Weigh-In Recap and Slideshow | “Hopefully, We’ll See Some Blood”: Braekhus and Shields Prepare to Take Their Places on Historic Stage

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

CARSON, CA. – Seven months ago, Cecilia Braekhus made history.

When her hand was raised in victory at the end of a hard-fought decision over Kali Reis at the StubHub Center in May, on the undercard of Gennady Golovkin’s demolition of Vanes Martirosyan, she became the first female boxer ever to win a fight on HBO.

A little more than half a year later, she will make history again. Her clash this Saturday night (10:20 PM ET/PT) with Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes will be the HBO main event – which for female fighters is unprecedented, and will also be forever unmatched, as theirs will be the last fight of any kind to be aired on the network.

Braekhus, while acknowledging the significance of the event, chooses not to dwell on it, at least not yet. “You know what? When I’m old and retired, I can look back and I can really, really say that I made history.” For now, she is fixing her attention on Magdziak-Lopes, fully aware that her foe is made of stern stuff.

“I have to be focused on my fight,” she said after the final pre-fight press conference this week. “I have a tough competitor, and I need to be 100 percent focused on her, and I cannot allow myself right now to take in the historical event that this is for boxing. The most important thing is that I have to produce my best performance ever.”

That said, on the three previous occasions that Magdziak-Lopes has challenged for a world title belt, she has fallen just short. Braekhus can expect another tough night but will anticipate it ending with her in position to move on to one of the higher-profile challenges that await.

Perhaps that challenge will be in the form of MMA star Cris Cyborg, who has long coveted a bout with the Norwegian, who was ringside when Braekhus fought Reis, and who will be present again on Saturday – and who will in fact be walking to the ring with another possible future Braekhus opponent, Claressa Shields, who opens the HBO broadcast against Femke Hermans.

Shields’ presence on the card – and indeed, her fame and status as the only American Olympian to win back-to-back boxing golds (in 2012 and 2016) – is testament to a rise in the attention being given to women’s boxing in the United States. Such increased attention is exemplified by the fact that, by the end of the broadcast on Saturday, the number of women’s bouts on HBO will have risen from zero in 45 years to four in seven months. (Heather Hardy defeated Shelly Vincent at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in October, in the second female bout on the network.)

“I think what’s happening now in the States is extremely beautiful to watch,” said Braekhus, who has fought most of her career in Germany, where women’s boxing has long had a higher profile – to the extent that she has headlined pay-per-views. “I just hope that this will continue.”

(It is not just women’s boxing that has long battled for the spotlight. Lower-weight male fighters have also traditionally been given short shrift, but the flyweight and super-flyweight divisions have received a shot in the arm over the last couple of years, a consequence of a remarkable concentration of talent in their upper reaches. Roman Gonzalez and Srisaket Sor Rungvisai may be the cream of that particular crop, but Juan Francisco Estrada, who has lost close decisions to both men, is right behind them, and has perhaps been the biggest beneficiary of his division’s moment in the sun. The only fighter to appear on all three iterations of the “Superfly” franchise, he steps in for an injured Gonzalez and takes on Victor Mendez in the middle bout of Saturday’s triple-header.)

For Shields – who is facing Hermans just three weeks after defeating Hannah Rankin to run her professional record to 7-0 – Saturday night is an unexpected opportunity to realize a lifelong dream.

“Growing up in the amateurs, I watched HBO, and I told myself, ‘I want to fight on HBO.’ And then I thought my chance was gone, but boom! Here we are. I’m just so happy that HBO thought of me and gave me the chance.”

At the end of the day, however, boxing is boxing, whoever is filming or calling the action, and what matters most is what happens when the combatants enter the ring. Asked to predict how events will unfold on Saturday night, Shields underlined that when that happens, issues of history, weight class and gender are largely irrelevant, and the attractions that keep people tuning in to watch boxing are fundamental and simple to articulate.

“I’m going to break down her body. I’m going to punch her in the face. And hopefully we’ll see some blood.”

