Over a two-month period this spring, a Hungarian challenger fought two of America’s well-known female boxers, in fights that made history in one form or another. Szilvia Szabados, 26, fought two-time Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields in Detroit in March, and just over a month later, flew to Las Vegas to fight six-time world champion Layla McCarter.
In those two months of heightened media attention on women’s boxing, Szabados’ role cannot be underestimated. In challenging Shields in her second professional fight, the Hungarian fighter was the other half of the first televised event headlined by female boxers. She fought in Shields’ backyard in a bout that was meant to test Shields’ market value in a male-dominated industry. And both women delivered.
Hailing from the city of Miskolc, 180 kilometers (112 miles) northeast of the Hungarian capital of Budapest, Szabados started her professional boxing career in 2014 after four years of volleyball. “Everybody was shocked when I chose boxing t at the age of sixteen,” she wrote in an email. “I chose a sport where you are on your own, a sport that is rough and aggressive. Boxing is not made for girls but I fell in love with it anyway. I made my choice, I wanted to become a fighter!”
On her first year as a pro, she won five successive victories in Budapest and Slovakia. She has 26 bouts under her belt with a fight record of 16-10-0, of which seven victories were won by KO. In just three years as a professional, Szabados has fought not just in Hungary and Slovakia, but also in Germany, the United Kingdom, South Africa and the United States.
Szabados said she was introduced and then inspired to take on boxing while watching fights by Hungarian boxers such as Istvan Kovacs, Karoly Balzsay, Mihaly Kotai, and Zsolt Erdei, who became one of her favorite boxers. “We watched the Rocky movies as well,” she wrote, with a smiley face.
Szabados is managed by Zoltan Petranyi, himself a professional boxer in the men’s heavyweight division, who has fought since 1994 and has racked up a fight record of 55-22-0. Szabados found Petranyi the way I found her: through Facebook.
“I started to train in a little boxing club in Miskolc. After two months I asked about the possibility of going to a competition. The trainer said he does not support competition, he just trains people. I was sad, but on older trainer in the gym, Gabor Takacs (who was also a great boxer in his days) came to me and said he can offer a manager to me. And he offered Zoltan Petranyi. First I searched for Zoltan on Facebook, after that I got an appointment to travel to Budapest and meet him. After that I became his boxer,” she wrote.
After a year of going pro, Szabados traveled to Germany to challenge Nikki Adler for her WBC super middleweight belt, in a 10-round bout that tested the Hungarian’s mantle. That bout was the most difficult in her career, Szabados said.
“One of my heaviest opponents was Nikki Adler. After that fight I said to myself if I was able to go the scheduled ten rounds in that match, I can do everything in the future. I got cut in my right eyebrow that blooded heavily and I kept going and fought bravely,” she wrote. While she lost by decision, that fight might have built her reputation as a tough opponent.
Outside the ring, Szabados leads a life that mirrors that of other female boxers. She works full-time as a logistics manager for German electronics company Robert Bosch GmbH, is trying to complete her economics degree at Miskolc University, and has to train regularly to be in fighting shape at all time. She needs her full-time job to pay the bills; there are no sponsorships for women boxers in Hungary.
She trains mostly by herself or with her boyfriend, sometimes training at a local muay thai gym so she can spar with another woman fighter of the same size and weight class.
Whatever Szabados lacks in structured training, she makes up in determination to surmount day to day hurdles. She does not get support from her parents, and having to negotiate time off from work with her boss can “feel like a boxing match outside the ring.” Her colleagues know she is a boxer, “but they can not imagine what this profession is all about,” she said.
“Few know about my background, that I have no sponsors, I do not even have a head coach. I am not a full-fledged fighter at all, I can not manage to train three times a day,” she wrote.
Szabados hopes to become a better fighter over time. “I would like to box better fight by fight. I would like to mature, learn the craft from all aspects,” she noted. Nearly all of her 10 career losses have come from international fights where she said she learned how to fight different boxing styles and gain experience.
Despite losses in her last two fights in the US, we hope to continue to see more of Szabados. In an increasingly risk-averse sport, a boxer with a strong chin, a big heart and an even bigger determination is a terrible thing to waste.
Note: The interview with Szilvia Szabados was conducted via email and translated from Hungarian to English. Editing on the English response was minimal.