Cecilia Braekhus, the consensus #1 pound-for-pound in women’s boxing, will make history on HBO this Saturday night.
HBO has aired boxing for roughly 45 years, but unlike Showtime, they’ve never broadcast a women’s boxing match in network history. That changes on May 5th, as undisputed welterweight champion and consensus #1 pound-for-pound great Cecilia Braekhus (32-0, 9 KOs) will take on Kali Reis (13-6-1, 4 KOs) in the co-main event to Gennady Golovkin vs. Vanes Martirosyan. Reis has unsuccessfully challenged for championship belts at both junior middleweight and middleweight, and figures to be an enormous underdog on Saturday night.
The 36-year-old Braekhus has held all four major world titles (WBC, WBA, IBF, and WBO) since 2014, and has two wins over rival Anne Sophie-Mathis, who is best known in MMA circles for her extremely violent KO of former UFC champion Holly Holm. Known as “The First Lady of Boxing,” Braekhus has fought almost her entire career in Germany and Denmark, but her last four fights have been in her home country of Norway, which lifted its long ban on professional boxing back in 2014. No doubt her massive popularity in Norway was a major reason for parliament passing a vote to legalize the sport again.
Having been unable to secure a major boxing match with Holm, who retired from the sport and shifted to MMA, Braekhus has repeatedly expressed interest in boxing Cris Cyborg, the reigning UFC women’s featherweight champion. Braekhus says she would love for it to happen in 2018 or 2019, although she also wanted it to happen in 2017, and that never materialized.
Women’s boxing doesn’t receive nearly the amount of promotion or television network interest as women’s MMA, but in recent years — perhaps in part because of the rise in women’s MMA — there has been slow but noticeable change. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields competes regularly on Showtime, while fellow gold-medalist Katie Taylor has her fights televised on Sky Sports in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Top Rank Boxing has placed Mikaela Mayer on live-streamed undercards of its ESPN shows. Golden Boy Boxing has also broadcast women’s boxing matches as part of its own ESPN deal.
It must be said, however, that the pay disparity between high-level women’s boxers and high-level women’s MMA fighters is decidedly in favor of women’s MMA. Additionally, women’s boxing championship matches are 10 rounds instead of 12, and the rounds last just two minutes instead of three, because… reasons.
Still, it’s great to see Braekhus on US television, and she’s worth tuning in for.
HBO’s presentation of Golovkin vs. Martirosyan begins at 11 PM ET/8 PM PT from the StubHub Center in Carson, California.