CompuBox Preview and Prediction: Braekhus vs. Magziak-Lopes

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

At age 37, Cecilia Braekhus has built a strong case for being the greatest female boxing champion ever to walk the earth. If one's criteria for determining that status is performance under championship conditions, her qualifications are beyond question: She has held at least one major world title since March 14, 2009, and in that time she has made 23 defenses of the WBC title, 22 of the WBA strap, 20 defenses of the WBO title, eight defenses of the IBF strap and eight defenses of the undisputed championship, the most ever recorded by anyone -- man or woman -- in the four-belt era. Add to that her reported 75-5 amateur record and victories over 12 opponents who have held titles at some point in their careers, and one can see why she is called boxing's "First Lady."

braekhus-vs-lopes-compbox.jpg

Braekhus will be making her second (and final) HBO appearance against Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes, a 38-year-old Pole who has lived in the U.S. since age 16, is a full-time lawyer, and who is challenging for 147-pound honors after two failed attempts at the vacant WBC super welterweight title against Mikaela Lauren (a common opponent) and Ewa Piatkowska. Will moving down the scale give Lopes the needed strength advantage to overcome Braekhus' skills or will Braekhus prove once again that she is (as WWE legend Bret Hart often said) "the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be"? 

A Testing Win

In her first HBO appearance against Kali Reis (who also was moving down in weight to challenge Braekhus), the Norway-based Colombian was tested more severely than usual in that Reis scored a knockdown in the seventh and followed up with a strong eighth and ninth before Braekhus rebounded in the 10th. Still, the final numbers favored Braekhus as she was more active (37.7 punches per two-minute round to Reis' 35.7), landed more in each phase (115-78 overall, 38-12 jabs, 77-66 power), connected more accurately (31%-22% overall, 20%-9% jabs, 42%-29% power) and led the CompuBox round-by-round breakdowns 9-1 overall, 9-0-1 jabs and 6-4 power en route to capturing all three judges' scorecards (96-93 twice, 97-92).

Including the Reis victory, Braekhus has earned statistical leads over her four CompuBox-tracked opponents in that she has been more active (38 per two-minute round to her foes' 33.8), landed more (11.9 to 6.4 total connects per two-minute round, 4.1 to 1.5 landed jabs per two-minute round and 7.8 to 4.9 power connects per two-minute round) and landed much more frequently (31%-19% overall, 22%-11% jabs, 40%-24% power). But Father Time (and Mother Nature) eventually snares everyone, and one must wonder if that time will come when Braekhus is inside a boxing ring? Yes, the 38-year-old Lopes is 17 months older than Braekhus, but she hopes that her size and relative freshness (25 fights to Braekhus' 34 and 162 rounds to Braekhus' 264) will provide adequate compensation.  

Falling Short

In her second chance at the WBC super welterweight title, an all-Polish match versus Ewa Piatkowska, Lopes' counterpunching kept her in the fight throughout the first half of the contest. But one moment midway through round six damaged Lopes' hopes: A jab and right to the chest that scored the fight's only knockdown. With each fighter recording 60 total connects through seven rounds, Piatkowska nailed down the decision -- and the vacant title -- by out-landing Lopez 40-26 overall, 18-16 jabs and 22-10 power in the final three rounds to extend her final leads to 100-86 overall and 52-32 power to off-set Lopes' narrow 54-48 lead in landed jabs. Also helping Piatkowska's cause was her constant aggression, her superior accuracy in all phases (28%-18% overall, 24%-19%

PODCAST: StubHub Tripleheader Preview (Ep 283 )

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HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney preview Saturday's Boxing After Dark tripleheader from the StubHub Center in Carson, California, featuring top female fighters Cecilia Braekhus and Claressa Shields and "Super Fly" stalwart Juan Francisco Estrada.

