In boxing, as is also the case with life in general, success is largely dependant on timing.
Chloe Watson is acutely aware of that fact, as she has been the beneficiary of her ability to select the precise moment to land her shot and her uncanny knack of finding herself in the right place, at the right time on numerous occasions over the years.
The 21-year-old did not have a long, arduous battle for legitimacy in a traditionally male-dominated sport. The trail had been blazed by pioneers such as Jane Couch, Nicola Adams and Katie Taylor. She was 12 when women’s boxing became an Olympic sport at the 2012 games in London. The gold medals won by Taylor and Adams gave Watson hope that the opportunities she so craved in the sweet science would soon come to fruition. She was correct. Watson would go on to win the Youth Commonwealth Games in 2017, the GB Champions in 2019 and was twice national champion.
Tonight, the Birkenhead fighter makes her professional debut as she faces Judit Hachbold on the inaugural ‘Development Series’ show staged by Wasserman Boxing, broadcasted live on Boxing Social.
Watson had previously harboured dreams of representing Team GB at the 2024 Olympics, but during a trip to Australia at the start of 2020, she decided her future lay in the professional ranks. Being stuck on the other side of the world at the start of global pandemic may seem to be a case of wrong place, wrong time, however, once again, Watson was precisely where she needed to be.
“At first, it was scary,” Watson told Boxing Social. “As a traveller, you don’t know where you stand with having to isolate and stuff like that. It was scary because you didn’t know where you stood, but the people I first met when I was out there, I grew really close to them and we decided to stick together and just ride it out. I ended up being at a place called Spot X which was very fortunate because they looked after us, so we stayed there for a couple of months. After everything died down, we were able to travel again. I was able to go to the gyms and experience boxing in Australia, which was good.”
Watson’s decision to remain at the Spot X surf camp in New South Wales was ultimately the correct one, as Australia promptly closed its borders to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The measures were largely successful and allowed the country to continue with fewer restrictions imposed on its citizens than in many other places. The lack of restriction enabled Watson to continue on her voyage of self-discovery and adventure as she had initially intended. However, the pull of boxing was strong. Having been involved with the sport since she was a child, boxing has always been a source of comfort to the Merseysider. During those uncertain moments, she sought sanctuary in the familiarity of the gym. Before long, she was sparring experienced professionals and the trip became somewhat of a busman’s holiday.
“I went to Australia on my own, solo traveling, everyone thought I was crazy, but for me, I always knew that if I felt homesick, I’ve got that home comfort of the gym,” she said. “Because I’ve grown up in the gym since I was eight, I thought: ‘I don’t necessarily have to come home if I’m feeling home sick, I can just go into a gym and feel at home.’ A gym is a just the same, anywhere. It’s just the people in there, isn’t it? It was good vibes and just like being at home.
“I went in a few gyms up the East Coast and did some sparring with Taylah Robertson, she turned pro just before the pandemic, I did some rounds with Shannon O’Connell. I was meant to go to the East Coast to do all these experiences, which I did end up doing like; a bungy jump and sky diving and all the palaver, but most of it ended up turning into a training camp. It was great.”
Watson’s combination of work ethic and ability caught the eye of coaches in the Australian scene, just as it had back home in England. Coaches and fighters encouraged her to turn her hand to the professional sport. It was an option she had been contemplating prior to embarking on her journey to Australia. She had hoped that her trip would help her reach a resolution with regards to her future.
In the end, it was factors outwith anybody’s control which made the decision an easy one for the flyweight to make. As the boxing began to resume after the pandemic-induced hiatus, the women’s sport was given a bigger platform than ever before. Female fighters’ greater willingness to face each other than their male counterparts, and comparatively low purses meant they were perfect for showcase slots on Matchroom Sport’s ‘Fight Camp’ series. Terri Harper and Tasha Jonas served up a fight of the year contender, Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon delivered a fight almost as thrilling as their first encounter and novices Rachel Ball and Shannon Courtenay seized their opportunity with both hands.
The reactions those bouts received from the general public convinced Watson that this was the perfect moment to leave the amateur ranks behind.
“I was already kinda thinking about it before the world actually stopped,” she said of her decision to turn professional. “When the world stopped, female boxing in the pro world grew massively because there were opportunities for it to be televised with the big fights with the likes of Terri Harper, Tasha Jonas and Katie Taylor. It really put [women’s boxing] out there.”
The professional sport is likely to suit Watson due to her aggressive, come forward style and of course, Watson, by her own admission, is a natural born fighter, as her twin brother can attest to, having borne the brunt of her combativeness for much of their childhood.
Watson explored numerous avenues in hope of discovering the right outlet for her exuberance. Despite displaying glimpses of ability in many sports, none felt right to her. Then at eight, she and her brother tried boxing. Her twin eventually left boxing behind, but Watson was captivated from the start.
“You either get it or you don’t, and for me, I do think I did come out as a fighter,” she said. “Before I even knew what fighting was, I was fighting with my brother and all sorts. It was always playful – apart from the time I put him in a washing machine, that weren’t too playful! I can’t even remember it. Most of the stories my mum tells me, I think: ‘That makes sense. It sounds like something I would do.” I would only have been about three or four, my mum said: ‘You’re lucky it wasn’t and automatic,’ Watson recalled with a laugh.
