They’ve both been sat there before; in the same seats, at the same table of the same hotel bar. It seems like only a few weeks ago that Scotland’s first female world champion, Hannah Rankin (9-4, 2 KOs) was eating perched on a stool opposite, telling Boxing Social that she would face anyone at any time, before travelling to challenge Claressa Shields.
Not much has changed.
Her long-time coach, the loyal Noel Callan, is grinning from ear to ear. He’s been waiting to announce this fight – and despite meeting two days before it becomes official – he’s got it all planned out. He has done for months now.
The pair are up visiting Glasgow for sparring and Hannah will make an appearance on BBC Scotland’s Sport Sound radio show. But even on the air, her next bout could not be revealed. It’s been a long 10 months since losing her IBO 154lbs title, with plenty of food for thought and a handful of sleepless nights.
On Matchroom Boxing’s second raft of shows following the onset of the Covid-19 Pandemic, Rankin will have the chance to earn a second world title, at a second weight. She faces Savannah Marshall, the former AIBA world championship gold medallist and unbeaten professional, trained by Peter Fury.
The pair will contest the currently-vacant WBO middleweight title on October 17 and the classical musician from Luss couldn’t be more focused.
“I agreed to fight Savannah after my last fight in February,” Rankin revealed, chronologically reviewing their rivalry. “I stopped the girl in the third round and I dropped her three times during the fight. I replied to her the next day and said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’. Then they came back and said, ‘Oh no, we’ve already moved on to another option, Savannah is going up to light-heavyweight’. I think they were waiting on the outcome of my fight, but anyway…
“She was gonna go and fight [Geovana] Peres for the light-heavyweight title. There’s been a bit of back-and-forth on social media anyway, because she had a dig at me right after I’d lost my world title on Instagram. I’ll say yes to fighting anyone, so I was happy to take that fight. We spoke about it for the first Fight Camp events, but it wasn’t the right deal and we said no. We got offered it again this time round and I’ve said yes, so we’re ready to go now.”
Marshall’s brewing distaste for the Scot seemed borne out of frustration. The Hartlepool fighter’s career as a professional has been stop-start, with late replacements stepping through the ropes carrying little self-belief. She has yet to enjoy a proper test, but Rankin knew that the former Team GB podium fighter would still walk to the ring as a heavy favourite. It wasn’t new to her.
Rankin, now 30 and in her physical prime, was in no doubt when asked if Marshall was the best she’d faced, replying with a hint of laughter, “No, not at all. Claressa is a better fighter, absolutely. Firstly, if you look at Claressa’s competitors, she’s fought a high level of competition from the very beginning. She’s a three-weight, undisputed world champion in 10 fights. Savannah’s had relatively easy fights; there’s no comparison.
“To be brutally honest, she [Marshall] hasn’t got anybody else to fight in the UK. There’s nobody around that weight, so I was surprised to hear she was going up to light-heavy. There’s about four girls at that weight. It was the easiest route to a world title. If you’re gonna fight for one, at least challenge yourself. She’s got a great amateur background, a gold medal at the world championships, so why have they not challenged her yet?”
It was unusual, but refreshing to see the London-based fighter so fired up, after years of respectful, placid media. Losing her IBO world title only months after experiencing elation in Paisley had fired her up, and Hannah wasn’t willing to suffer the same fate again.
She returned with an explosive win in February, breaking former opponent Eva Bajic’s ribs en route to only her second stoppage win.
Rankin had continued testing herself after a short career fighting on white collar events, and her progression to signing for Salita Promotions and working with television and media mogul, Mark Taffett, is truly remarkable. Now though, she has to win one of the big fights, after suffering losses to Shields and fellow world champion, Alicia Napoleon.
When speaking to Boxing Social, Rankin’s only professional trainer Noel Callan commented, “If Savannah is looking past Hannah and thinking about that Claressa payday, it’s a shame – it’s a mistake. Because when Hannah beats her, it’s over. Most of her opponents have had less than two weeks’ notice to prepare and, let’s be honest, me and you could probably knock them out.
“When Hannah wins and gets her hand raised, it’s over. There’s no pressure on us, so it’s great. Nobody will think we can win; we’re stepping up and fighting a tough opponent, up a weight class, in their promoter’s backyard – the way Hannah has done things throughout her entire career.”
In just a number of weeks, we’ll find out.
Travelling to the USA to train and compete never fazed the girl who grew up on the farm in the middle of the Scottish Highlands, so a fight behind closed doors certainly won’t. Fighting the best time and time again was admirable, but boxing wasn’t a necessity for Hannah; boxing was fun. She only fights because she enjoys it, and she’s already achieved what many thought (and stated) she couldn’t.
Callan explained the reason he continually throws Rankin to the lions is because, “I’ve yet to see in a fight, what I see constantly in the gym. She has so much more to give. Hannah hits so hard and I think it’s all coming together now. She’s in her prime and I know we can beat Savannah Marshall.”
Both were just as confident when sitting opposite before heading to fight Shields, Napoleon and before winning Hannah’s IBO world title. It’s boxing as it should be – taking opportunities, learning and doing whatever is necessary to come again.
Rankin possessed an eerie sense of menace this time though, and spoke differently. She wanted to beat Marshall impressively, and punishingly, hoping to settle the needle she’d never initiated. That edge could be exactly what she needs. It could all, finally come together. But if it doesn’t, for whatever reason, it seems inevitable that we’ll find ourselves here again; sitting at the same table, in the same seat, with the same burning ambition.
“If you’ve decided you’re gonna retire at a certain time, you’re not really focused on achieving that goal. I don’t have a sell-by date. I do this for fun. I love fighting. It makes me very dangerous. I can come back to music at any time; being a sportsperson doesn’t last forever. It’s a short career and these opportunities don’t come around every day. I’m going to make sure I take this one.”
Main image: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing USA.