Irish Women’s Boxing – The Trailblazers and the future

Let’s get the main woman out of the way first of all. ‘Simply the Best’ Katie Taylor, known as the best pound-for-pound female boxer ever, has just proven once again why she is a trailblazer in this sport with her split decision victory over Amanda Serrano at one of the most infamous arenas in the world, Madison Square Garden. For nearly 20 years, she has dominated the amateur competitions, winning 18 golds at the major amateur tournaments, and has remained undefeated in her illustrious boxing career. No doubt, she will leave a legacy that will carry over into the next generation, and it looks as if that is already taking place.

Irish women’s boxing has developed dramatically over the past few decades where in 2001, the first officially sanctioned match between women took place, Katie Taylor won that match.

But just how has it developed and where do we see the future of the sport for women going.

I chatted to Niamh Campbell, reporter for the Belfast Telegraph and co-host of His and Hers Boxing podcast, about how with the current crop of talent we see amongst Irish women boxers will continue to encourage more and more young girls to pursue the sport and break the notion that boxing can’t be for girls.

She went on to tell me that of how hard women like Michaela Walsh and Kellie Harrington have worked to get where they are now.

It’s like an iceberg, you see what’s on top and you realize all the all the work that’s been done underneath, and they are constantly training years making themselves the most elite based athletes that they can be.

Along with Katie Taylor, Michaela Walsh is seen within the West Belfast community as a champion. Walsh, who has just recently been selected for Team NI for the Commonwealth Games, is currently fighting in Istanbul as part of the IBA Women’s World Boxing Championships; she is currently in the round of 32 taking on Amelia Moore.

Michaela has seen success at the European Games, the European Championships, and the European Union Championships, as well as back-to-back silvers at the Commonwealth Games. I managed to obtain a brief interview with the current Featherweight while she was training in Italy.

We talked about the prospect of going pro after the recent Tokyo Olympics. “After the Tokyo Olympics, I was sort of thinking about going pro, but I just know I have the ability to get a medal at the Olympic Games.” While in the back of her mind she has her mind set on Paris 2024, her eyes are focused on the World Championships in Turkey, “I’ve been training hard, I feel good and I’m ready to go.”

I also asked her on her perspective to the changes within competition in women’s boxing as a whole and what she has experienced.

The progress in Irish women’s boxing has some way in giving credit to those that come before, however for the younger generation the work is put in the boxing clubs itself. As can be seen, there are a plethora of boxing clubs scattered around Northern Ireland and to see the work that is being done, visit the Ulster Boxing website and find your local gym.

Visit https://ulsterboxing.com/club-locations/ to discover your local club

After visiting a few local clubs, it’s clear to see that the next generations will be pushing themselves to achieve the very best.

In Micaela Walsh’s club of The Emerald, I chatted with Courtney McCrudden, a 21-year-old who is laying down the basis to pursue medals in amateur competitions. Something to note is that many younger women and girls are starting to look up to more and more women in the sport. Whereas the previous generations may say Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather, and the like, McCrudden told me who she aspires to be like.

Well, when I first started here, Kristina O’Hara. She was here, she’s a professional now. She was amateur for a good few years, but I think training along with her, I sort of had to follow in her footsteps. And now we have Michaela Walsh here, an Olympian. Working alongside those two, definitely.

10 minutes up the road and we make our way to Holy Trinity Boxing Club, known for developing rising talent like the undefeated Caoimhin Agyarko, and led by Mickey Hawkins, they continue to develop the next generations of boxers coming out of Belfast. Additionally, they have had the privilege to coach in his youth former WBA super-middleweight champion, Brian Magee. Holy Trinity holds a respected reputation as one of the best gyms in Ireland. Excellent facilities paired with high pedigree personnel, makes it easy to see why.

During my time there, I had the pleasure of meeting rising star, Summer Fleming. At 15 years of age, she has already set expectations high as in March of this year, she became National Champion. Showing dedication and confidence beyond her years, she is developing her own path within the sport.

She began her career at the age of 8, but it wasn’t in boxing, but rather kickboxing.

“I became 6-time champion and achieved everything that I wanted to achieve. So, when I was about 13, I then joined boxing and I’m working my way up.”

As she already proves to shine in the ring, she has goals in mind for the future.

“My dream is to become a professional boxer. With that, I’m working up to the world championships and the amateurs but that’s where I see myself in the next several years.”

She goes on to state how she looks up to Katie Taylor, admiring her talent and how “she has changed women’s boxing”.

 I had the pleasure of also speaking with Louise McKenzie. McKenzie was a former boxer who trained at Holy Trinity and fought until the age of 30 before retiring and becoming a coach at the club. She additionally works for the Irish Athletic Boxing Association to promote the sport in schools.

She told me about her experiences coming through the sport. She started fighting at amateurs in 2003, 2 years after the first official fight was sanctioned. She expresses the struggles she faced back in the early 2000s where she would be what was called a paper champion, meaning that she was crowned champion multiple times in her amateur career without having to fight as no one else would weigh in to fight.

“That happened to me a lot when I was growing up, a lot of weigh-ins, a lot of walkovers.”

In her own view, she has seen the development of Irish women’s boxing as she grew into the sport. In her teenage years with walkovers but progressing into her twenties it was developing.

“When I started, you wouldn’t have had enough women to create these tournaments but now it is massive in terms of the female competition competing at events like these.”

And even now the development of women’s boxing continues. From coaching standards and adapting to females in boxing clubs have been essential.

Clubs like the Emerald and Holy Trinity continue to integrate both boys and girls together into the world of boxing. They train together, they spare against one another, learning and refining their skills. The inclusivity within boxing will continue to promote the sport and attract young people to take part in it.

Lastly, an important point made by Louise McKenzie was this; the idea of girls looking up to the like of Taylor or Walsh, those kids would go to a boxing club to train to be like them. Then in years to come, a girl comes in and see the women in the club that came before her, which presents the opportunity for club role models and more and more women to look up to. What was seen as a man’s sport will soon be considered a sport for all, no matter what gender.

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