Cecilia Braekhus and Roman 'Chocolatito' Gonzalez Star in December 8 Doubleheader

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Photo: Ed Mulholland

Cecilia Braekhus and Roman Gonzalez make their respective returns at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA. on Saturday, December 8 for an action packed doubleheader. Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs), will face two-time world title challenger, Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes, (18-4-3, 1 KO), a native of Gilwice, Poland, now based in Marshfield, MA in the ten-round main event.  Meanwhile, Gonzalez, (47-2, 39 KOs) will face off with Pedro ‘Jibran’ Guevara. The event will be televised live on HBO Boxing After Dark beginning at 10:20 PM ET/PT. 

“I’m thrilled to be announcing my next title defense against Aleksandra Magdziak-Lopes,” said Cecilia Braekhus, currently training in Southern California with the renowned Johnathon Banks. “I know Aleksandra very well and this will be a very tough challenge for me.”

“It’s great to be back in Los Angeles, it’s starting to feel like my second home now. Right now, it’s pretty cold now in Norway so the sun and warm weather are treating me very good and I expect a lot of fans from Norway to come to my fight and experience the Southern California sunshine. My trainer Johnathon Banks and I have already started working very hard in the gym.” 

“A big thank you to Tom Loeffler and 360 Promotions for putting together this great event. Thanks very much to HBO for putting me on the network again. I promise to deliver another big fight, my last fight was very exciting and this one will be as well, I don’t do boring fights.”

‘I’m defending all the belts as you see in front of me. They represent a life-time of hard work. Hopefully when it becomes time to retire I can do so undefeated, that is my dream, that is my goal. I thank you for all your support and to the fans here in the United States and those attending the fight internationally.”

“It’s been my dream to fight Cecilia and I can’t wait to fight her,” said Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes. “She is the best women’s fighter in the world and has been for many years but on December 8 I will be up to the challenge and come out victorious with her titles.”

Stated Roman Gonzalez, “Thanks very much to God, Mr. Honda, Teiken Promotions, HBO Boxing and 360 Promotions. I know Pedro Guevara very well, he’s a very tough fighter and I will have to be at my very best to continue my pursuit of a fifth world title.”

“It’s an honor to be on the same card as Cecilia Braekhus, we’re very blessed to be here.  I was very happy with the knockout victory of my last fight and look forward to fighting in Los Angeles again in front of my fans.”

“Chocolatito was the best fighter in the world not too long ago and that is the fighter I am preparing for,” said Pedro Guevara. ‘It’s an honor to share the ring with him but on December 8 it will be another victory on my path to again becoming a world champion.”

Said Tom Loeffler, “This card truly is a tribute to HBO where the biggest stars in boxing have been made for decades. As we have seen with the ascent in popularity with Gennady Golovkin and as we continue to see with Cecilia and Roman their international popularity and marketability continues to increase with each appearance on HBO.”

“We’ve promoted some outstanding and record-breaking memorable nights of boxing at the Stubhub Center and we look forward to another great event on Saturday, December 8. We hold the record for the 3 largest gates at StubHub Center with GGG in his two fights at StubHub and Chocolatito with his sold out fight there last year.”

“Thanks to Dan Beckerman at AEG and everyone at StubHub Center for their support and for working on this show with us and to the California State Athletic Commission who have always been very fair while keeping the health and safety of the fighters as their number one priority.”

Fighting for the first time in Russia, Cecilia Braekhus won a 10-round unanimous decision over junior middleweight world champion Inna Sagaydakovskaya on July 21, 2018 in Moscow. The victory took place in front of over 25,000 spectators at the Olympic Stadium and an international televised audience. Prior to that, Braekhus was victorious in the first women’s bout televised by HBO in their 45-year history on May 5, 2018. Defeating Kali Reis by unanimous decision at the StubHub Center in Carson, CA, the fight drew an average of 904,000 viewers in the United States, the second highest viewership by the network for boxing in 2018.

Braekhus is currently ranked the #1 Pound-for-Pound Female Boxer by Ring Magazine and the Boxing Writers Association of America. She was presented with the first women’s Ring Magazine Pound-for-Pound Title belt in Las Vegas on September 15, 2018. Since September 2014, Braekhus has held the WBC, WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO Welterweight World Titles and was just awarded 3 Guinness Book of World Records Awards this year at the WBC Convention in Kiev, Ukraine.

