The first women’s amateur boxing match sanctioned by USA Boxing was held in 1993, on the campus of Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, Washington. The two fighters, Dallas Malloy and Heather Poyner, made history in front of a crowd of 1189 people. But took 16 more years for the International Olympic Committee to lift its ban on women’s boxing in 2009—over 100 years after it was first introduced in 1904, but denied as an Olympic sport because women were deemed too delicate to fight each other. A 2012 New York Times article on the first women’s Olympic boxing match noted that its initial rejection was due to the way boxing commissions “sometimes insisted premenstrual anxiety made females too unstable to box.” Quanitta Underwood, a U.S. boxer who competed but lost her bout in the 2012 Olympics, responded that “making history is not enough. I gave up half my life for this and it just doesn’t feel like the reward of being here is enough.”
As the sport gained slow acceptance in mainstream organizations—thanks in part to the success of Million Dollar Baby, which took the 2004 Oscar for Best Picture—women boxers started developing a stronger, more vocal fanbase. For years, the most recognizable name in women’s boxing was (and remains) Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammad Ali, whose professional career spanned from 1999-2007 during which she racked up no losses and 24 wins, with 21 of those being knockouts. Her record propelled her career and made her name synonymous with the sport for casual fans of women’s boxing. But for boxing fanatics and casual watchers alike, a new name is about to make its way into the history books of women’s boxing—and possibly women’s sport overall.
Cecilia Brækhus, a Norwegian welterweight born in Cartagena, Colombia, is the current undisputed, undefeated champion in women’s boxing; she holds an astonishing five titles with the World Boxing Council, International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association, International Boxing Organization, and World Boxing Organization. “I love [boxing] and I think it’s important that we do what we love,” Brækhus told Jezebel of her impressive professional boxing career, which began in 2007. Brækhus, who’s known as the First Lady of boxing, has won 36 fights, nine of them by knockout, and displays an incomparable technique and endurance every time she steps into the ring. But on August 15, in a scheduled bout with fellow welterweight Jessica McCaskill, she is poised to break a long-held boxing record that no boxer—woman or man—has taken since 1949.
If Brækhus beats McCaskill, she will be the first person in 72 years to have the most successful title defenses in a single weight class since Joe Louis, who defended his heavyweight championship 25 times. “I think it will be very good publicity for women’s boxing and for me personally, it would be a big deal,” Brækhus said, “because I don’t think that record is going to be broken again in quite a while.” Brækhus also thinks the publicity surrounding the fight could encourage young girls in the sport to continue on their path, despite the disparities in pay and media coverage between men and women’s boxing (boxing promoter Lou DiBella said in 2019 women boxers make “15 to 20 cents on the dollar” compared to men).
“I’ve always been very sure of myself and my skill and what I should be getting paid,” said Brækhus, who has always been vocal about the gender pay gap in boxing. But she thinks that the road to equal pay and increasing viewership has to go beyond this one fight, and beyond promoting one woman boxer at a time. “You see that that’s been done in the UFC,” she said. “Girls are getting invested in [by promoters], and the girls are getting full promotion behind them. You don’t just invest in one girl to keep her [as a] politically correct statement. But you actually invest in a lot of female talent like they do with the boys, then you can create big fights so women [can] get paid better.”
Should Brækhus win, she will retain all five of her titles and break Louis’s record, putting her in a position to eventually face Ireland’s Katie Taylor, another undefeated, undisputed boxer. When asked if she felt she would win, Braekhaus simply answered, “I’m confident.” Perhaps this time around, making history will finally be enough.
Brækhus vs McCaskill will air Saturday on DAZN starting at 8 pm ET.