March 13

The feel-good passing of the torch scene that took place in Jessica McCaskill’s dressing room last August after she had scored an improbable upset over Cecilia Braekhus in Tulsa, Oklahoma was evidently an aberration, and rumors of the Norwegian former undisputed welterweight queen’s pugilistic demise, fueled by post-fight reflections from Braekhus herself, were greatly exaggerated.

“I don’t want to take on anyone else’s legacy. I’m building my own,” said McCaskill, insisting that the torch was not passed so much as snuffed out. Braekhus had been poised to surpass Joe Louis’ seemingly untouchable record of 25 successful title defenses when Jessica upset her applecart on the streets of Tulsa. Rather than retire and fade into the sunset, awaiting the inevitable call from the International Boxing Hall of Fame in three years’ time, Cecilia publicly questioned the decision that was rendered in McCaskill’s favor and opted to exercise her rematch clause to answer her doubters and critics, of whom Jessica is obviously the most vocal.

“Shame on your team for not preparing you mentally for defeat and shame on you for pretending to be the victim,” McCaskill blasted Braekhus during their recent virtual press conference. “You have to be the champion you say you are.”

Taking Braekhus’ undisputed welterweight crown brought the formerly homeless McCaskill’s literal rags to riches story to its logical conclusion. The tale is far from over, however. Beginning on March 13, Jessica must continue to author her own legacy, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that her victory was not simply a fluke, a mere footnote in history, or the sort of transient fairy tale Braekhus believes it to be.

Cecilia jabbed back at McCaskill by comparing resumes and referring to Jessica as a negative trash-talker who needs to “lighten up.” She responded to Jessica belittling her as an old lady by pointing out that only two years separate the 39-year-old former champion from McCaskill herself.

“This is what it feels like when you lose,” McCaskill countered, giving Braekhus a reality check. “People stop calling. People stop coming around. You start to point the finger at everybody else, and you have to be the champion that you say you are and pick it up and be an example.” Jessica went on to say that the defeat left Braekhus “mentally weak” to which Cecilia replied by calling her “delusional” and asserting that McCaskill is not proud of the way she took the title.

Despite the fact that Jessica was clearly the busier fighter that night, throwing just short of 500 punches in twenty minutes, CompuBox statistics revealed that Braekhus’ 32% connect rate was nearly twice as great as McCaskill’s which revives the age-old debate about judges rewarding aggression over accuracy, or vice versa, depending upon the individual’s perspective. Cecilia chalked up her feeling like “a drained battery” on fight night to her on-again, off-again training schedule in the thin air of Big Bear, California with Abel Sanchez due to the ever-shifting date of the bout because of the Covid pandemic.

As for adjustments Braekhus feels she needs to make for the rematch, she maintains, “None. Just be myself. I’m a better fighter than Jessica.”

 

***

 

Australian super-bantamweight sensation ‘Shotgun’ Shannon O’Connell (20-6-1, 10 KOs) has her sights set on extending her current win streak to six fights when she tangles with undefeated Cherneka Johnson at Bendigo Stadium on March 13. Their ten-round scrap serves as the main support bout to a pair of WBA Oceania title fights featuring Anthony Mundine taking on Michael Zerafa for middleweight primacy, and light-heavyweight champion Blake Caparello attempting to fend off the challenge of Faris Chevalier.

2017 got off to a rough start for O’Connell, first losing a unanimous decision to IBF world super-bantamweight champion Marcela Eliana Acuna on the Argentine’s home turf, then getting knocked out for the second time in her nine-year career by Helen Joseph six weeks later (her first KO came at the hands of WBC super-featherweight champion Diana Prazak in 2014). Shannon put things right before the year came to a close in emphatic fashion with a first-round knockout of Sumalee Tongpootorn, and she has not tasted defeat since. She notched a seventh-round TKO of previously unbeaten Kylie Fulmer to claim the vacant Australian super-bantamweight title last August, and added the British Commonwealth bantam championship by flooring Kori Farr twice en route to a unanimous decision in December.

Cherneka Johnson, an Aussie by way of New Zealand, made her pro debut in 2016 following a brief amateur career and has won six of her thirteen paid bouts inside the distance. Though she packs some serious firepower, Johnson may require a few rounds to get her engine running after being sidelined for the last fifteen months. Whether this variable plays into the equally heavy-hitting hands of O’Connell remains to be seen, but this is sure to be a potentially show-stealing rumble.

