The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Boxing News / Legend Killer Jessica McCaskill Retains Undisputed Welterweight Crown By Slaying Cecilia Braekhus For Second Time

Legend Killer Jessica McCaskill Retains Undisputed Welterweight Crown By Slaying Cecilia Braekhus For Second Time

The Legend killer strikes again!

“We’ve been training like animals, so this was just like another night of sparring for me really,” a vindicated Jessica McCaskill proclaimed Saturday evening in Dallas. Awarded to her moments before and completing her collection, the inaugural Ring magazine title belt was draped over her left shoulder as, slightly breathless but humble and business-like, Jessica maintained that “The last fight was a lot more exciting. This really just felt like work. This is my profession. This is what I do.”

What McCaskill has been doing is establishing the reputation of a legend killer in the world of women’s boxing. First, it was Erica Anabella Farias who had lost just twice in twenty-eight fights prior to having her WBC super-lightweight title taken away by Jessica in October 2018. Nearly one year later to the very day, the reigning and defending McCaskill emerged victorious in a second firefight with Farias to retain the WBC belt won in their first go-around, in addition to the WBA strap she had claimed by decisioning Anahi Esther Sanchez in the meantime.

McCaskill made no effort to conceal the fact that it was her intention to end a “mentally unsound” Cecilia Braekhus’ career by winning their rematch even more decisively, having already scored a monumental upset inside a ring erected on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma last August when she forcibly slammed the brakes on Cecilia’s twelve-year, 25-fight sovereignty over the welterweight division. A victory over Jessica that night, which most assumed was a foregone conclusion, would have broken Joe Louis’ record for successful title defenses. Instead, McCaskill shocked everyone except herself by removing the Norwegian queen’s crown and setting it atop her own head, daring Braekhus to come take it back.

There were a handful of lingering questions left unanswered in the wake of the first fight. For instance, was Braekhus’ uncharacteristic lethargy a matter of having overtrained in the high altitude of Big Bear, California for six months while the match was rescheduled time and again due to Covid-related conflicts? Or, did the world simply witness the 39-year-old Braekhus get old by boxing standards before its collective eyes? Was the decision rendered in favor of McCaskill a case of Jessica getting what some speculated was a lucky break on the scorecards from judges who reward aggression over accuracy, seeing as though Jessica threw far more punches but actually landed fewer? Could Cecilia rekindle the fire in her belly necessary to dispel the notion that she had been shoved over the hill and was now looking up at the mountaintop as a shot fighter unable to make that climb again? As she had already done against Farias to prove that she was anything but a one-hit wonder, would McCaskill be able to dance to the tune of “second verse, same as the first” in her rematch with Braekhus and bury the criticisms and doubt?

Whether or not McCaskill and Braekhus cut into a retirement cake in Cecilia’s dressing room Saturday night, which was something Jessica had half-kiddingly hinted at in pre-fight interviews, Jessica supplied definitive answers to those queries listed above, and a few more while she was at it. Charging out of the gate in aggressive style, McCaskill smothered Braekhus from the opening bell with guard-splitting jabs, body shots, and looping overhand rights. The former champion was visibly hurt by one of McCaskill’s right hands in the last twenty seconds of round one and saved herself from a potential knockdown by holding on for dear life to survive the frame.

Because McCaskill tends to lead with her head and work from a leaning crouch, it was curious that Braekhus opted to punch down at Jessica in the first fight rather than employ the use of uppercuts. True to Cecilia’s word that she needed to make no adjustments for the return bout, this trend continued for the most part on Saturday night although she did fire off a few uppercuts on occasion which found their target and made one wonder whether things could have played out differently had Braekhus made a more concerted effort to work this strategy into her fight plan. 

Of course, McCaskill was so relentlessly energetic in the early rounds that Cecilia was left with little in the way of room to maneuver except for backwards in the hope of fending off the onslaught of lefts to the body and right hooks to the head which caused big trouble for Braekhus again in the third.

The middle rounds saw Braekhus settle into some semblance of a more established rhythm, but never for terribly long. Cecilia had her best moments in the seventh when given the rare opportunity to not have to fight off the back foot and shoot straight rights behind her long jab. These windows of opportunity slammed shut almost immediately by the sheer force of McCaskill’s heavy-handed attacks. In the eighth stanza, Braekhus was deducted a costly point for excessive holding which was something that Jessica had quite a bit of success working around. In nearly every clinch, and they were frequent in both fights, McCaskill was able to either get off a shot or two while entangled with Cecilia or else extricate herself just enough from Braekhus’ bearhugs to pop her with short chopping punches thrown from close proximity.

All things considered, McCaskill simply proved to be too much for Cecilia to handle and, unlike their first fight, there was little doubt and no griping about the outcome. From being homeless as a young girl to winning and defending the undisputed world welterweight championship from and against one of the fight game’s all-time greatest female boxers, life has been quite a journey for Jessica McCaskill.

Although it can’t always be easy to find humor in her personal back story, Jessica jokes that she was “born with a plastic spork in my mouth.” Raised by a great aunt she called “Mom”, McCaskill’s father was Mexican and her birth mother African American.

The family lived initially in a nicely furnished home located in Belleville, Illinois, which is a small suburb less than twenty miles east of St. Louis. After suffering financial hardships, they were evicted and forced to stay for a time in a tiny single-room dwelling next to the furnace room in the back of a church which they cleaned to earn their keep. Eventually, the family was able to move into a nearby duplex, albeit in a neighborhood where you had to be careful not to get caught in the crossfire of gang-related turf wars.

Jessica was a good student, a cheerleader, and a self-described “weird, goofy kid” who embraced her quirks and eccentricities. She hustled her way up to manager of the Lincoln theater after first working the concession stand, putting up movie posters, changing the letters on the outdoor marquee, and taking tickets at the box office. Shortly afterwards, McCaskill began boxing out of a local gym and followed through with it after relocating to Chicago where she worked as an investment banker by day and trained to become a prizefighter by night under the tutelage of Rick Ramos at Body Shot Boxing Club. The rest, as they say, is history even as she continues adding to it.

Well before the words “…and still…” reverberated throughout the American Airlines Center Saturday night, the commentators, pundits and fans couldn’t seem to refrain from pondering what, and who, is next for McCaskill.

Will Jessica look to add another notch on her Legend Killer belt in the form of ‘Amazing’ Layla McCarter, who is currently ranked third in the welterweight division and has been lobbying for a shot at the title for years? There’s always Kali Reis, who floored Cecilia Braekhus in their 2018 title fight and was systematically denied a rematch after losing a razor-thin unanimous decision.

A rematch with Katie Taylor, pitting two undisputed champions against one another, is obviously the most tantalizing and lucrative path for her to pursue. McCaskill feels that she now has the experience and expertise to finish the job she began in her first fight with the Irish phenom a little over three years ago. But she doesn’t appear to be ruling anything out just yet.  

“We’re ready for anything and we just want to make the smart play,” Jessica said in reference to the wide variety of options available to her. “People don’t have to sign crazy contracts, don’t have to fight people they don’t want to fight or aren’t going to help their career. Don’t fight somebody just because they call you out. Make sure it’s the path you want to take as a professional boxer.”

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