Matchroom’s Fight Camp series has entered its third week and, so far, mostly lived up to its billing. The domestic clashes have provided plenty of entertainment, in particular the two main events.
Last week’s WBC 130lbs title clash between Terri Harper and Natasha Jonas was a superb advert for women’s boxing in the UK and looking to boost that profile further is an intriguing encounter between Shannon Courtenay and Rachel Ball this Friday.
Super-bantam Courtenay (5-0, 2 KOs) is the promotional darling; however, Ball (5-1, 0 KOs) is not travelling down to Brentwood to make up the numbers. The 29-year-old isn’t concerned by her away boxer tag and is confident she can derail the Courtenay hype train.
The Aldridge, West Midlands, fighter hails from a decorated kickboxing background, which she believes will give her an edge as the rounds progress due to her experience over the longer distance.
“I’m excited to be heading down to ‘the bubble’ and embrace the whole fight week,” Ball told Boxing Social. “Despite lockdown, life has stayed busy for me, with a new job and moving house, but to be fighting again is great. First things first is me and the coaches getting the negative Covid-19 test and then we can relax into it.
“Shannon is a good fighter so I’m looking forward to it. She didn’t know much about me at all, but I know a win could be potentially life-changing. On top of that, it’s a huge platform for women’s boxing and to keep growing the sport for female boxers.
“Fighting away from home doesn’t scare me at all. I’m used to it and I did it plenty during my kickboxing career, so I never shy away from the opportunity if it’s there. It’s good to be challenged as a fighter and, when you get the decision, it makes it all the more satisfying.
“I’m the more experienced fighter, when you add in kickboxing, although they’re obviously different sports. I won three world titles, as well as other national and international titles and I’ve experienced the longer rounds, too, so I feel very much at home the longer a fight goes. I think I’ve got an advantage in that regard over her.”
Women’s boxing continues to grow and Ball points to Matchroom as a major reason why. The Essex-based promotional outfit boasts a strong roster of female fighters in the UK and Ireland, led by Katie Taylor, and has recently bolstered its ranks with overseas talent including undisputed welterweight queen Cecilia Braekhus and WBO super-featherweight champion Ewa Brodnicka.
Ball says it is a good start and she is happy to see the sport growing, however she insists that there is still a long way to go. She compares women’s boxing to MMA where, once considered to be nothing more than a novelty act, female fighters now frequently headline shows, even PPV cards, and are considered on an equal footing with many of their male counterparts.
“It’s good to see promoters starting to put women’s boxing higher up the cards and a bit more of a showcase,” said Ball. “Matchroom, in particular, seem to be pushing the sport more at the moment and, to be honest, it’s about time a promoter in this country did.
“The demand is there and it’s starting to catch on. I think that part of it is how if you look at us, we don’t look like boxers. In fact, some of them look like butter wouldn’t melt around them, and then when we fight it’s exciting and people want to see it.
“We are a minority though compared to our male counterparts, but we need to strive towards equality across the sport. Look at MMA. They are regularly headlining cards and some of the fighters are the biggest stars in the sport. It’s up to the promoters to grab the bull by the horns and get behind women’s boxing properly.
“We have been left behind a bit compared to other sports. Even in the amateurs, there is still the difference in that women still wear headguards, so there is a long way to go across the board, before we even start to try and bridge the gap regarding pay.”
One major difference between men’s and women’s fights is the length of the round. Women still only fight over two minutes, an aspect of the sport that the 29-year-old Ball doesn’t seem to have a problem with.
However, there seems to be a real lack of depth in the women’s game at the moment. Unlike the male side of the sport, there is no glut of titles available and major fights are made on a regular basis, as there is no way that fighters can seemingly pad out a record.
One element Ball would like to see added is a British title although she does concede that could be a long time in coming. But with the right support from leading figures in the sport, she believes more barriers could be broken down.
“I actually don’t mind the two minute rounds and think they’re good, especially for the girls just starting out,” she said. “It’s probably the main reason why there is less stoppages as that extra minute is where fighters get tired. But, when we get up to the top level, there is no reason why we can’t fight three minute rounds.
“It would be nice to have a British title as well at some point. It might not happen for this generation of fighters, myself included, but you never know as things can change very quickly in this sport. The promoters need to help and put some pressure on the Board and continue to show us support, so one day we can have a Lonsdale Belt to fight for.”
Like many female fighters, Ball is striving for equality across the board, but also remains focused on her own career. Immediately in her sights is Courtenay and the very different experience of spending a week in the Brentwood bubble.
Usually roared on by vociferous support from her loyal West Midlands fanbase, Ball will not be able to draw on them this time around, due to the behind-closed-doors nature of Fight Camp, though she knows they will be with her in spirit as she steps between the ropes.
Ball will be looking to drag Courtenay into deep waters and really test her credentials in their eight-rounder. She will be moving down in weight, but doesn’t have any concerns, as she looks to elevate her profile.
“The bubble will be strange. I’ve got a fridge that I’m taking down and I’ve bought a cooker, which is different to normal obviously, but I need that negative test first like I said. I usually bring a good support as well from the West Midlands so it’ll be strange not having them there,” she said.
“That support, especially from Walsall where I’m more known, has become like a second family and I imagine they’ll be screaming their houses down, shouting at the TV. They’ll be with me in my heart and I’ll definitely be hearing them in my head.
“As I said earlier, a win could be life-changing for me. She’s got the main billing, but I believe I’ve got some advantages going in. I’m in this sport to be in the hard fights and prove that I’m one of the best at my weight. I feel the lighter weight will suit me, as I’ve fought at a heavier weight and I walk around not too far from the weight for fight night. It’s going to be an amazing experience though and I can’t wait to get down there.”
Main image: Matchroom Boxing.