Sometimes referred to as the ‘Baby-Faced Assassin’, 34 year-old Nicola Adams claimed her first professional casualty in Manchester this past Saturday. From Friday’s weigh-in to the reading of the unanimous decision Saturday evening, Adams wore her signature smile virtually the entire time. She just can’t seem to help manifesting her exuberance for life. And fisticuffs.
Her victim was the now 4-3-1 Argentinian Virginia Noemi Carcamo. Nicknamed ‘La Tigresa’, Carcamo could not summon the undomesticated savagery to tear into Adams, Great Britain’s most illustrious amateur boxer who has chosen ‘The Lioness’ to use as her moniker while prowling the wilderness of the paid ranks.
Following some sleepless nights and agonizing consultations with Anthony Joshua concerning her future, Nicola left the GB Boxing program in January, not to mention the opportunity to win a third Olympic gold medal in Tokyo in 2020, to follow in the still fresh footprints made by Claressa Shields, Katie Taylor, and her girlfriend Marlen Esparza. Make no mistake, Adams is accustomed to being not a fellow traveler, but the trend-setter. Like any female sports combatant, she is keenly familiar with the fact that a primary component to achieving all subsequent objectives on her mission entails the necessity to win hearts and minds.
Her promoter Frank Warren was one such cynic who had to be otherwise convinced that “boxing is not a sport for women”, to use his own words from three years ago. “Call me an old git, but that’s how I see it.” Warren asserted, when pressed about promoting much less advocating for female prizefighting, “I never have, never will.”
Being that he is a businessman first and a humanitarian somewhere further down the list, Frank’s perspective has no doubt evolved due in part to the hopes of a financial windfall springing from his investment, especially in full view of the success that his rival Eddie Hearn has already enjoyed with Katie Taylor. His motivations notwithstanding, Warren has admitted to eating a generous helping of humble pie served to him courtesy of Nicola Adams.
It was presumably the achievements of Adams, as well as Katie Taylor and Savannah Marshall, who helped Amir Khan get over his antiquated stance that “women should stick to tennis”.
When she first embarked upon her pugilistic journey, Nicola needed three years to earn the endorsement of boxing coach Alwyn Belcher. Not only did he become her first trainer but Adams still works out under the 82 year-old Belcher’s guidance whenever she returns to Yorkshire. She admits to having been a handful, emulating Naseem Hamed by switch-hitting and shoe-shining and generally running amok during her first official fight at the age of 13.
Six years of harnessing that youthful energy with Belcher acting as conductor began to pay dividends for Adams in 2001 when she would break ground as a representative of Great Britain in an amateur tournament, the first time a female had done so. A run of four straight English titles would occur two years after that.
Nicola’s silver medal at the 2007 European Championships was the first decoration awarded to a British woman at a major tournament, setting the stage for an appearance at the following year’s World Championships in Ningbo, China where she again took second place in the 54kg division. This was an accomplishment Adams would duplicate as a flyweight in 2010 and 2012 after requiring a year-long layoff to recuperate from a back injury while accepting some acting gigs to supplement the government’s inadequate funding of women’s boxing. Until, that is, the International Olympic Committee finally decided to shut up and put up following painfully prolonged deliberations over whether to sponsor female pugilists.
Coming off of gold medal-winning outings at the 2011 European and EU Championships, Adams established her international dominance with victories over Stoyka Petrova of Bulgaria, Mary Kom of France, and China’s Ren Cancan at the 2012 Summer Games in London, etching her name in the history books as the first woman to take home Olympic gold. And, to think, she was just approaching full stride.
The top shelf of Nicola’s trophy case became quite crowded with the addition of gold medals won at the subsequent EU Championships, Commonwealth Games, European Games, and World Championships on the long and winding road to Rio in 2016.
Adams’ repeat performance last August marked the first time any British boxer had successfully defended his or her Olympic championship since middleweight Harry Mallin nearly a century before. After winning gold at the 1920 Belgium Olympics, Mallin returned four years later and wound up an unwilling participant in a bite fight that predated Mike Tyson’s gnawing of Evander Holyfield’s ear by 75 years.
Having advanced to the quarter-finals, Mallin had apparently been unseated by virtue of a 2-1 decision in favor of Roger Brousse who was competing before a Parisian crowd which was enthusiastic to say the least in support of their fellow Frenchman. Mallin’s complaints of being bitten by Brousse on the chest and shoulder went unheeded by the referee but his post-fight protests to members of the Olympic Committee (complete with dental impressions) were sufficient to overturn the judgment on a disqualification. Police enforcement was needed for Mallin to proceed throughout the tournament, knocking off Joseph Beecken of Belgium and his own countryman John Elliott to secure his second consecutive gold medal.
Despite their feral sobriquets, both Adams and Carcamo refrained from any such cannibalistic shenanigans in their preliminary matchup on Saturday’s card featuring Petr Petrov vs. Terry Flanagan and the battle of the Liams, Smith and Williams. Still all smiles, Nicola appeared somewhat tightly wound in the early going, falling back on basic techniques by utilizing her left jab as a door-stopper which allowed the occasional right hook to piggyback in behind it.
With the first 120 seconds of her professional career now in the rearview mirror and the counseling of trainer Virgil Hunter resounding between her ears, Adams loosened up considerably in the second round and got into more of a relaxed groove, alternating her rhythm by first mixing it up with Carcamo in the pocket then once again creating distance with the jab only to close it with a variety of right leads and left hooks.
One of those lefts sent Carcamo reeling into the nearest corner where Nicola pounced with a flurry of shots upstairs and down before her foe managed to spin her around. The best punch of the fight came in the third when Adams countered a looping right hook unfurled by Carcamo with a short right uppercut, the timing and execution of which were beautiful but not enough to floor the tough Argentinian. Nicola closed the show by stepping on the accelerator in round four, dishing out body blows and left/right combos that helped earn her the 40-36 shutout.
Adams’ May 13 homecoming bout in Leeds was signed at the same time as her debut which supports the tenets of stage one of the eventual four-year plan set in place by Nicola and Frank Warren. Their strategy consists of keeping her active, much to the extent that Katie Taylor has, and accumulate enough victories and quality rounds to prepare her for a meeting with former WBC World Flyweight Champion Ava Knight, whose name Nicola has dropped in media discussions, before a title shot against WBO belt-holder Nana Yoshikawa, with whom Warren is already in negotiations.
The first female honored by the Boxing Writers’ Club of Great Britain in 2012, Adams was summarily bestowed appointments to the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) and OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). Nicola has very clear visions of accomplishing what her friend Anthony Joshua, stablemate Andre Ward, and hero Muhammad Ali did, transitioning from Olympic champion to world champion.
What do you do when seemingly no one is willing to invest in your dreams? When you fight for something that, to you, means everything but is met with mostly scorn and ridicule? Assuming they pay any attention to you to begin with. The indifference hurts as much as the resistance.
You can keep kicking the same can down the same street with essentially the same predictable results and pitiful reactions. Or, you can choose the most interesting looking detour and never look over your shoulder or stop to ponder doubling back the way you came. But, first, pick up that can and rattle it around. Those knocks you hear are not pebbles and rocks but the echoing objections of non-believers, recommending that you abandon your heart’s desire.
Dump the contents into the scrub at the roadside and walk away. Carry the can with you as a mnemonic keepsake. Very few will be able to recycle that worthless metal into a gold medal. But, whatever your particular aspirations, never let anyone force you into a muted capitulation before you even try.