It’s not that long since Jane Couch, Britain’s first professional female boxer, had to go to court for the right to fight, with the British Boxing Board of Control arguing that “women were too fragile to box and they bruise easily”.
Couch won that court case and now just over two decades on two women are making more boxing history.
Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano will be the first female fight to headline at the iconic Madison Square Garden on Saturday night local time (3am BST Sunday).
The Irish world number one will defend her four world titles against Puerto Rico’s seven-weight world champion Amanda Serrano and Taylor is not wrong when she says this is the best fight in the world right now – male or female.
Boxing is evolving quickly and Scottish two-belt world champion Hannah Rankin says much of that evolution is down to Taylor.
“It’s come a massive way. I started boxing six years ago and the thought of two women headlining Madison Square Garden everyone would have laughed, so for that to be happening now is a testament to how many people have got behind women’s boxing,” Rankin said.
“We must give huge props to Katie Taylor, she’s really brought women’s boxing to the forefront. Every single female boxer out there, we all love Katie.
“She’s just brilliant, she’s showcased an amazing level of ability and talent – it’s stirred people’s interest in the sport.”
But the farmer’s daughter from Luss, Loch Lomond, has a strong following of her own and her title defense next month will be the first time a female fighter has been the headline act in Scotland – with the bout being moved to Glasgow’s biggest venue, the OVO Hydro, after the original venue sold out in minutes.
Ironically, she believes that lockdown helped the sport in this country.
“The pandemic was actually really beneficial for women’s boxing,” she said.
“We had a captive audience sitting at home, they couldn’t go anywhere, there wasn’t that much sport on the telly, and Sky Sports and Matchroom put on some female fights.
“Every single one of them delivered – 10 rounds of nonstop war for every single one of them.
“People sat at home and thought this is exciting, we could watch more of this and suddenly you have female fighters becoming household names and that has been a massive step forward.”
A professional musician as well as a boxer
Hannah isn’t your average sportswoman, she’s also a professional musician who graduated from the Royal College of Music but she won’t touch her bassoon while she’s in the countdown to a fight.
“Music has a lot of emotional connection for me with my family, specifically my mum who passed away, so with the classical side of it I try to steer clear while I’m in training camp,” Rankin explained.
“I don’t want to be thinking of those personal and emotional connections. But also what it takes to perform on an instrument takes a lot of stamina, which people don’t realise, particularly wind and brass instruments and you have to put a lot of energy into that, so alongside all my training it would be too much.”
She can’t even train with music on because she is too sensitive to following a beat, but she admits after her fights she gets itchy fingers to play her bassoon again.
‘Boxing saved me’
However, it’s boxing that she credits with coming to her rescue after her mother died shortly after she started a master’s degree at the Royal Academy of Music.
“My mum got diagnosed with cancer at the end of my first term there and I needed an outlet to get rid of frustrations and anger so the boxing gym became my second home,” Rankin said.
“I was grateful to my boxing family and they were there for me when my mum passed away and helped me deal with the grief – boxing saved me.”
Had she not been preparing to defend her WBO and IBO super welterweight titles, Rankin would have been ringside in New York this weekend as a fan.
“This is a really exciting fight with two completely different styles,” she said.
“I have Amanda winning it – later in the fight we’ll have Amanda coming on strong but early on we’ll see Katie dominating. It’s going to be epic.”
Women’s boxing has a long way to go before the prize money catches up with the men but it’s still worth celebrating this moment of history for boxing and women’s sport.