Magdziak-Lopes has twice previously challenged for world title. On September 17, 2016, she traveled to Gdansk, Poland to face Ewa Piatkowska for the vacant WBC Super Welterweight World Title, losing a hard-fought ten-round decision. In 2014, Magdziak-Lopes battled Mikaela Lauren in her hometown of Rocklunda, Sweden for the vacant WBC Super Welterweight World Title. At the end of a highly competitive ten rounds, Lopes would come up just short losing a majority decision to Lauren. 

Magdziak-Lopes is unbeaten in her last 3 fight, including victories over Paty Ramirez and Lisa Noel Garland.

Returning to battle less than three months after a knockout victory, Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez looks to continue on his path towards a fifth world title. On September 15, 2018, the hard-hitting Nicaraguan dismantled Moises Fuentes with a ‘Knockout of the Year’ stoppage in the fifth round on the HBO Pay-Per-View®Undercard of the World Middleweight Championship between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.

Gonzalez has held world titles in four weight divisions; minimum weight, junior flyweight, flyweight and super flyweight. From September 12, 2015 to March 18, 2017, he was the Consensus #1 Pound-for-Pound Fighter in the World. 

The 29-year-old Guevara first became a world champion on December 30, 2014 with a seventh-round knockout of Akira Yaegashi in Tokyo, Japan, winning the vacant WBC Junior Flyweight World Title. After making two successful defenses in Mexico, Guevara would return to Japan losing a split-decision to Yu Kimura on November 28, 2015.

In 2018, Guevara has recorded two stoppage victories, an eighth-round knockout of Angel Guevara on May 18, 2018 followed by a tenth-round stoppage of Roberto Sanchez on September 1, 2018.

PODCAST: Canelo-GGG 2 Radio Row Day 1 (Ep 275)

HBO Boxing Insiders Eric Raskin and Kieran Mulvaney are live from Radio Row at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, covering GGG-Canelo 2 Fight Week with guests Brian Campbell of CBS Sports, middleweight contender Spike O'Sullivan, and women's welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus.

Braekhus Bounces Off the Canvas to Claim Unanimous Decision Victory

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Sarah Deming

It was a rougher night than Cecilia Braekhus expected, as she had to get up off the canvas to win a unanimous decision over Kali Reis in HBO’s inaugural women’s bout.

Challenger Kali “Mequinonoag” Reis took an emotional ring walk set to Native American music, preceded by dancers in traditional dress. 

“I’m a Native American warrior woman and this is how I pray,” she said. “This is how I spread good medicine.”

Braekhus (33-0, 9 KOs) looked serene in white emblazoned with the Norwegian flag. The undisputed champion, she was making the 22nd consecutive defense of the welterweight title she has held for nine years. In a last-minute change, she took the ring with trainer Johnathon Banks rather than Lucia Rijker, with whom she has trained for the past two months. Braekhus said she felt “more comfortable” with Banks, who has coached her for the past five fights.

The opening half of the fight did indeed look comfortable for Braekhus, who is considered by some the best pound-for-pound woman in boxing today. She established the jab well in the first two rounds, controlling the distance and rhythm.

Reis (13-7-1, 4 KOs) had her moments in the third, but Braekhus got back on the jab, scoring to the body and the head and controlling the distance well. Midway through the third, she scored with a lead overhand right, but Reis came right back.

The fourth was a good action round as Braekhus landed a stiff right off a double jab that was the hardest punch of the fight, but Reis stayed composed and countered well.

In the fifth, Braekhus began to open up with more combinations to the body and the head. She landed heavier rights in the sixth, but Reis was connecting as well.

“Stay in there!” Reis’s corner implored whenever their fighter would get inside, but Braekhus tied her up in the clinch and landed good hooks coming out.

Reis rallied in the seventh and her power began to show. She has spent most of her career campaigning at middleweight and looked to have the heavier hands. She came out energized for the eighth and, backing Braekhus up to the ropes, dropped her with a chopping overhand right. Braekhus got right back up and did not look seriously hurt. 

