With potential blockbuster fights on the horizon, undisputed welterweight champion Jessica McCaskill can ill afford to slip up against Alma Ibarra on Saturday night’s triple header world title card in San Antonio. Luke G. Williams previews the action…
Now 37, Jessica McCaskill (11-2, 4 KOs) is one of those fighters whose profile currently amounts to somewhat less than the sum of its parts.
Charismatic, exciting and possessing a compelling backstory that has seen her rise from homelessness to the championship of the world, the Chicago based undisputed female welterweight champion is still chasing the super fights that will propel her into the mainstream.
True, McCaskill twice defeated longtime female pound-for-pound queen Cecilia Braekhus in 2020 and 2021, but the Colombian-born Norwegian was herself a fighter who – outside of her adopted country – never quite ‘crossed over’ in the way that Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano did when duelling earlier this year in Madison Square Garden, or in the way that Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall look set to do when they hopefully battle it out later this year.
Since clearly besting Braekhus in their March 2021 rematch, McCaskill has searched in vain for a suitable rival – mooted clashes with undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor or unified light-welterweight titlist Chantelle Cameron having failed to even come close to materialising.
On her last appearance in December, McCaskill dominated the overmatched Kandi Wyatt en route to a seventh-round stoppage victory that did little to enhance her profile or pugilistic CV.
Now, in Mexican 32-year-old Alma Ibarra (10-1, 5 KOs), McCaskill faces a more accomplished foe, in a fight that she is widely expected to win, but that carries with it a measure of peril.
Ibarra – like McCaskill – holds a win over Wyatt, and her sole professional reverse came on points in 2019 against Raquel ‘Pretty Beast’ Miller. Ibarra is also one of the rare fighters in world boxing whose back story is arguably even more eventful and compelling than McCaskill’s, having survived a kidnapping ordeal in 2020 which deprived her of the chance to fight in the Mexican Olympic trials. She is also a single mother to a son, Matthias, who suffers from haemophilia.
Ibarra has long strived for a world title fight and this hunger, as well as being admirable, makes her dangerous. Furthermore, she will enjoy a height and reach advantage against McCaskill, and will doubtless be hoping that the extensive talk this week of a possible McCaskill-Cameron match-up later in the year is indicative of a lack of focus on the champion’s part.
McCaskill has also talked in the lead-up to this fight about the fact we will see improved movement, volume and boxing skills from her in this fight. At this stage in her career, a radical transformation in her style would be as surprising as it is concerning – after all, her pressure fighting style has served her extremely well thus far, and tinkering with a winning tactical formula is a dangerous game.
Nevertheless, it is precisely the fact that there is so much at stake here for McCaskill that I think she will win. The American is a formidable competitor who never cuts corners in training and is utterly dedicated to boxing. She may be crude at times in the ring, but her tenacity is supreme and it will surely take a more technically adept and experienced foe that Ibarra to topple her from the 147lbs throne.
Thus the confident pick is for McCaskill to win fairly comfortably on points – in the region of seven rounds to three – after a game showing from an inspired but outgunned Ibarra.