Prior to the 2012 Olympic Games, boxing promoter Frank Warren said that he was “not a fan” of women’s boxing. He had expressed concerns, perhaps bizarrely, at the dangers the sport posed to a woman’s reproductive system, along with its marketability and the general quality of the fighting. Perhaps he had never heard of Nicola Adams. The 29 year old flyweight from Leeds had just won gold at the European Championships and was on the verge of entering an era of unprecedented dominance in the world of amateur boxing. After winning the first ever gold medal in women’s Olympic boxing at the London games, Adams emerged victorious in the next five competitions she entered.In 2014, she added the Commonwealth title to her haul. The World and European Championships soon followed, as well as another Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro last summer. No British male boxer has ever won the coveted quintet of Olympic, Commonwealth, World and European titles. Adams’ successes become all the more remarkable when we frame them in the context of her onerous rise from an exceptional yet unknown fighter sparring in the boxing clubs of Yorkshire to double Olympic champion. Adams was bed-bound for two months in 2009 following a serious back injury. After she finally made her comeback, winning silver in the World Championships, the harsh reality of life as an amateur sportsperson set in.
The riches of boxing are monopolised by prizefighters who fight in the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas’ hotels. Very little trickles down to those at the bottom of the ladder. As such, Britain’s brightest boxing talent was forced to carve out a living in other lines of work. As well as working as a builder, Adams appeared as an extra in a number of soap operas. Thankfully, the IOC decided to instate women’s boxing as an Olympic sport, and supported by the commercial, coaching and medical support of Team GB, Adams got back into the ring. 12 medals in amateur championships followed, including eight golds.
Deservedly, Adams’ achievements have also been recognised outside of the boxing world. Now one of the UK’s most recognisable athletes, her contribution to sports has been acknowledged through being awarded both an MBE and OBE for services to boxing, along with a BBC Sports Personality of the Year nomination. In 2012, she became the first ever female boxer to receive an award from the Boxing Writers’ Club of Great Britain. In 2016, DIVA magazine named her the UK’s most eminent lesbian and bisexual woman on their power list. Her medals highlight her considerable talent, but her awards and recognitions in the public eye accentuate her influence on aspiring boxers and sportspersons everywhere, regardless of their gender, sexuality, or skin colour. The decision to go professional would not have been taken lightly.
She runs the risk of forfeiting her chance of entering the 2020 Olympic games, and thus the possibility of winning a third successive Olympic gold. Yet this a golden opportunity for her to move onto bigger and better things. The financial rewards will be above and beyond anything she has ever earned before. Her debut fight next month is expected to easily sell out the 21 000 seater Manchester Arena, and will be watched by hundreds of thousands on subscription television. Perhaps more pertinently, her well-reported switch will provide a huge boost for women’s boxing as a sport.
Reporting on the 2016 Olympic Games, Steve Bunce of The Independent wrote that: “Adams was eloquent, she was brutal and she never stopped smiling. Adams has made more girls turn to boxing than Anthony Joshua and the other recent male Olympic medal winners have managed with the boys” Fast forward to January of this year, and Frank Warren (yes, the very same) is the man signing up Adams for her first professional bout. He admits to having eaten ‘humble pie’, and says that, “Of all the signings I have made in my 35 years in the sport of boxing, this is among the most I have been excited about.” Regardless of the outcome of Adams’ professional debut, her career will make another worthy addition to the catalogue of remarkable sporting stories.