The FightPost Interviews: Hannah Rankin
We live in a supposedly new era of tolerance, and where the stigma of women’s boxing should be a thing of the past. But if I said a classically trained musician who attended the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and also completed a Masters degree at the Royal Academy of London would also be a professional boxer, and a former world champion at that, some would still be surprised, shocked even at that thought.
There are still some who have a one-dimensional view of the women who decide to trade leather for a living. But if one thing stands out from all my recent interviews, is that they do it for the love of it. The different backgrounds, their own independent stories all end up the same, they find their way to boxing, and they stay there.
Hannah Rankin was brought up on a farm in Luss near Loch Lomond in Scotland:
“I grew up on a farm with my two sisters, it was pretty remote with only 27 pupils in my local school. We all played musical instruments, our parents were very encouraging and were like taxi drivers taking us to all the extra curriculum activities. All three of us were in the local badminton team, I did Taekwondo also, we were very sporty.”
Rankin’s two sisters stayed in the farming industry, but for her, it was never an option:
“My parents knew from a very young age I was never going to be a farmer. The early starts, working out in all weathers, I’m actually a little squeamish, it wasn’t my natural calling for sure.”
But a life and career in boxing came much later:
“I did Taekwondo when I was 11, but I stopped for my music studies. I got into Thai Boxing when I was 21 in Glasgow. I was determined to get back into fitness but found a normal gym routine boring, I wanted to get back into combat sports. When I moved to London I met my coach and I got involved in the boxing classes when I was 22, and fell in love with it.”
But Rankin was going through personal heartbreak around the time she found boxing. Her mum was diagnosed with cancer and just 6 months later she sadly passed away. But boxing ended up being a type of therapy for Rankin:
“Boxing was a bit of a release for me when my mum got sick, I was doing my Masters at University and I found it quite hard. It was a bit of a release for me, somewhere I could switch off for a little while.”
The sad circumstances propelled Rankin to the White Collar scene of the sport:
“When my mother passed away I decided I wanted to do some White Collar fights for charity to raise some money for Cancer Research.”
From there, Rankin decided to turn professional. With all the costs and problems with having no official amateur experience overcome. Rankin made her professional debut in 2017, but not without some major problems:
“Because I had so many opponents dropping out, I ended up fighting Ester Konecna who was ranked number seven in Europe at the time. I was so frustrated I just wanted to fight someone. It was a risky move but it went really well.”
Rankin won her debut on points in Southend and after a losing, but extremely valuable learning experience against Claressa Shields in only her 8th professional fight, Rankin fought for and became Scotland’s first-ever female world boxing champion. Last year in her native Scotland, Rankin fought Sarah French for the vacant IBO super-welterweight title:
“Not many people can say they have made history. It was the most stressful fight I ever had. I was headlining the show and the BBC were showing it. All my friends and family were there. The worst part was the walk-out, the kids from the gym gave me a guard of honour which I wasn’t expecting, I was under so much pressure.”
Sadly her reign only lasted 5 months, a wafer-thin points loss to Patricia Berghult saw her world title run ended in the first defence of her title. The fight still leaves regret and the quest for revenge:
“There was a lot of things leading up to the fight that didn’t go well. Mentally I wasn’t right, I was feeling a lot of negativity. Then when we got to Malta there were problems with how it was set up. There were issues with the anti-doping, running around at the last minute to resolve that. The scales were bathroom scales and not the proper ones we normally use, it all added to my anxiety and was super stressful.”
But even with all the issues, Rankin very nearly retained her title. The judges scored the fight 96-93, 94-93 and 95-94, a slow start cost Rankin her belt:
“I told myself I felt good, it was my fault I lost. I rushed it at the start and got dropped inside the first 15 seconds, it was the first time I had been dropped in my career. I came on strong and clearly won the second half of the fight, I dropped her but it wasn’t counted, and that cost me the fight. My personal feeling was that I didn’t perform to the best of my ability.”
Losing any fight can have massive financial implications, and for Rankin, this was no different:
“To get to that point there was a lot of sacrifice. I was almost at the point where I was going to be more financially stable.”
Rankin desperately wants the rematch and the chance for revenge:
“I would take the rematch tomorrow, we keep asking but there is nothing coming back and I am waiting to hear. I want that rematch, but it depends on what happens next. Things are a little uncertain at the moment, I was hoping to be fighting out again at the end of April.”
Despite the recent surge for women’s boxing there is still a lot to do, and is one of the biggest frustrations for Rankin:
“The lack of financial support for women is unbelievable. It’s just not equal in any way. When I fought Claressa for the unified world championship, I got nowhere near what I should have done in comparison. People don’t realise if you don’t have a promoter you have to find around £20,000 to put on a title fight, with all the sanctioning fees, medicals, drug testing, officials, flights and accommodation for the opponents etc. When I won my world title I didn’t get paid. It’s much harder to get sponsorship for a women, there are many times I have fought for free.”
In many ways, the sport hasn’t moved on since the historic court case which saw Jane Couch open the doors for women to fight professionally. Almost as soon as Couch left the courtroom she found the victory was short-lived, other restrictions were still there. Couch fought many times for free, and you would have hoped that over 20 years later, things would have changed.
Everything in life takes time, but really we should be far further down the line of that change. Yes, things are changing, but nowhere near quick enough for the likes of Rankin and others. Rankin is only 29, and the hope is she will benefit in the coming years from what looks like a sport that is finally getting the push it so rightly deserves.