Both women landed heavy leather in the eight, but Reis’s shots were heavier. Braekhus was hurt again by a left hook right before the bell but Reis was unable to capitalize on it.

The rounds go quickly in a women’s bout. Braekhus and Reis fought two minutes, in contrast to the three-minute rounds fought by men. Braekhus has said that the shorter round length does not bother her, but many women boxers have campaigned for a rule change, arguing that it would lead to more knockouts. (Female amateurs have been boxing three-minute rounds since last year.)

“Don’t let her get that lucky,” trainer Johnathon Banks told Braekhus in the corner before the eight round.

Braekhus dug deep and boxed well in the final two, regaining control. By the tenth, her legs were back underneath her and she was again controlling the action. The judges had it 97-92, 96-93 twice.

MMA fighter Cris Cyborg had rolled in twenty minutes before the bout, draped in her UFC belt and sporting a “Cyborg vs. Braekhus” tee-shirt. She told press that she would like to fight two more MMA bouts before transitioning to boxing. Braekhus has also expressed enthusiasm for the match. Based on her performance tonight, this looks like an easier outing for her than bulking up to a catchweight to face the formidable two-time Olympic champion Claressa Shields.

This was far from the coming out party the “First Lady” had hoped for, and she even got some boos when she took the mic afterward. The StubHub fans always love a puncher. Reis did herself proud tonight.

In a sport that is always bobbing and weaving various controversies, the women’s game offers a fresh storyline and antidote to cynicism. There is essentially no A-side in women’s boxing: Both Braekhus and Reis are underdogs who triumphed over immense odds just to get on the air. 

Weigh-In Recap and Slideshow: Golovkin, Braekhus Have Eyes on History on Unexpected May 5 Card

Photos: Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

LOS ANGELES, Calif. –

And so here we are.

It is an event that nobody expected eight weeks ago, and few would have predicted with certainty or in its entirety even two weeks back. But if Saturday night’s card at the StubHub Center (HBO World Championship Boxing, 11.00 PM ET/PT) is not a Las Vegas Cinco de Mayo boxing extravaganza of the kind to which we have become accustomed, it is nonetheless one that promises legitimate history and offers the possibility of its own intrigue.

Those claims to history have been stated before, but are worth repeating. When Kali Reis walks to the ring to await the arrival of her opponent Cecilia Braekhus in the opening bout of the show, it will mark the introductory scene of the very first female bout ever featured live on HBO. Coming one week after a broadcast that featured highlights of Olympic champion Katie Taylor’s most recent fight, it perhaps portends – at long last, some might say – a greater focus on and appreciation of the female side of the sport. Even if it does not – after all, it took a confluence of events for Braekhus and Reis to wind up as the co-main event of a World Championship Boxing card – then the appearance of both Taylor and Braekhus on HBO is a welcome development. Both are not just “good female boxers”; both are good boxers, period. They can flat-out fight, and while Taylor is still in the formative stages of her professional career, Braekhus has been at the game for over a decade, has held at least one version of the welterweight world title since 2009, and claimed them all in 2014.

Braekhus is widely regarded as the best female boxer in the world, pound-for-pound; on the male side of the aisle that claim is made less often of Gennady Golovkin than it was, largely because of the transcendence of Vasyl Lomachenko, but it’s a case than can be and is made still. On Saturday night, Golovkin plans to make history of his own, as he looks to notch the twentieth successful defense of a middleweight title that he first won in 2010. Doing so would equal the number of middleweight title defenses racked up by Bernard Hopkins, and if the achievement seems somewhat diminished by the fact that that first title fight was an interim belt against the log-forgotten Milton Nunez and his twentieth will be against a lifetime junior middleweight, Vanes Martirosyan, who hasn’t fought for two years, then it is worth remembering that Hopkins’ lengthy reign included wins over the likes of Bo James and Morrade Hakkar and a no contest against Robert Allen. Granted, for the latter few years, Hopkins was the lineal, undisputed champion; but Golovkin would now boast that honor had he been awarded the decision many feel he merited against Canelo Alvarez last September, and who can seriously question that he has been the best, most dominant middleweight in the world for the last several years?

