ENTERTAINMENT ART

‘I fit in boxing training around the kids,’ says champion Nina Hughes

Nina Hughes proudly poses with her WBA world bantamweight belt (Picture: Supplied)

The new WBA world bantamweight champion boxer on her struggle to convince people she was worth backing as a 40-year-old mum-of-two and joining up with Eddie Hearn

You went to Dubai and won the world title against Jamie Mitchell in only your fifth professional fight last month and then signed for Matchroom. What a few weeks.

I knew I was the underdog – but no one gave me a chance and my dad showed me a poll that showed 96 per cent of people thought she would beat me! But I always believed I could do it and win a world title but I never knew I’d be given the opportunity to fight for one and in the pro game that’s what it’s all about.

No one gave me a chance because of my age and all said ‘too old’. I came through the small-hall show route and I had to sell tickets just to fund my opponents. I hope one day if I get the chance. I knew I didn’t have time on my side but also that I had to give it a go.

What stopped you from making the breakthrough earlier?

My age has always gone against me as an amateur and a professional. I wasn’t kept on by the Great Britain squad as, at the time, as they deemed me too old for the next Olympics. I stopped boxing for a few years but got back into it for fitness, it was a hobby then. I just had to find a promoter who believed in me. So many battles, people don’t realize. It is hard. Stressful.

Nina Hughes and Kevin Lilley

Hughes with her trainer Kevin Lilley (Picture: Supplied)

Has it helped you that women’s boxing is enjoying a fantastic year as a whole?

If women’s boxing was flying years ago, I’d have turned over a lot younger. When I left the GB team I looked at turning pro but there was nothing around unless you went to America or Germany.

I was still boxing and trained quite hard through Covid and still believed in myself and thought I had to give it a shot now. I did think about retirement but women’s boxing was great on TV during lockdown and I thought I’d regret if I didn’t try.

Tasha Jonas is another British world champion who’s a Mum. You have sons who are eight and six so how does the whole dynamic work between fighting and family?

They come to the gym with me a lot because it’s the only way I can fit in the training sometimes. I’ve had them helping me with hill sprints! I still work three days a week so I’m not even a full-time boxer, I fit in boxing training on my lunch breaks and around the kids. It is difficult but I make it work. The six-year-old doesn’t understand it much but my eldest is more interested and he asks me a lot of questions.

Will you carry on working now you’ve got a pro deal?

I know because of my age I’ve probably only got a couple of years left in my boxing career. I work as an admin assistant to a legal compliance department in an asset management firm and they’ve been flexible, allowing me to work around my training, and have been very supportive. At the moment, it works and pays the bills!

I think I’ll continue as it is at the moment. Some days I’m absolutely shattered! I really enjoy the challenge of balancing everything. It’s all been new again as a pro. I feel I’m improving.

It sounds like you want to face former world champion Shannon Courtenay or IBF champion Ebanie Bridges next year.

I haven’t met with Eddie yet but I’m going to Leeds for the Josh Warrington fight this weekend so I’m sure I will see him then and we’ll talk. I’m interested to hear what he’s got in store for me. If I could box three times next years that’d be lovely. I still feel fresh at the moment but I have to be realistic, it will hit me eventually! I want to get the big fights in as soon as possible. I’ve got to make the most of what I can do in the next few years.

Watch Josh Warrington v Luis Alberto Lopez live on DAZN tomorrow night

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