When you think of boxing legends, the likes of Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Evandeer Holyfield are names which tend to spring to mind. Brutal and often bloody, boxing has long been thought of as a man’s game, yet Nicola Adams has proved that no sport is too tough for a woman and her name is now firmly engraved alongside the greats.
During her years in the amateur game, Adams dominated the sport. She ruthlessly fought her way to World, Commonwealth, European and Olympic golds, and firmly cemented her place in history after becoming the first British boxer to retain an Olympic title in 92 years at the Rio Games last year.
Proudly sitting at the top of her sport, you’d think the 34-year- old might be ready to sit back and take some time out, knowing she’s claimed every major title going. But always eager to take on a challenge, Adams made the bold move to ditch the GB Boxing programme in favour of turning professional in a quest to become the greatest female boxer the world has ever seen.
“It was a really difficult decision,” she explains. “There was the option of becoming a triple Olympic champion, maybe pursuing full time in acting, or turning pro, and I decided to do that. I wanted a new challenge; I want to be a world champion and follow in the footsteps of my hero, Muhammad Ali, and do as he did.”
“From the moment of having the Olympic gold around my neck, I’ve been thinking about it and I have no regrets. I’ve found a great team in Frank Warren, Box Nation and BT Sport. They believe in my dream, they believe what I can do and they want to make a world champion, and that’s what I want to be. To emulate my hero would be absolutely amazing – another dream come true!”
Along with another major title to add to her already impressive collection, the Leeds-born flyweight hopes the move will help to raise the profile of women’s boxing, pledging to take the sport to new levels. “I definitely think I can raise the game of women’s boxing, in terms of profile and attendance,” she says. “I want to take it to another level and show the world what women’s boxing is all about.”
Of course the move into the professional field hasn’t stopped the ambitious boxer from ruling out the possibility of challenging for that coveted triple Olympic gold in Tokyo 2020, but for now her focus is dedicated to new ventures, with an aim to be named world champion as early as next year.
And while she will have to adjust to the changes of the professional game, which will see her faced with an increased number of rounds and no head guard for protection, Adams remains unwaveringly confident. “I think the target of being world champion next year is quite realistic; I’ve had over 200 amateur fights, I just need to adapt to the time of the rounds and settle in my feet to pack more power in my punches and I think after I’ve got that, I’m ready to take on a world champ and bring a belt home to Leeds,” she says.
“Of course, there’s no head guard in pro boxing, but I think that’s going to be a bonus! It creates a bigger target so it will be a lot easier to not only see the shots coming, but to move out of the way of them as well.
“It’s still the same ring; you have judges, you have an opponent, two arms, two legs. It can’t be that much different than the amateurs,” she laughs. “I’m excited and looking forward to it.”
She will make her debut fight in Manchester on April 8 before a bout in her home city at Leeds’ First Direct Arena on May 13, alongside fellow Leeds boxer Josh Warrington – her first fight at home in 13 years. “I can’t wait for the Leeds show and the Leeds fans,” she beams. “It’s going to be exiting, I can see that already, and I’m sure the atmosphere in the arena is going to replicate the noise of the Games so I’m really looking forward to it.
“It’s nice to be able to come back for a real homecoming and it’s definitely exciting to be sharing the bill with Josh. I remember him boxing when he was about six years old – I used to beat him up!” she laughs, “so me and him go way back. It’s just nice to see that we’ve both come a long way; we’ve been training and competing hard, and doing really well for the sport.
And now we’re able to come together and compete on the same bill in Leeds. It’s going to be a sell out!” Of course while the prospect of fighting in front of a home crowd may give her an almighty boost, Adams does have to contend with the pressures of heading into the pro ranks as the number one person to beat. The huge expectations may add a weight on her shoulders, but she maintains the pressure of being at the top only adds to her performance and she’s more than ready to take on a tough fight.
“I love the pressure,” she says. “Being number one for four years is hard. Everybody wants to be Olympic champion, everybody wants that gold medal, so you know everybody is coming for you. It’s a lot of pressure, but I take it in my stride. I train hard, listen to my coaches, listen to the tactics and I don’t cut any corners. “I have to go in there with my A-game every time and give 110% and that’s exactly what I intend to do in the pros as well.
I’ll be giving everything I’ve got – I know everybody wants to beat me, but they’ve got to get in the ring and put their money where their mouth is, because I’m ready.”