“When I first went to the gym, my dad was like: ‘I’m not buying you gloves because everywhere else you’ve been, you’ve stopped going,’ because I wanted gloves straight away. He’d bought us footie kits and stuff like that and then we stopped going. I was fuming, but he was like: ‘If you stick it out for a good bit, I’ll get you some boxing gloves.’ We stuck it out and he took us to the boxing shop and got me some pink boxing gloves and he got my brother a different pair. A few weeks later, my brother was like: ‘I don’t think I want to do boxing no more.’ My dad was like: ‘You can’t quit now; I’ve got you the boxing gloves.’ I went: ‘No, no I won’t,’ but my brother didn’t want to do boxing anymore. I always stuck at it because my dad bought me the boxing gloves and I loved it, but my brother drifted to the side of football.”
Despite being the only girl in the gym, she did not face much stigma. She trained like the boys, sparred like the boys and was treated as such. However, when her peers were progressing onto having amateur contests, Watson was left behind. It wasn’t as a result of sexism on the part of her coaches, there simply wasn’t the infrastructure in places for girls boxing in the lower age groups, at the time. The situation was explained to Watson, but she remained defiant. The sport had captured her heart, she was determined that there must be a route to progress. A year later, women’s boxing was introduced at the London Olympics, raising the profile of the sport and creating a pathway for Watson to progress along. The importance of that even is not lost on her.
“I felt comfortable straight away because I was in a good gym,” she recalled. “When it came to getting fights and stuff, that was a lot harder. I really did have to push hard for it, train hard and prove myself because I was the only girl in the gym. Even though I was having fights with all the lads and fighting like a boy, it didn’t matter because when it came down to it, I was a girl. Female boxing wasn’t actually a thing.
“When I started, there were two classes in the gym. I kept asking my coach: ‘When am I going to the big class,’ and he was always hesitant to put me up. I used to get frustrated as a kid because I was doing everything I possibly could and all I wanted was to go to the big class and fight. Then one day he sat me down, just before female boxing was in the Olympics, and said: ‘Female boxing isn’t a great big deal, there’s not much you can do,’ but I was thinking: ‘No, this is mad. There’s got to be something.’ From then on, the right opportunity has always come at the right time. The Olympics came in the next year, after that being a professional became more accepted. Females are absolutely smashing it. It all came at just the right time for me to get in there and put a bit of me into the boxing world.”
Watson knows the debt of gratitude she owes the likes of Jane Couch, Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams, but believes that a former MMA fighter deserves reverence for lending credence to all female fighters, regardless of discipline. Watson believes the best way to repay those who opened the door for her, is by improving the sport for the next generation of fighters.
“Even though it’s not boxing, I think Ronda Rousey did a lot for female combat sports, in general,” she said. “She made people look at female fighters in a different way. She did a lot to open it up, then seeing Katie Taylor, she’s been smashing it ever since. That opened up a pathway for girls like me, and hopefully I can do a pathway for the females who are behind me. That’s my main goal in the sport, as well as world titles, is to create an even bigger path for the people behind us. When I first walked into the gym, I was the only girl. Now, any gym I walk into there’s girls, sometimes, just as many girls as lads.”
If Watson is to propel the sport forward, she will have to capture the public’s imagination. Her brand of pressure and aggression inside the ring and affable personality outside it will stand her in good stead, but if she requires advice on the best way in which to raise her profile, she need look no further than her own corner.
Her coach, Ricky Hatton, is one of the most popular British fighters of all-time and a hero to Watson. Hatton has been aware of his charge for seven years now after a family friend of Watson’s mentioned her to the ‘Hitman’.
After passing a successful trial period, Watson is convinced that Hatton is the man to guide her to the pinnacle of the sport.
“I’ve got a family friend who’s always had close contact with Ricky, they get on well,” she said as she explained the link up with the famed Manchester fighter. “When I first got selected to box for England, when I was 15, my family friend got in touch with Ricky and told him all about me and told him I’d been selected. Ricky actually put a tweet out just congratulating me and from then he’s always been aware of me and what I’ve been doing.
“I looked up to him, 100 per cent. My dad majorly looked up to him as well. People have always said that I’ve got a similar style to Ricky. That’s where it came from mentally for me, if he’d did so well as a professional boxer, and people said from a young age that I’ve kinda got similarities to, then he’s definitely someone I can learn from and someone I can grow with. In the game of boxing, you never stop learning.”
Despite her lofty ambitions, Watson possesses a level of patience which belies her years. She has seen other fighters with less amateur experience fast-tracked to world titles, but she has no interest in taking a similar path.
For Watson, the journey is as important as the destination. She is adamant that she wants to continue to hone her craft before making an assault on world titles. In that regard, the ‘Development Series’ is the perfect platform for her.
“I’m aware of my level of experience, but especially with me being so young, I’m not in a rush to go anywhere quick,” she said. “Of course, when those opportunities come up, it’s up to me to make sure I’m ready for it. I work very hard, so I will be. At the same time, I’m just looking to enjoy this journey. You only get this journey once. With me turning pro younger than I thought I would, at 21, I just want to soak everything in and enjoy the journey. I’m not in a rush. It’s about learning on the job, taking my time and soaking it all in. I want it to be an experience where I’m able to look back and tell the kids, the grandkids, everyone: ‘I did this.’ That’s what I’m looking to do.”