On 7th April 2018, boxer Hannah Rankin will step in to the ring at the Lagoon Leisure Centre in Paisley to become the first British woman to compete for the Super-Welterweight Commonwealth belt.
Speaking to Rankin earlier this week, passion and excitement emanated from her as she discussed her unique opportunity to not only win her first major title, but also raise the sport’s popularity among women in the UK.
Rankin has not taken the traditional way to the top, in which fighters build experience on the amateur circuit with the aim of fighting at the Olympics before going professional. Instead, she has followed a more circuitous route, only finding the sport after her undergraduate degree when she met her manager, former professional boxer Derek Williams, in London and he encouraged her to take it up.
After following his advice and taking part in some white-collar boxing charity events, Rankin’s talent became clear, perhaps owing to her martial arts involvement while growing up.
However, this left her with the difficult decision of how to pursue such a talent: go amateur, lose your team and aim for the Olympics, or go professional, keep your team together and aim to make a name for yourself in the more brutal professional ranks.
Such was her affinity with her team, Rankin chose the latter and made her debut in the professional ring in May last year.
She has not looked back. Combining her fierce fighting with her job as a music teacher and professional bassoonist, a skill that she attributes with helping her to adapt to the discipline of life as a professional sportswoman, she has won four of her five fights. The most recent was secured through a knockout, showing her improving aggression in the ring which is so vital to her dominant style.
However, her next opponent, Julie Tshabalala, the three-time South-African champion, offers her most formidable challenge yet. Rankin is not one to be overawed though, pointing out that her own lack of titles is a consequence of the infrastructure in British female boxing, which still has no domestic title for women to compete for.
Thus, Rankin finds that her first title fight is for the prestigious Commonwealth title in only her sixth bout. Yet, with former European and Commonwealth champion Williams in her camp, Rankin will be well-prepared for such a significant bout of increased pressure.
In order to aid her preparation, she has undergone an eight-week training programme, which has seen her travel to Berlin for sparring, as well as working in a higher-level gym, constantly trying to find new ways to improve and make sure she is ready for the title fight’s increased intensity.
Instead of dwelling on that, Rankin prefers to speak of her wider ambitions in the sport. Not only does she see the Commonwealth title as a stepping stone in her ultimate quest to be world champion, but she aspires to achieve that goal with her original team around her.
“We started together, and so to become world champion with the same trainer would be the ultimate thing, especially as we haven’t gone through the traditional, amateur route.”
However, a world title would not satiate Rankin, who is quick to comment on the increasing popularity of the sport of boxing. She highlights Anthony Joshua’s influence as a “people’s champion” who has opened the sport up to a new audience, as well as citing the progression of Katie Taylor under Eddie Hearn’s guidance, which has been vital in boosting women’s boxing in recent years.
Yet, while professional female boxing is growing, Rankin accepts that there are still issues to overcome, “We are still a bit behind. You still get adverse reactions when you say you’re a professional boxer. So, it’s about changing mindsets and encouraging girls to get involved with the sport.”
Rankin is aiming to turn things around, so that British girls have a pathway into boxing and can look to homegrown fighters as role models rather than continental stars such as Christian Hammer, who receive a lot more publicity.
That starts with her title fight at home on 7th April, something that she calls “the biggest thing for any boxer.” If she beats Tshabalala she will be well on the way to raising her own and the sport’s popularity. With a clear passion for boxing and a ferocious fighting style, Rankin could well be the star to bring female boxing to the forefront of British sporting conscience. But first she must win in Paisley.
Tickets can be purchased for Hannah’s title fight by messaging Hannah Rankin on Facebook or Twitter @boxinNBassoonin, or through MTK Scotland