Hannah Rankin is preparing for the biggest challenge of her career, a world title challenge against two-time Olympic gold medallist, Claressa Shields. The American isn’t the only thing she’s fighting though: Hannah’s also fighting to be taken seriously in a sport that, all too often, undervalues female athletes.
“When I first started, you can still be hearing people in the crowd going ‘oh it’s just a chick’s fight we won’t watch that’” the Scot told Southpaw Jab. That prejudice followed her to the higher echelons of the sport too as her last fight, a world title challenge against Alicia Napoleon, was not televised. “That whole situation was a joke!” said Rankin.
“Napoleon was just as mad as I was about it. I can’t believe they didn’t broadcast the one fight on the card that was actually for a title. It was unreal. A world title and they just didn’t broadcast it and they had all these guys just doing four rounders, eight rounders, six rounders. I was like ‘are you joking?’”
Women’s boxing is taking important strides, with fighters like Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor raising the sport’s female profile for British and Irish fans. There are still teething problems though and female boxing has a long way to go before it measures up to the male sport. That is in terms of funding, the numbers of top quality fighters and, importantly, fans attitudes.
Hannah believes that those attitudes are restricting women’s access to ‘the sweet science’. They’re not coming from fellow fighters though, she says: “There’s lots of respect amongst actual boxers, men and women, because everybody knows how hard we have to train to get to that position. I don’t think there are many male boxers who are anti women in the sport. I think comes more from the public perception of things.”
“It’s difficult in some regards for female boxing as a sport because people are still quite old fashioned about the fact that it’s women hitting women” she said. “For some reason that seems to deter people a little bit whereas, you know, they’re quite happy to watch women’s skiing, women’s tennis, women’s athletics, these are all things which are ‘appropriate’, shall we say? Appropriate to watch women compete in, because it’s not a danger to themselves. Whereas I think sometimes there’s still that initial ‘oh what if she gets hurt’ sort of thing. Or [they think] it’s really brutal because it’s women not men. I don’t understand that personally.”
While the UK is being heralded as a world leader in boxing at the moment, with numerous world champions and some of the world’s biggest shows, Hannah believes the US is beating Britain in promoting female boxing. “Attitudes are changing and I think definitely in America there’s a lot more of a positive response to women boxing than in the UK but we’re slowly catching up here” she said.
“I think the thing is for us, you know, we’re on the same card and finally we’re starting to get the chance to be put on the television which is allowing people to get involved in female boxing. Before there was no connection for the public. Even just the general public they just thought it was some girls fighting. They didn’t have a chance to actually see it and now they can see it which is amazing.”
As far as fans not understanding female boxing goes, Hannah Rankin has the two fans she cares most about on side. Her fiancé and father fully support her, she says, and they have both attended every bout she’s had. “They support me being a boxer and if they didn’t it would be extremely hard to do the sport because you’d always be worried that they’re worried for you. Of course they’re worried for me, but they still support my decision and that’s important.”
Perhaps fittingly though, it’s Hannah’s late mother that really inspires her.
“I lost my mum about five or six years ago” she says, “so I always make time that day to have a chat to her before the fight. I always go off and have five minutes to myself… I have a chat to my mum and always ask her to look out for me, and obviously look over my opponent as well but look out for me and keep me safe and get me the win, you know? So yeah, that’s the routine that I always have.”
Inspired or not Rankin 5-2 (1) will be a huge betting outsider in the fight against Shields 6-0 (2) due to the American’s immense amateur pedigree. Hannah’s five unlicensed fights were a different preparation for the pro game than Shields’ Olympic schooling but the Scot is adamant that she can take the fight to ‘T-Rex’.
Hannah says she’s hitting new PB’s in the gym each week and feels stronger than ever. She also already showed her world level attributes in a contested ten-round fight with super middleweight champ, Alicia Napoleon. Now, with more notice and closer to her natural weight, the London-based Luss fighter is hoping it’s her time.
The whole of Team Southpaw Jab hope that Hannah brings the title home from Kansas on November 17th. We also hope she beats both of her opponents: Claressa Shields and outdated attitudes towards female fighters