When Cecilia Braekhus steps into the ring on June 9th to defend a unified world title against Argentinian champion Erica Farias, she is heavily favored to keep her belts, and thus, maintain her undefeated title. Not that Farias is an unworthy opponent because she is, but because fans and observers alike believe that Braekhus is simply too skilled and has more experience.
Braekhus puts on her boxer’s hat, a hat that is associated with a perfect 30-0-0 record and five belts to her name. But to get to the ring, Braekhus wore her promoter’s hat, a hat that is increasingly worn by male boxers but rarely worn by women fighters.
Win or lose on fight night, Braekhus’s story is one of success outside the squared circle. Her second professional fight in front of an estimated 15,000 crowd in her hometown of Bergen, Norway is a testament to what victory can mean for a female boxer.
Training in Germany
Because of a ban on professional boxing in Norway, Braekhus’s professional boxing career was shaped in Germany under Sauerland Promotions, the German promoter that now manages Mikaela Lauren and Klara Stevenson.
In 2014, Braekhus decided not to renew her contract with Sauerland. Typical in a sport where personal relationships are co-mingled with business, the breakup was bitter. Amidst speculation on who would manage her post-Sauerland, Braekhus decided to manage herself. She established First Lady Promotions, a woman taking charge of her own destiny in a stubbornly male-dominated sport.
“When I moved to Germany, I was supposed to be this doll, just staying in the background, not put up a fuss,” she recalled in the BBC World Service The Conversation podcast. “I did not accept that.”
“When I started, I was told that I would never be a big star, would never be given a shot at the title, and never be a main eventer, never make money, never get sponsorship,” she told the Scandinavian Traveler. “Finally I was told ‘OK, stand in the corner and just be glad that you’re getting the chance to box on an undercard at a big men’s event’.”
But she also acknowledged that “it is very hard to break away” from the status quo. Despite her popularity in Europe, the business side of self-promotion remains a challenge. “The question is who want to see you box, how many would like to see you box…how to get a TV promotion. It’s very hard to get a promotion.”
First Lady Promotions
And yet, First Lady Promotions is making headway. Braekhus has worked with K2 Promotions and recently started working with Klitschko Management Group (owned by Vitali and Vladimir Klitschko). Braekhus’s decision to go on her own comes at a time of renewed interest in women boxers, and Braekhus herself comes as a full package: a skilled boxer, entrepreneurial and media savvy. She is a prolific media personality, appearing in all possible avenues from traditional print magazines, to CNN’s Human to Hero segment, to boxing blogs but has not lost sight of main reason for marketing herself.
“I have been asked if I want to be in Playboy, FHM. I respectfully decline,” she said in the BBC podcast. “I want to be respected for my boxing.”
A defining moment in Braekhus’ career was the lifting of the ban on professional boxing in Norway in 2014, allowing her to fight in her home country for the first time in her 10-year career. On 1 October 2016, she walked to the ring to music made especially for her by one of Norway’s rock bands, while the band played in the ring. The fight against longtime rival Anne Sophie Mathis took place before 10,000 spectators. Braekhus won by TKO.
“My team and I often thought of giving up, but we pushed on, day and night burning the candle at both ends,” she said of her campaign for Norway to lift the ban. “We were overjoyed when we finally made a breakthrough. It’s hard to get people to understand how much energy such a process takes out of you.”
The ability to fight in Norway is likely to push up Braekhus’s market value even more, but also raises the question of fighting in the US. She has refused to fight in the US without TV rights, contributing to the breakdown of talks with Holly Holms in 2013. Ironically, Braekhus has indicated that she may fight female MMA star Cris Cyborg this year, in what is likely more of a business decision due to MMA’s ability to draw crowds.
Former six-time world champion Layla McCarter, who signed on with Mayweather Promotions in February 2017, has repeatedly called out the Norwegian boxer. McCarter is the number one contender to Braekhus’ unified title, and is hopeful that this fight can happen with Mayweather behind her.
“I’ll go anywhere to fight her, that’s nothing new to me,” McCarter said. “But I think we can make that happen in Las Vegas now with the Money Team behind me. That would be the fight right now in women’s boxing.”