It’s a hot and humid Tuesday afternoon and I’m on my way to meet the reigning WBC Silver Middleweight Champion and #TeamSouthpawJab member Hannah Rankin for an interview. I’m five minutes away from where we are meeting and my phone pings, “I’m running a tad late. Sorry, training overran!”. If you know any boxers you’ll have found that they run on their own time – they’re not late, you’re just early. The text from Hannah is a refreshing change from what 95% of boxers are like.
I set myself up in a coffee shop waiting for the ever polite Hannah to arrive. When she does we exchange pleasantries and I ask how she’s doing,
“I’m boiling! But apart from that I’m great!” That would be my fault for meeting Hannah at Liverpool Street station, a location not known for its cool atmosphere. After some causal chatting we got down to the nitty gritty and talk about her upcoming historic fight on the 4th August.
“I’m so excited, I can’t wait! It’s going to be brilliant. Getting to go to America for the first time and fight in New York: Any boxer would love to fight in New York and any boxer would love to fight for a World Title and be on TV – I’m getting all three at once so I’m actually buzzing about it I can’t wait!”
Hannah’s world title tilt is on quite a stacked card at Nassau Coliseum, which will be the biggest venue she’s boxed at. But it won’t be the biggest she’s performed on
“It’s a massive stadium and will be the biggest I’ve fought in so far but when I went to fight in Norway I got to experience the big venue with all the lights so I’ve been in that situation which is nice to have already. Away from boxing in my music career I’ve performed on some of the biggest stages and auditoriums in the world so it is not overwhelming me – I’m looking forward to it. You always get a buzz having a massive audience like that. I’m just going to get in there, keep my head down and work with my team and listen to my corner. It’s just going to be like anywhere else. Once you’re in the ring it’s just a ring and that’s all you’ve got to focus on.”
When Hannah gets to that ring she’ll be sharing it with Alicia Napoleon, the champion who has five knockouts of her nine wins, at a weight Hannah has not been up to before.
“She is the WBA Super-Middleweight Champ and is currently 9-1 and it’s a good fight. She originally started in my weight class of super welterweight so it’s poetic that we are fighting each other for the Super-Middleweight World Title. She’s from New York so I’m going to her backyard for the fight. Some would say that makes me the underdog but I’m not really bothered about that – I’m Scottish, we’re always the underdogs!”
The ever underdog attitude or the pressure of history hasn’t put Hannah off wanting to put on a show for the fans in attendance and those who will be watching on TV
“We’re going to be the first female fight at the Coliseum so that’s exciting. I’m looking forward to getting over there – I can’t wait! Our styles are going to make it a great fight for TV and I can’t wait to get over there. It’s no difference there for me!”
I picked up on Hannah’s knowledge of Napoleon’s style and I asked whether the New York Native had been on her radar for a while,
“Yeah I’ve been watching her for quite a while now – we were looking at potentially sorting out some sparring with her about 5/6 months ago so for me it’s not a new idea. I’ve been watching her for a little while so I think we will make for an exciting fight and I’m looking forward to getting in there and seeing what happens.”
The talk of sparring felt like a perfect segue into Hannah’s recent sparring with the pound for pound number 1 and the first lady of boxing; Cecilia Braekhus.
“It was amazing just to get the call – I was so proud. When I first got the call I didn’t believe it was really her! I thought ‘this is me! And that’s Braekhus’ It’s insane. I was excited to go and I had a great time – two weeks working with the pound for pound top female boxer! It was great to be a part of the camp. To meet Jonathan Banks as well and see him work with the champ and of course to get that sparring, it was a great experience! And then to get a call for the world title fight, it was the perfect set up and perfect timing.”
As Hannah said, the call came while she was out sparring Braekhus, but how does a natural 154lb fighter get a call for the Super-Middleweight World Title?
“In the girls game you’ve got to take the opportunities when they come along. Girls often move through the weight classes – there just not enough of us to justify saying that you’re going to stay in one division – you can’t do that. You need to go up and down the divisions to find opponents. My last fight was at 160lbs for the WBC Silver Middleweight title and when I was offered the chance to fight for the Super-Middleweight title I was like ‘Yeah why not?’ It’s a great fight and I think it’ll be good so I said yes!”
