Carly Skelly: “Regardless of whether it’s two-minute rounds or three minutes, we are still taking punches to the head and we deserve more money.”
Liverpool’s Carly Skelly has had a tough time of late, fights falling through, an extended absence from the ring, all the momentum from her last fight was seemingly lost.
Skelly fought the then-unbeaten Amy Timlin for the vacant Commonwealth super-bantamweight title late last year. Skelly impressed many but failed to have her hand raised when somehow, the judges scored it a draw. This observer had Skelly winning, the verdict made it very much a case of unfinished business and a rematch looked a certainty. But despite the rematch being agreed Timlin would go in another direction, leaving Skelly out in the cold and out of pocket.
The disappointment kept coming, more dates came and went without reward, but late last month Skelly finally returned to action. But even then there were nervous moments when the intended opponent fell away and with it, her scheduled Commonwealth title shot. Thankfully, Skelly was given a reprieve when Dorota Norek stepped in when all hope seemed lost.
The Polish fighter has an MMA background and an extremely unorthodox style, making it a highly uncomfortable evening for Skelly. It certainly wasn’t a sweet science in Liverpool, and when I spoke to Skelly a few days after the fight, she was still feeling the effects of the fight:
“I’m feeling ok, I’ve got a bit of a sore head and I’ve got a few little bumps, there were quite a few head clashes in there. It got a bit rough in there and there were a couple of takedowns in there as well. In that last round if you watch it she literally wrapped her legs around my feet, I just thought what’s going on here.”
The last-minute opponent change left Skelly with little time to prepare for the change in style, entering the ring Skelly had to deal with the unknown. Norak was unconventional, it was a rough and tumble type of affair, head clashes, takedowns, Skelly was facing the type of opponent she has never encountered previously:
“I didn’t really feel her punches too much, but when we were in the clinch I could feel how strong she was and she knew how to manoeuvre me around. In the takedowns, I felt she was over me as if she was in that style of fight. I didn’t know much about her it was very much a last-minute opponent. When we knew the opponent had changed I did a little research on her, and when I saw she had fought Shannon Courtenay I realised who she was because I actually watched that fight. So I didn’t look any further because I thought I knew who she is now. But then we got into the ring I realised she had got an MMA background.”
Despite winning the fight and the vacant WBC International super-bantamweight title, it was still a night of frustration for Skelly. As the fight progressed Skelly lost her way slightly as she fell into the kind of fight her opponent wanted. I had Skelly well winning the fight. I felt she controlled the early rounds building up a nice early lead, but Norak made the closing rounds a little uncomfortable but the night will be a valuable learning experience going forward for Skelly.
“I think the first couple of rounds were ok, but by about round 5 it was starting to frustrate me. Usually, I stay cool and try to enjoy myself in there but this is probably one of the fights I have enjoyed the least. I was getting frustrated and probably getting a little bit over-eager which made me perform not in the way I would have liked. It definitely wasn’t my best performance.
“Anytime a fight doesn’t go your way it is always a learning experience. I’ll take more from that fight than if it would have been a nice easy fight. This has given me a lot of things to look back on and learn from, it gives me more knowledge to improve for the future.”
With a little of the accumulated ring rust now gone, Skelly is looking forward to what lies ahead. There is talk of that elusive Commonwealth title shot being revisited, but Skelly has ambitions beyond even that. Skelly told FightPost that a definitive plan will be made in the coming weeks:
“I’m not too sure what’s next I haven’t heard anything yet from my promoter or my manager. In the next few weeks, I will get a phone call with the plan going forward.”
The pain and sacrifice of a training camp are always hard on the fighter, but sometimes, equally so on their families. Fighters have to be selfish, and those closest often pay the price. But Skelly, with a little less weight to lose, has been a little less ‘moody’ than when she is fighting at her usual weight:
“I haven’t been too bad for this camp. When I am coming down in weight I can be moody and difficult to be around. I came up to super-bantamweight last year to fight Amy Timlin and I have stayed up for the proposed rematch with her which obviously didn’t happen but I was always trying to keep up this weight. I am naturally a bantamweight so I haven’t had to really get any weight off for this fight. So it’s definitely been nicer for the family to be around me when I am fighting at super-bantamweight but in reality, it is not my weight and I should probably be going back down.”
Skelly has expressed interest in fighting the likes of Ebanie Bridges, Jamie Mitchell and the rest of the leading lights in her more normal weight division, although a rematch with Timlin at super-bantamweight is no longer of any immediate interest with Timlin coming up short in a recent European title attempt. But you sense the fight she wants more than anyone else is a fight with the now-former world champion Shannon Courtenay:
“The perfect scenario would be to get this Commonwealth title and then go back down and face the likes of Shannon Courtenay and Jamie Mitchell. I would love that fight with Shannon and I am going to keep pushing for it.”
Fighter’s pay has been much talked about of late, and the more you learn the more you realise just how badly some of the women are actually paid. I had a low bar figure in my head, but even that was grossly overestimated. Some fighters have told me they fought at a loss, others a mere pittance of a wage. Even some established fighters make nowhere near what you might think.
Skelly has suffered more than most. Inactive for virtually a whole year, she took time off from nursing in the hope of fights that failed to materialise. Fight camps cost more money, and when fights get pulled, it becomes wasted money with no return. The unbeaten fighter told FightPost just how bad this past year has been for her:
“It’s definitely been a tough year. After the fight with Amy Timlin, I was lucky to get an opportunity to go to Denmark to spar with the world champion Sarah Mahfoud to help her with her preparations for a fight so I kept going for the rest of last year so I didn’t go back to work. But at the beginning of this year, I was ready to go back to work because I needed to start earning some money but then I got told I had got the rematch with Amy, so I focussed on that and didn’t go back to work. So when that fight fell through I had suffered a financial loss because I didn’t go back to work and I didn’t get the fight. I went back to work but then I have had some other dates for fights, so I have then come out of work again, but then those fights fell through as well. It has been an up and down year work-wise and camp wise. I try to be optimistic and learn from it and try to make the best out of every situation.
“Financially it is really tough. If you don’t work you rely on the fight purse, and when the fight falls through you obviously then don’t get paid, if a fight doesn’t happen you have earned nothing. But the fight pay is shocking it really is. We rely on selling tickets to make money but so much comes out of that to pay for your opponent, and 9 times out of 10 it is a foreign opponent and you then have to pay for travel and other expenses. Even when I was on Matchroom last year the women are not being paid a fraction of what the men are. We are miles behind at the moment and hopefully, that is something that will change. Regardless of whether it’s two-minute rounds or three minutes, we are still taking punches to the head and we deserve more money.”
In many ways, boxing really is the hurt business. Fighters are often treated incredibly badly, there are the lucky ones of course who can make a decent living from it, for the majority, however, it is just surviving and hoping for the big fight that will change everything.
It’s been tough for Skelly, but with boxing returning to a full schedule, she now at least has hope. The performance against Timlin and her newly won WBC title should lead to more opportunities under the Matchroom bright lights. There are numerous potential opponents under that promotional umbrella for Skelly, eventually, the phone will ring. It needs to.
Photo Credit: Karen Priestley