The history, though, will be an afterthought for those gathered at StubHub or watching on HBO. What they will be looking for is the latest, long-awaited, instalment of Big Drama Show, the loud crack of Kazakh Thunder that rolled through opponent after overmatched opponent from 20212 through 2016. During that period, until he battled over twelve rounds last year with both Daniel Jacobs and Canelo Alvarez, the level of Golovkin’s opposition was almost an afterthought for fans. What mattered was watching Golovkin at his destructive best, blasting his foes into defeat, then bowing to all corners of the arena and smiling his cherubic smile. And if a Kazakh and an Armenian seem an unlikely pairing on Cinco de Mayo, we should note that the card is dubbed “Mexican Style 2”, a nod both to the description Golovkin’s has applied to his approach to boxing, and to the last time Golovkin fought at StubHub. On that occasion, in October 2014, he flattened Mexico’s Marco Antonio Rubio inside two rounds, and the cheers of the Mexican fans in attendance – many of them wearing ‘Mexicans for GGG’ ball caps – rose into the evening sky.

Golovkin will be aiming for something similar on Saturday. It may not be the event, or the fight, that anyone was expecting or anticipating; but it will be he, he hopes, a night to send everybody – except, possibly, Martirosyan - home happy.

Official Weights:

Gennady Golovkin: 160 lbs.

Vanes Martirosyan: 159.6 lbs

 

Cecilia Braekhus: 145.8 lbs.

Kali Reis: 144.8 lbs

Cecilia Braekhus, the First Lady of Boxing, Fights for Her Spotlight

Photo:  Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos/ GGG Promotions

Photo: Tom Hogan - Hoganphotos/ GGG Promotions

By Sarah Deming

Cecilia Braekhus wears her nickname well. The “First Lady” of boxing is poised as a diplomat, fluent in three languages, undisputed, and undefeated.

When she takes her ring walk on Saturday through the warm California night, the Norwegians who follow her everywhere will shout and wave their flags. Trainer Lucia Rijker will help haul the five world title belts that make Braekhus the only reigning undisputed champion. And supporters of women’s boxing will cheer as HBO broadcasts its first female bout.

Braekhus (32-0, 9 KOs) makes the 22nd consecutive defense of her welterweight crown on May 5 against former world titleholder Kali Reis (13-6-1, 4 KOs) of Providence. This historic ten-round co-feature kicks off the Gennady Golovkin vs. Vanes Martirosyan middleweight championship event, broadcast live from the StubHub Center on HBO World Championship Boxing, beginning at 11 PM ET/PT.

Braekhus has spent her life crossing boundaries. Born in Cartagena, Colombia, she was adopted at age two and raised in Bergen, Norway, where she spent her childhood hiking, skiing, and recovering from frequent sports injuries that alarmed her parents. When she started kickboxing, she snuck out her fourth-floor window every night to train.

“At that time, it was not usual at all for girls to do martial arts,” she explains. “For a young boy, it was not a big deal, but for a young girl…” She pauses with characteristic thoughtfulness. “It only comes from not having enough information. If you don’t know so much about something, then of course you get more afraid.”

Once she brought her parents to the gym, they understood its culture of humility and discipline. Now they are her biggest supporters.

Braekhus went 75-5 as an amateur boxer. She turned pro in 2007, but was unable to fight at home because Norway had imposed a ban on professional boxing in 1981, the year of her birth.

With difficulty, she convinced Sauerland Promotions to sign her, and she relocated to Berlin to train under legendary German coach Ulli Wegner. She was the only woman in his stable of ten men that included world champions Arthur Abraham and Marco Huck.

“I was fighting for my life,” she says. “Fighting for attention. As a female fighter, you have to take part in the whole process in a completely different way than the male boxers are doing.”