Apart from the greater experience of the WBA Champ, both Napoleon’s and Hannah’s careers are quite similar, both started their careers at Super-Welterweight and both have picked up the WBC Silver title along the way,
“We have a lot in common actually and I think that’s going to show on fight night. We’re roughly around the same place and we’ve been working through the same sort of channels going places so I think we’re similar and it will make the fight exciting. I’m glad I got the call for it really! I’m really happy – I’m happy I’ve got the chance to go over there and fight on the world stage – It’s great!”
Because of the movement around the divisions, a win on Saturday will not only make Hannah a World Champion, but it will also make her a three division champion having picked up the International Challenge Belt at 154lbs and the aforementioned WBC Silver Title at 160. All in the space of seven fights! After mentioning how impressive that would be, the humble Luss native seemed a little coy on her achievements, as if she was someone not to sit down and enjoy her success but one that is fully focused on the next challenge,
“I’ve been super busy since I turned pro – I’ve been pro for 15 months now. Me and my coach Noel Callan have worked really hard and have pushed really hard for this and when I got the call I thought ‘I deserve this, I’ve worked really really hard’. I’m starting to get myself in the right positions for these things so the dream is three belts and we’ll see where we go from there!”
Hannah mentioned her coach Noel who is a very quiet man, someone who clearly lets others speak before he imparts with any of his knowledge. I asked what he was like in the corner during a fight.
“He’s very straight, down the line, I never have to worry about him getting excited or nervous – he keeps everything calm. Which is exactly like it is in training; nothing ever changes and I think that works really well for me. Some people like to have over the top hype to get them amped up but I like cool calm collected and that what he’s like all the time. Obviously if I get back to the corner and he’s not happy I’ll know about it! But he’s normally exactly like he is outside the ring – cool calm and collected. That’s how I like it”
With female boxing growing rapidly in the UK and more fighters achieving success around Hannah’s weight class(es) I asked her about the bubbling rivalry with the recently crowned Commonwealth Super-Welterweight champion Stacey Copeland. Hannah was quick to praise Stacey but also quick to show she only has her eyes on one thing at the moment
“Its great that Stacey won the Commonwealth title and it’s in the UK – that’s fantastic. Well done to Stacey for travelling to South Africa to fight for it. It’s always hard when you fight away from home so props to her for that. If the fight with Stacey was to come up down the line I’d definitely say yes – it’s a good rivalry and as you say the weight classes are slowly filling up a bit over here – we’re still by no means as big as everywhere else though. And you need to have domestic rivalries in the UK for the sport to take off.
The guys have that naturally – you can build rivalries between Scotland and England and even in the Area levels and it’s normal in the men’s sport. But for us you can’t build it as naturally so when you’ve got someone in your weight class it’s great to have them to play against. I’m sure a lot of people would like to see me and Stacey fight at some point. If it comes about we will but right now I’m concentrating on New York so that’s a fight for another time.”
New York will be ticking off quite a few tasks on the proverbial career bucket list: First Female fight at the Coliseum and a win making Hannah not only the first female Scottish fight to win a World Title but the first British female fighter to win one of the big 4 governing body titles – the feats weren’t lost on Hannah and she was taking it all in her stride
“That’s crazy! But there’s lots of things happening and obviously for women in the sport to be the first female fight at the Coliseum is insane. That’s really exciting. And it’s great that we’re going to be able to showcase female boxing on Fox Sport in America and it gives my career a real boost and I’m going to get the chance to show what I’m about on the world stage. I think women in the UK are starting to really take off – female boxing is becoming a big thing and more and more girls are getting involved – especially in Scotland which I’m quite excited about. Slowly we’re rising up and I think it’s gonna start becoming more normal to see girls out there regularly boxing on shows in the UK. We’re finally catching up with the rest of the world there. It’s coming together nicely.”
I rounded things up by talking to Hannah about the wave of success she’s riding at the moment after winning her WBC Silver title and sparring Braekhus and whether she can see it stopping any time soon.
“I hope it doesn’t! I’m happy, I’m enjoying it. Anything can happen in boxing – something I’ve learned about the sport is that you can never plan on anything. One minute you can be ticking over and then you get a call for a world title shot! These things happen and you’ve got to take your opportunities when they come up.
You never know what’s going to happen on the night but I’m looking to go over there, win the world title, become Scotland’s first female world champion which would be amazing. That’s the goal but we’ll see what happens. Like I said you never know what’s going to happen but that’s the goal and hopefully we’ll keep riding the wave and see how we go!”