Cecilia Braekhus is too polite an interviewee to descend to trash talk.
However, the ‘First Lady’ of boxing is certainly in a defiant mood when Boxing Social catches up with her a couple of days after official confirmation that she has invoked her right to a rematch against Chicago’s Jessica McCaskill, who last month deposed her as undisputed welterweight queen.
“I always said that if I was beaten by someone who was better than me I wouldn’t have any problems calling it quits,” the 38-year-old says via telephone from her native Norway. “But that was not what happened in this fight.
“There were circumstances around the fight,” Braekhus continues. “So many other things that interfered. I think we need to have one more fight to find out who is the undisputed champion.
“I felt I won the fight. A lot of people felt that and had it as a win for me or a draw. So I don’t think anyone can be really happy about the fight, including Jessica.”
On fight night, Braekhus did not gripe about the result in her immediate post-fight interview. Indeed, she was widely praised for the graciousness with which she treated the majority decision verdict.
Today that graciousness remains, Braekhus is scrupulously careful – for example – not to criticise McCaskill on a personal level.
However, the Norwegian is also adamant that she will set the record straight in a rematch and that she does not believe she lost the first fight.
“I didn’t want to say anything right after the fight,” she explains. “It was a tough fight and I knew everyone was dealing with their own things. I know how hard everyone inside and outside of the ring had worked.
“I was also very tired. I was feeling a lot of emotions. I didn’t want to put the blame maybe somewhere it was not supposed to be. I just wanted to calm down and go through everything before I made any official decision and talked about it.”
Part of the problem, Braekhus explains, was the elongated spell she spent training at Abel Sanchez’s Big Bear training facility for several months. As the Coronavirus surged and an original scheduled fight date of April 17 was shelved, Braekhus stayed put in California and trained, with no idea when the fight would actually take place.
By the time of fight night, she was a spent force.
“When I came down to the fight I was like an empty battery,” she asserts. “There was nothing left. There’s no one to blame. The circumstances were crazy. No one has ever experienced anything like this [pandemic] before so no one could guide us.
“We took a chance and it didn’t work out. Being in the mountains for so long was very difficult. I was thousands away from family and friends due to circumstances like this. To be honest, to not go crazy I was just training and training.
“I was just empty at the end. I was not myself there at all. I knew how far away from myself I was. And still – I think – Jessica needed help from the judges to beat me, even when I produced my career worst performance.”
Braekhus says she has been heartened by the support and encouragement she has received since tasting professional defeat for the first time.
“Oh my God, it’s been crazy!” she says, with feeling. “I’ve had so many messages from all around the world. Everyone has been saying, ‘You need to come back and have a rematch!’ and then in the same sentence they’ve also said: ‘We support you no matter what you do!’ I’ve had all these heart-warming messages pouring in. I’m so incredibly grateful.”
However, she is clear that her decision to rematch McCaskill – and not to retire – has been motivated by her own interests and feelings, rather than as a result of public support.
She also adds, ominously for McCaskill, that her strength is returning – and will soon match her desire and motivation.
“I definitely needed to make this decision for myself,” she says. “And I know when I come back to being myself that I will get my belts back. Next time, it will be a better camp, it will not be the same crazy circumstances and it won’t be three American judges and stuff like that.
“I already feel like I’m getting back to feeling myself and getting my strength back. I’m getting there. I’ve been with my friends and my family and working on my different projects that I care very much for here in Norway. Nearer the fight, I will head back to Big Bear and do a two-month camp, which is normal.”
Braekhus’s competitive steel has often been underrated. It was that steel and determination, for example, that drove her to 36 successive professional victories and the number one pound-for-pound spot in women’s boxing.
It is a quality – Braekhus insists – that she still possesses
“I just need to be myself in the rematch. That’s it. That’s enough to beat Jessica. I need to get those titles back. I worked so hard for them. I had them for so many years and had so many tough fights.
“I need to retire with those titles. I definitely think it was a little bit sad what happened, but now I’m going to move forward and regain those titles.”
Main image and all photos: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom USA.