Carly Skelly: Refusing to go away quietly

“You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometime you find

You get what you need”

These words may have been lifted straight from a Rolling Stones song from their 60s heyday, but they retain their relevance to Liverpool bantamweight Carly Skelly. The 34-year-old is clear about what she needs, and that is another shot at Amy Timlin for the Commonwealth, European or whatever belt the establishment deigns to let her compete for.

Last year on the Usyk vs Chisora, Matchroom PPV show, Skelly surprised a lot of people by outworking and outthinking the highly-rated Warwickshire prospect in a bout for the newly-minted Commonwealth super-bantamweight title. Many at ringside expected her to win a narrow decision, but the Merseysider had to content herself with an unsatisfactory drawn verdict. ,

Despite only being in the game for barely two years, Skelly has quickly realised that without connections in professional boxing you rarely get what you ‘want’ or deserve. ‘Winning’ from the away corner is seldom enough, and if there is to be a reliance on the judges for victory then the dominance in the ring cannot be anything less than emphatic. Although, we have sadly seen examples of late where even that is not sufficient to get the nod from cack-handed judges and referees.

The very different journeys that Skelly and Timlin are on were recently brought into even sharper focus when the announcement was made that Timlin would be competing for the European bantamweight title later in the year. It is a source of immense frustration to Skelly who was meant to have her much-anticipated rematch with her 21-year-old foe back in February on the David Avanesyan vs Josh Kelly undercard.

There is the overriding feeling that one is being groomed for the fast-track of ready opportunities – that can come relatively quicker in the smaller pool of women’s boxing – and the other is destined to tread the hard road, perpetually battling for an opportunity to be allowed to showcase her skills at the right level. Skelly is also mature enough to understand that, if the opportunity does come, it will inevitably be on terms unfavourable to her.

“You’ve got to earn these opportunities,” Skelly (3-0-1, 0 KOs) tells Boxing Social of Timlin’s upcoming shot against Mary Romero for the European super-bantamweight strap. “And I definitely don’t think she has earned this opportunity. She boxed me and got a draw, which was very kind towards her. To then not go for a rematch and instead go for a European title; I really think she is going for an option where she thinks she has got more chance because I don’t think she fancies her chances with me.”

On the topic of the late cancellation of her rematch – Timlin withdrew citing injury – Skelly is adamant that the reasons are more clandestine than that. “I do not think it was a genuine reason,” she says definitely. “I obviously can’t prove it, she said she had a hernia, but I’d heard through people that she was back in the gym quite quickly afterwards. I think maybe she has worked out that she needs a little more time to rebuild her confidence. I think her pulling out at the last minute shows a lot of uncertainty on her part.”

On a positive note, Skelly has been informed by Timlin’s management that the desired fight will definitely happen at a later date. “I just hope her team are true to their word. I know if I was her, I would want to resolve this permanently,” she says combatively.

Skelly (right) felt aggrieved by the draw against Timlin and is eager to settle the score.
Photo: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.

Despite challenging for the Commonwealth title at super-bantamweight, Skelly discloses that 118lbs is her preferred mark. It is a division that has had plenty of attention of late, most recently with the Shannon Courtenay vs Ebanie Bridges WBA title fight live on Sky Sports in the UK. That Courtenay was able to challenge for the vacant title on the back of a domestic loss to Rachel Ball and a return stoppage of the strictly limited Dorota Norek only adds further credence to the adage, ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’. Where Bridges is concerned this sentiment is ratcheted up to another level. The third best female bantamweight in the relative boxing backwater of Australia has five wins on her record, none of which were secured against opponents with positive win/loss records.

A social media campaign of revealing pictures and suggestive comments seems to have been enough to propel Bridges into the public consciousness and secure her a world title shot that her past performances in the ring scarcely seemed to merit. In modern parlance, her undoubtedly savvy strategy may be classified as ‘empowering’ but others would merely term it ‘disappointing’. Perhaps it is just an extension of the gaudy, look-at-me, clickbait world in which we live; one personified by the crude attention equals dollars machinations of Jake Paul.

