katsuya, in downtown L.A. “I want the first female fight to go global, which will be live in America, in Europe, in Russia and in Latin America. I believe 100 percent that I can do this. We have, of course, mandatories coming up but the biggest fight could be Claressa Shields; it could be Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano. It could be a rematch with Kali Reis; it could be Layla McCarter. It could be (Cris) Cyborg. The list is endless with big fights. This has never happened before in female boxing.
“I think it’s amazing because this opens up a new world. We have a lot of opportunities. We can go anywhere we want and we can now go to the TV stations and say, ‘Look at this; we have potential huge fights.’ This situation is pretty mind-blowing. I have to say I don’t have so many years left and it’s a situation where I’m not even sure I will be able to fight all the girls I want to fight. That is absolutely mind-blowing. I’ve never been in this position before.”
Braekhus, a full-blooded Colombian adopted by Norwegians and raised in Bergen, recently became more familiar to boxing fans stateside when she became the first female fighter to be featured on HBO. It also doubled as her American debut and, by design, it wasn’t just some showcase. Her fight with Kali Reis was as competitive as it was exciting and she even had a scare when knocked down for the first time ever late in the fight.
“I actually chose Kali Reis,” explained Braekhus about that fight on May 5, which took place in L.A. “I was told, ‘Do not take her because she is tough.’ I said, ‘OK, we need an American. We need a good girl; we need a tough girl. We need someone who is worthy to make this a great fight that I know will deliver.’ I knew how important it was that the first fight on HBO had to have a high sense of quality. We needed to have her and I knew it would be a tough fight. It was a tough fight and that was exactly what needed to be done. I think it would be a catastrophe if I would get a girl that I can just knock down to look good. I think that would pretty much destroy any chance of women boxing of coming back on HBO for a long long time.”
Braekhus, 34-0 (9), defended her unified championship (IBF/WBA/WBC/WBO welterweight belts) just two months later in Moscow, Russia, and got back on a dominant track with a unanimous decision win over an unbeaten contender in her home country. Upon reflection and with a new goal in mind, everything that led up to the HBO debut should help Braekhus attain the global fight she seeks.
“It was very important,” Braekhus said about her experience that led to HBO, which was a rushed card in the wake of the initial Canelo-GGG rematch being cancelled. “Everything around the HBO fight was extremely intense and it was a lot of work. It was tremendous and it was exhausting. It was almost as hard as the fight inside the ring. The weeks that led up to that fight was the most intense. I knew that I needed to get one camp where I was totally allowed to have my mind on boxing, get in the ring and give a good performance. I knew I had to that right away and I did. Everything worked out great but it was very important to get back and do that. The whole experience on HBO was pretty intense and tough. It was a lot of attention and there was so much going on you cannot even imagine.”
The following week, Braekhus would then be awarded the Boxing Writer’s Association of America’s inaugural “Female Fighter of the Year” Award in New York City. Another first.
“It’s very hard to explain,” Braekhus said about the honor, which was named after retired female fighter Christy Martin. “This is a long, long journey. As a female fighter, you always have this small knot in your stomach because there are always big challenges. To be recognized in this way, it was just a huge relief because I know it’s not only for me. I know now that a lot of girls and women behind me will get this recognition also. What I got to experience is something that nobody else will ever experience again. It’s a result of the women boxing, the way it has been and also the beginning of hopefully something that I think and believe is a new era for women’s boxing. It was pretty emotional to be a part of that historical moment.”
According to Braekhus, the trip to Los Angeles was to further talks with HBO in hopes of maybe getting back on the network’s airwaves before year’s end.
“My feeling is very positive,” said Braekhus, whose promoter Tom Loeffler handles the negotiations with HBO’s Peter Nelson. “I honestly think we can get a new show on HBO before Christmas. Nothing is set; I just have a very good feeling this can happen and I have to stay positive also. We will work very hard to get that done and Tom is working hard to get me a fight before Christmas, no matter what is happening with HBO.
“The biggest thing is to get this global fight because there is no woman who has had a fight broadcasted worldwide. That is kind of my dream and also there are a lot of female fighters I want to face and challenge.”
Of the aforementioned list of fighters she said were candidates for this global fight, there’s no question who would make it the most conceivable and the biggest spectacle.
“I believe I can do this with some particular female fighters also,” Braekhus said. “Not many but some. But with Cyborg, it would be a done deal. It would be huge.”
Cyborg is the current female featherweight champion in the UFC, which has a weight limit of 145 pounds and, as it was indicated last summer when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor fought in a boxing ring in one of the most lucrative fights of all-time, there’s at least some interest in such a contest between boxing and mixed martial arts champions.
“We are talking with (UFC) all the time and she’s very interested,” Braekhus said. “She came to my fight with the belt. They really like the idea and we need to put together a business case, of course, and I believe we can do that. She has two fights more with the UFC. One now against (UFC women’s bantamweight champion Amanda) Nunes before Christmas and then she has another one. Then she will be able to negotiate with anyone.”
There is no timetable for what’s probably aimed at being the final accomplishment of her unrivaled boxing career but, at 36, Braekhus was well aware that there isn’t much time left. Over the history of women’s boxing, there’s been plenty to scoff at and plenty to not take so seriously. Braekhus, on the other hand, has been different, even refreshing, when compared to some other promotional projects in the past, regarding women’s boxing, which can easily become perverted in a macho sport. Not to mention, the trials and tribulations of being pigeonholed in an already niche sport.
Back in Vegas, where those various exploits reach their peak and are, in many ways, celebrated, Braekhus had an innate ability to separate herself from all of that as well. Walking around with a coffee cup in hand – her only habit aside from the occasional Diet Coke – there’s a dignified or even regal presence from boxing’s “First Lady.” Knowing that, regardless of the attention she receives today, Braekhus’ class act is something for the female fighters of tomorrow to look up to and how great her accomplishments have been so far already will surely be realized, when looking back at yesterday.
“Yes. Definitely. It’s been very important to me,” Braekhus told UCNLive.com about her image. “There’s a lot of stuff I could’ve done to get more attention, there and then. Like taking off my clothes or talking a lot of shit and everything like that. But I think the most important is to stay true, genuine and just be yourself. I think fight fans appreciate that. Everyone who has tried to fit me into something I don’t want – I’ve gotten rid of. I don’t work with people like that at all. Maybe I have lost a couple of dollars because of that in my career. Maybe. I don’t know – I don’t care. The most important for me is my name and my legacy. That’s it.”