In 2009, in her eleventh pro bout, Braekhus decisioned the undefeated Vinni Skovgaard to claim the vacant WBC and WBA world titles. Three fights later, she added the vacant WBO belt with a decision over Victoria Cisneros. In 2014, she took the belt from IBF titleholder Ivana Habazin with another unanimous decision, becoming undisputed welterweight champion of the world. With each fight, her fan base grew.

Her next defense, against Jennifer Retzke, proved the most brutal of her career, when she fractured her foot in round three.

“It hurt like hell,” she says. “But you make a choice. Either lose the bout and go home and feel sorry for yourself, or continue to fight. If you continue, then you cannot bitch about it. You just have to do it.”

Braekhus pulled out the ten-round unanimous decision, but it was over a year before her foot healed. The enforced layoff gave her time to reflect.

She had been in Germany seven years and felt stagnant. So she left Sauerland and signed with K2 Promotions. She began training with Wladimir Klitschko’s trainer Johnathon Banks, heir apparent to Emanuel Steward’s Kronk legacy.

“My goal was to have her use her power to start knocking girls out,” Banks says. “I told her, ‘You’re undisputed now. It no longer matters if you win or lose. It matters how you look when you win. The more impressive you are, the more people are gonna pay attention to you.”

Braekhus had always been aggressive, particularly in the clinch, but the German school emphasized movement, high hands, and efficient defense. Her relationship with the Klitschkos and Banks would bring new explosiveness and freedom to her style.

“Cecilia has a winner’s mentality,” Banks says. “In my opinion, she’s got two motivations. One is the desire to be champion.”

“Another desire is to let all men know that we can do this just as well as you can, at the same highest level in boxing. We can generate the same amount of income that you all bring in.”

Indeed, Braekhus was so popular in Norway that she used her influence to win a different kind of battle. It had taken years of lobbying, letter writing, and meetings, but Norway had finally lifted its ban on professional boxing in 2013.

In her triumphant 2016 homecoming, Braekhus rematched with her French rival Anne Sophie Mathis, a former world champion who had kayoed Holly Holm. (Braekhus herself had campaigned unsuccessfully for a showdown with Holm before the Albuquerque star switched to MMA ) The sold-out crowd at the Oslo Spectrum roared as Braekhus knocked Mathis out in two. After the fight, the prime minister came to the ring to congratulate the First Lady.

Braekhus fought three more times in Norway, generating sizable live gates and PPV revenue. The weigh-in for her most recent outing, a sixth-round knockout of Mikaela Lauren, is required viewing.

Now she sets her sights on the only prize that has eluded her: the American market.

“The legendary fights come out of America,” she says. “The biggest hoopla, the biggest promotions. It’s just a fun, crazy circus.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said that there are no second acts in American lives, but women’s boxing in America is actually having its second moment. During its heyday back in the ‘90s, when Christy Martin battled in blood-spattered pink trunks, the talent pool was relatively shallow. Celebrity daughters and Playboy bunnies got their moments in the ring, and crusty pundits got to dismiss them as novelty acts.

The sport disappeared from American television but flourished in markets like Germany, Mexico, Argentina, and Japan. Holly Holm’s MMA victory over the seemingly invincible Ronda Rousey put women’s boxing back in the spotlight here, while the 2012 Olympics debut launched new stars like middleweight world champion Claressa Shields. Now the future looks bright.

Asked about a meeting with Shields, Braekhus said, “Everything can happen!” She also speculated about a Mayweather-McGregor-style meeting with UFC star Cris Cyborg.

Shields says, “I think Cecilia is genuinely a good person. She’s undefeated and has all the belts at 147. I want to unify with Christina Hammer for her two belts, then drop down to 154 to face Cecelia Braekhus, because I want to be the best, pound for pound.”

But first Braekhus will have to shine in Saturday’s meeting with Kali Reis, a seasoned former world champion on a three-win streak. The 32-year-old Reis carries the ring name “Mequinonoag” as a proud symbol of her Native American heritage. She will look to pull off a huge upset Saturday, and both women will look to show the world just how far their sport has come.

“HBO is so big and has had so many historical fights,” Braekhus says. This is kind of the last big hurdle. This is a big deal.”