“Well, Eddie Hearn has said: ‘It’s not about what you can do, but what you can bring,’ but it’s really unfortunate that is the case,” agrees Skelly. “It’s bringing the wrong kind of attention to women’s boxing. You’ve got young girls coming into the sport and they’re looking up to these women as role models.

“The whole drama and build-up to that fight with the weigh-in and all the revealing clothes and that; I just think if I had a daughter that is not what I’d want her looking up to in a sportswoman. It’s not a good message being sent out.”

Although Bridges fought with commendable heart in what was ultimately an entertaining toe-to-toe encounter, as far as Skelly is concerned this does not detract from the perceived unfairness of the current situation or the quality of the product on offer. “Just because it was entertaining doesn’t mean it is world level,” she comments.

“There are other girls that should be getting these opportunities. I am not saying I should be fighting for a world title, but if they are then I should be. Shannon Courtenay didn’t accomplish much as an amateur and the first tough fight she had as a professional she lost. She then beat a journey-girl and gets a world title shot from it.

“I’d like to think I can work my way up, but when I see girls who’ve not done much in the amateurs or as professionals get world title shots in their fourth or fifth fights then it’s just a bit demoralising for the sport to be honest. If they can bring over Ebanie Bridges then why couldn’t they have brought over a top-quality girl from America or Mexico, who’d really deserve the chance?”

I think we both know the answer to that question, but we prefer to let it hang in the air unanswered…

For Skelly her path into boxing occurred purely by chance and is one that the likes of Hannah Rankin and Rhiannon Dixon would recognise. Accepting the challenge of a one-off white-collar fight for charity, she found that not only did she love being in the gym but that she also had a natural talent for throwing punches. To such an extent that within three months of her white-collar debut she’d had two amateur contests and competed in the ABAs. Within a year, Skelly was boxing for England. “It was never a plan to become a boxer,” she laughs. “But it’s just kept getting bigger and bigger until it has taken over my life… in a good way!”

Skelly remains unbeaten and is targeting a run at bantamweight.
Photo: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.

The pro game has predictably not been without its pitfalls. “I knew it were gonna be tough, and I knew it weren’t gonna be easy, but in all honesty, it’s a lot tougher than I ever imagined,” grins Skelly. The familiar challenges of dieting, training, selling tickets, and opponents pulling out at the last minute; are something she manages alongside family life, looking after her two boys and managing her other career as a paediatric nurse. Yet despite these travails and obvious frustrations with the two-tier nature of the pro game, she is still highly motivated by the sport and determined to succeed. “It can be a total nightmare and there’s so much more to it than I ever thought, but I’m lucky I’ve got that mindset where I will just push through it all. Being on that Chisora Sky Box Office card has made me feel like all the hard work is starting to pay off,” she reveals.

The next step on the 34-year-olds journey to wring every last drop out of her boxing career is scheduled for July in Manchester. Competing on a Black Flash Promotions show against an as-yet-unnamed opponent will reunite her with the small hall scene and hopefully a live crowd at ringside. It may not have the same lustre as a primetime PPV show or that longed-for rematch with Timlin, but it is at least another step forward on the journey and a means of staying active for when the seat at boxing’s top table presents itself.

The ‘seat’ may well have no cushion or springs and in all likelihood possess only three legs, but whatever the disadvantages Skelly is determined to push on. “I want those European and Commonwealth titles soon; once I have them, I want that world title shot against Shannon Courtenay. They’re the two fights I really want,” she says of her plans for the next 12 months.

“If Amy Timlin doesn’t take the fight for the Commonwealth, then I’d like to fight Ebanie Bridges for it, then move on to Courtenay for that world title afterwards.”

If Amy Timlin hadn’t realised it already, it is crystal clear now: Carly Skelly refuses to go away quietly.

Main image: Dave Thompson/Matchroom Boxing.