Hannah Rankin is approaching what could be the defining moment of her boxing career.
Rankin will start a clear underdog against the unbeaten Marshall (9-0) on the undercard of Oleksandr Usyk v Derek Chisora but is confident of upsetting the odds.
Hannah has a fascinating back story – she is also a professional classical musician (bassoon) outside the ring. She sat down with us to talk about her journey into boxing and that huge night in prospect.
Q: It’s clear that women’s boxing has now arrived in a big way and this was underlined by Ring Magazine announcing a women’s ratings panel to rank to the top fighters in each weight class – as well as the pound-for-pound women’s top 10 – earlier this year. It must be satisfying to see fights such as Taylor/Persoon 2, Harper/Jonas and Courtenay/Ball on Sky Sports, and seeing these fighters really elevating the sport?
Hannah Rankin: It’s great to finally see women’s boxing getting some exposure on a platform like Sky Sports. The women’s fights during the first (Matchroom) Fight Camp were all great and got everyone talking about them!
I was very proud to feature in Ring Magazine’s inaugural women’s rankings for the sport, and I feel it’s a great step forward for women’s boxing that we now have these rankings like they do for the men.
Q: You box Savannah Marshall next for the WBO world middleweight title. Are you confident you and Savannah can put on another TV classic and how do you see your styles matching up?
HR: I think this fight is going to be great for TV as it’s the first time women of our weight class have been showcased fighting for a world title live on Sky Sports in the UK and it will be something different for the public. This fight won’t be for the faint-hearted and I think our styles are going to make for an exciting, fan-friendly fight.
Q: The bookmakers have you as a 5/1 outsider against Marshall. Are you surprised by those odds, given your experience in world-title fights, and how will you prove them wrong on October 31?
HR: Firstly I’m not surprised as in the UK everyone pins a lot on having a good amateur experience. But in my opinion being a good amateur makes you a good amateur and she (Marshall) hasn’t been tested in the pro ranks.
I’m a much more experienced professional fighter and think this will show on fight night. Using a boxing phrase, ‘I’ve had to look through the door’ and she hasn’t. On October 31 my professional experience will show and I will be walking away with the WBO title.
Q: Much has been made of Marshall’s extensive amateur background and her win over Claressa Shields in the 2012 World Championships. Can you tell us a bit more about your own achievements in the unpaid ranks?
HR: Compared to Marshall, I have very little experience in the unpaid ranks. But her win over Shields was a long time ago and being a good amateur, as history has proven, doesn’t always make you a good professional.
Q: The sporting landscape has been turned upside down by COVID-19. How have your own preparations been affected in 2020 and how did the lockdown earlier this year affect you mentally as a professional athlete?
HR: I was one of the lucky fighters to actually have had a fight before lockdown – defeating a former world champion by third-round stoppage – and I was looking forward to going back to the States to fight again around May time.
However, COVID-19 put a stop to all of those plans and at first I was concerned at how I was going to cope, being such an active fighter and not having a fight date let alone normal training!
Luckily my trainer and I had access to a private space and I look at that extra time as a blessing as it allowed me to work on lots of little things that I wouldn’t normally have had the time to. I feel grateful to have had that opportunity as I know how hard it must have been mentally for others being stuck with nowhere to train.
Thankfully the only thing I was missing was sparring during lockdown, as we improvised so I could get my strength training in and my boxing. The pros were allowed to go back and train by the time the fight was being talked about, so I had sparring then. Mostly I’ve worked with the guys for this one as I couldn’t travel for sparring, but it’s worked out well.
Q: How did you first get into boxing and who were your heroes growing up?
HR: I moved down to London to start my Masters in Music, and prior to that had been training Thai Boxing in Glasgow for fitness. I joined a gym that did combat sports here in London and I met my coach Noel Callan and Derek Williams, who introduced me to boxing. I immediately fell in love with the sport.
My heroes growing up included my TaeKwonDo instructor Mr Mahoney – he was one of the coolest guys and he was so impressive to watch fight. I also greatly admired a lot of musicians including Maxim Vengerov, as he was one of the first people I saw perform live and was the person who made me want to follow a career as a performer.
Lastly my mum was definitely one of my heroes. She was a young mum with three daughters who ran a farm with my dad, and she always pushed us to be independent, work hard and do things that we loved. It was through my mum that I developed that discipline to work hard for what I wanted and believe in myself.
Q: There won’t be any fans attending the fight. Does that detract from the occasion at all or is it something you will completely forget about when the bell goes?
HR: Being a professional musician, I’ve performed in some of the biggest concert halls to huge audiences and also in the smallest rooms to barely anyone. So for me that makes no difference and it’s just about going out there to perform how I know I can to win that world title.
Q: The scores on all three judges’ cards against Patricia Berghult in your 2019 loss looked pretty close. Did you get a fair shake on the cards over in Malta and how has that fight brought you on as a boxer?
HR: That fight in Malta was definitely one of my worst performances, but on the scorecards I won every round from round 5 onwards, but she beat me and it is what it is. What I learnt from that fight is that everything outside of the ring has to be right for it to work inside the ring. I took that mentality into my fight in February and the result speaks for itself. I will do the same come October 17.
Q: You have previously sparred extensively with former WBC and WBO middleweight champion Christina Hammer. How did you get on in those sessions with Hammer, who in terms of size is comparable to Marshall?
HR: As is well known in most of the boxing world, what happens in sparring stays in sparring but what I will say is that I’m confident going into October 31.
Q: You boxed Shields for the WBC, IBF and WBA world title belts in Kansas in November 2018. Having sparred her extensively and then boxed for unified world belts against her you are more familiar than most when it comes to the double Olympic champion. Just how good is she?
HR: In my opinion Claressa Shields will go down as one of the greatest fighters of my generation.