Nicola Hopewell: “It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make.”
It was a random message one Sunday morning, asking me if I would interview a friend of hers. It was a fighter I had never heard of, but the quick bio the friend sent me revealed the fighter actually lived in my hometown. At the time I was actively seeking female fighters to interview and the fact that there was one in my little town of residence I wasn’t even remotely aware of, said plenty about where the fighter was in her career at that time.
When the research and intrigue began it then became apparent that the fighter in question boxed outside of the British Boxing Board of Control, it explained much about the relative anonymous presence of Nicola Hopewell in her sport of choice.
I have interviewed Hopewell many times over the last few years, we have become friends, and despite her profile being raised substantially by her own hard work, it has in truth, been hard watching her career stagnate and not develop in the manner that it should have. Out of respect, I have had to dampen down on the written word, my own frustrations echo many who wanted better for the unbeaten flyweight prospect. But Hopewell has made a decision that should see things change way beyond what she has been accustomed to in recent times.
Hopewell has decided to leave her boxing home of seven years and the process has started in applying for a licence with the British Boxing Board of Control. It is in many ways, a new beginning, a brand new start and finally the chance to fully realise all the potential Hopewell undoubtedly has. The decision to cross the great boxing divide has been coming, previous interviews with myself have highlighted her frustrations and obvious ambition to test her skills on a bigger stage. And on the right stage. Over Zoom, Hopewell told me her reasons for leaving for pastures new:
“BIBA is growing but I am at that age where I haven’t got time to wait for it to reach the level I want to box at. Like I have said before I don’t want any regrets and I don’t want to stay and be in the same position as I am now. When I look back at when I first started to where I am now I am still boxing on the same kind of shows as I was then. I don’t feel like I have moved on or grown. I’ve had six fights but I have seen other girls with fewer fights getting these big opportunities just because they are boxing under the British Boxing Board of Control. It’s so frustrating that I am not getting the same opportunities.”
The situation has been one of inevitability, when not if Hopewell would seek another direction for her boxing career. A planned fight in December fell through in fight week, previous fights have come with much difficulty and stress, including having to fight the same opponent three times, which highlights obvious warning signs and is probably a major reason for Hopewell deciding her fighting future lies better elsewhere:
“I know boxing can change, you can be on fight cards and then you can get pulled off the card, opponents can change I understand all that. But in four out of my six fights, it has got to the Monday of fight week and my opponent has changed. I know that happens but I don’t want to be the boxing the same girl all the time.”
The decision to leave her current coach was hard, and this observer did have fears that the easy decision would come over the right one. Tears have been shed, even the comfort of knowing it is the right decision doesn’t make it any easier:
“It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make and it took me about six months to make it. I did tell him that it was not something that had just come about and that I had woke up one morning and reached that decision. I had been weighing things up for months. I had messages typed up what I could say, the pros and cons. I feel as though I had properly gone through it all and weighed everything up.
“Chris and his team have been part of my life for around seven years and I have seen the other girls grow up. So it was definitely not an easy decision it has been a big part of my life. But you just get to that point when you know the time is right. You either stay there to keep everyone else happy or you be a little bit selfish and leave to try and better yourself.”
Hopewell is at an age where her career needs to get moving in the right direction, she has been on the outside looking in for far too long. The decision could and perhaps should have come sooner. But it had to be when the fighter herself was ready to call time on the present and look to the future. Yes, there could have been more belts won, but what meaning would they have had in the wider world of professional boxing. Belts with little meaning or ones that are practically gifted would have been wrapped around the waist with little inner satisfaction. For Hopewell, the chase now begins for something a little more substantial and satisfying:
“At the end of the day, I am 30 I haven’t got time to waste I want to get in as many fights as I can and with BIBA I felt there was only so far I could go.”
Even over Zoom, you can see the excitement in Hopewell, even though the decision has come with some degree of pain if no regrets. The talent has been obvious to many, but without the platform to let it grow, the worry was that the Hopewell story would be another case of what if. Boxing has too many stories like that, at least now we get to see how it should quite rightfully play out:
“I am excited for the future about what could happen and what doors could open for me. It sounds a bit sad but I am excited to see my name in Boxing News, it’s the little things like that I want to appreciate.”
Hopewell has something to look forward to, a new life with real reward and recognition. In many ways, the Worksop fighter has had to live and fight with a double dose of restrictions over recent times, but she has now found her boxing freedom.