Historians and the New Era of Boxing
Historians often discuss epochs in history, those significant periods where civilizations crumble and cultures fade away to be replaced by something new. Boxing has been experiencing its own “new dawn” for a while now, and it is a development that is understandably met with trepidation by many. The sport’s current landscape is marked by empty seats during world title fights, while contests between social media influencers fill vast stadiums. It is an incongruity that boxing is struggling to reconcile.
This new era in boxing is characterized by press conference chaos, explicit weigh-ins, and WWE-style insults thrown around on camera and social media. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people will always find a platform to express themselves, regardless of the worthiness of their words, and there will always be an audience eager to hear it.
Nina Hughes, the proud holder of the black and gold WBA world championship belt at 118lbs, has witnessed firsthand the impact of this new era. At 41 years old, she has come to realize that being bubbly, polite, and modest will not take her far in a culture that values spectacle over substance. With the pressure to stay relevant, Hughes succumbed to joining social media, even though she does not enjoy it. She plans to delete it all once her boxing career is over.
Hughes turned pro in December 2021 and, in just her fifth professional fight, secured the WBA title. Critics may point to the perceived lack of depth in women’s divisions to explain Hughes’ quick rise, but it would be unfair to dismiss her achievements based on that. Hughes, having been part of the initial group of female boxers in GB Boxing since 2009, would likely have competed in the 2012 Olympics if not for being in the same weight class as the future double-gold medalist Nicola Adams.
Last year, Hughes scored a significant victory over Jamie Mitchell, an opponent known for her resilience and tough background, in a fight that deserved more attention than it received. Mitchell had previously defeated top-ranked Shannon Courtney to win the title and had worked hard to earn undercard opportunities on low-rent shows in Mexico. She was an underdog going into the fight against Hughes but emerged victorious, surprising many.
Hughes reflects on the fight, stating that Mitchell underestimated her and expected an easy win. Hughes and her team had done their homework, sparred extensively, and devised a winning strategy. The fight came about thanks to a direct appeal Hughes made to Mitchell on social media. However, the online world showed its ugly side, with Mitchell responding abusively and making threatening remarks.
For someone like Mitchell, who possessed a world title but lacked the profile to attract attention, resorting to such behavior may have been an attempt to gain publicity and sell the fight. However, this highlights the concerning state of boxing and society as a whole.
Despite her accomplishments, Hughes remains aware of her age and the ticking clock of time. Turning pro at 39 was not easy, as big promoters initially overlooked her due to her age. Eventually, Hughes found support from MTK and is now promoted by Matchroom. She continues to work with her loyal team, manager Lee Eaton and trainer Kevin Lilley, who have been by her side since the beginning.
Despite her relatively rapid progress, Hughes is concerned that time may defeat her before she can achieve her goals. She has only defended her WBA title once since winning it, and she hopes to have the opportunity for unification fights and to become undisputed champion at 118lbs. One potential opponent is Jamie Mitchell, with whom she has a previous rivalry, but Hughes would prefer a unification matchup with the WBO belt-holder Ebanie Bridges.
Ebanie Bridges, known as the “Blonde Bomber,” is the opposite of Hughes in terms of self-promotion. Since her appearance in British rings in 2021, Bridges has actively sought attention through provocative weigh-ins and titillating social media posts.