 

***

 

Elsewhere in Australia, Bankstown City Paceway in New South Wales hosts 4-0 (1 KO) hot prospect Ebanie Bridges, who returns to the ring after recuperating from a shoulder injury which kept her from challenging Rachel Ball for the vacant WBA world bantamweight title last November on the women’s championship triple-header that also featured successful defenses by Terri Harper and Katie Taylor. Competing for the first time in just over one year, when she decisioned Crystal Hoy in Indianapolis, Ebanie is the heavy favorite to win her eight-round bout for the vacant NBF Australasian super-bantamweight title against Carol Earl, who has a .500 win/loss record (plus one draw) but has scored knockouts in all three wins, which could make things interesting for Bridges.

In another all-Aussie women’s super-bantamweight showdown, Sydney’s Yolanda Schmidt makes her professional debut in a six-rounder opposite 38-year-old Bianca ‘Bam Bam’ Elmir, who is 5-1 with 3 knockouts with her lone defeat coming against Shannon O’Connell in 2019.

 

***

 

But wait, there’s even more super-bantam action that same evening in Australia. Queensland’s Taylah Robertson performs before her hometown fans at the Sleelman Sports Complex against an opponent to be determined. Going 3-4 as an amateur, the 22-year-old Robertson ushered in her pro career in February 2020 by stopping Ranee Klinratree in less than one minute.

 

***

 

The WIBA world lightweight title is unspoken for at the moment, but that will change on March 13 when Crystal Morales and Beatriz Adriana Aguilar Jimenez exchange leather to determine ownership of said hardware in Tequila, Mexico. Morales’ stop and start career has lasted sixteen years and yielded mixed results at best, namely a subpar record of 9-10-1 with two wins by knockout. She will be stepping between the ropes for the first time in more than six years, as opposed to Jimenez who last fought in November, albeit a points loss to living legend Layla McCarter which dropped her to 6-5-1 (1 KO).

 

March 14

A pair of petite Italian flyweights go head to head in Mazara del Vallo in what will be the second fight for each. Martina Bernile will do her utmost to get in the win column after losing a six-round decision to Giuseppina Di Stefano in her ring debut back in December while Giorgia Scolastri, a second runner-up in the 2019 Italian Women Elite National Championships as an amateur, hopes to protect her thus far perfect 1-0 pro record in their eight-round bout in Sicily.

 

March 16

Canadian welterweights Marie-Pier Houle and Jessica Camara clash in a six-rounder at the Hotel Plaza in Quebec City on March 16. A former amateur standout, Houle has yet to lose as a pro with three wins and a majority draw to show for her efforts to this point. She last fought in November 2020 and came out on top of a majority decision over Maria Dolores Hernandez Garcia. As for Camara, who captured the 2015 Canadian Amateur Elite Nationals Championships, she has two defeats in nine professional contests, including a points loss to Brooklyn’s Melissa St. Vil last February.

 

March 18

Saemi Hanagata (16-7-4, 7 KOs) defends her IBF world atomweight title in the main event at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall on March 18, accepting the challenge of Eri Matsuda, an undefeated southpaw who holds two regional versions of the division championship, specifically the Japanese and OPBF (Oriental and Pacific Boxing Federation) belts. Matsuda has one knockout among her four victories.

A thirteen-year pro, Hanagata is a two-time OPBF minimumweight champion who had come up short in early bids for two world titles. Following a majority decision loss to IBF light-flyweight champion Naoko Shibata, she drew with Nao Ikeyama on two occasions in bids to capture the WBO atomweight title. Hanagata will be making the second defense of her IBF championship, won in 2018 by claiming a split decision over Yuko Kuroki.

 

March 19

Noemi ‘No-No’ Bosques is a fan-friendly veteran of thirty prizefights who will be participating in the last of three cards capping off the month-long Odd Sox Super Series, this one occurring at the Brian Glazer Family JCC Center in Tampa, Florida. A career record of 12-15-3 (2 KOs), reflects the fact that Bosques has taken on female luminaries the likes of Heather Hardy (twice), Mariana Juarez, Alesia Graf, Rosalinda Rodriguez, Lourdes Juarez, and Diana Laura Fernandez to name but a few. An opponent has yet to be named for Noemi who has just one victory in her last ten outings, the last of which was a unanimous decision loss to then-unbeaten Sulem Urbina.

 

***

 

Bareknuckle brawlers Audra Cummings and Randine Eckholm will inflict untold punishment upon one another at the Civic Center in downtown Biloxi, Mississippi. In her debut back in November, Eckholm suffered a TKO at the hands of Britain Hart, who recently decisioned Paige Van Zant in a brutal five-round skirmish which left both women bloody and battered but celebrated for their grit. This will be the first fight for Cummings.