Another lockdown interview done over the phone. One Hannah in the living room, just outside Glasgow, another Hannah in London getting ready for a training session. Most profiles describe the lead up to an interview but its a tad less dramatic to say that I sent her a text an hour before just to let her know that when my number popped up it wasn’t a cold caller selling life insurance, just a journalist interested in getting the inside view on what it’s like to be a female boxer and how lockdown had affected her career in the sport.
Hannah Rankin may only be thirty years old but in a short time she has already won IBO Super Welterweight World title, and the World Boxing Council Silver Middleweight title. She’s also challenged for the World Boxing Association’s Super Middle Weight World Title, and the Unified Middleweight World Titles.
I asked Hannah about her childhood – growing up on a farm in Luss, attending the local primary school, with less than 30 pupils, wasn’t perhaps the most obvious place for a world class boxing champion. Another similarity than just our names; I grew up on the outskirts of the Cairngorms National Park, Rankin just outside Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. We bonded over the lack of takeaways and public transport, why we would see more sheep than people on the walk to school. Despite all that sometimes growing up in the countryside is a blessing: “I had freedom to be creative. I was outside all the time with my sisters and we always did lots of work through the summers on the farm. So we were always busy. Whether or not we were at school, or at home. I think that created a good work ethic in me for sure. But it also grew the sort of desire that I wanted to go and see the world because I grew up in such a small place.”
Now based in London, Hannah’s life looks a little bit different from the summer days spent on the family farm. The Continent is now a train ride away, shops open for longer than the standard 8-4, and if you want Kenyan food at 4am, you can get Kenyan food at 4am.
When I found out Hannah was not only a professional boxer, but her first passion was in fact classical music, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around it. Her mother was a professional musician and encouraged Hannah to get into music herself, studying at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and then went on to study her Masters at the Royal Academy of Music in London: “I would say to people it’s about performing, I’m on stage performing in front of big audiences. I really enjoy that part of it. And, you know, entertaining people is what I love doing. When you’re doing boxing it’s just me and one other person. I get a chance to perform and showcase what I can do. So that’s a good way of connecting it. Also, boxing requires a lot of skill and discipline, and I think so does music. You know, you have to have good discipline and practice and you have to be able to apply yourself,
“I still teach music and perform in orchestras. When I have a big fight, I need to focus more on that and I’ll do a bit less music and performing. But when I’m not in training camp, then I’m doing more music based things. So I’m lucky because I’m pretty hyperactive so its tough to find an outlet, but for me I’ve always got something going on”.
With the pandemic it’s meant Hannah’s professional career has been put on hold over the past year. But its not all that bad. To date, Hannah has taken part in fifteen professional fights.
Taking part in her first fight for the world title took place in America, her fight came after her male counterparts. However, Fox Sports just turned the cameras off – nobody cared about women’s boxing they said…. Being told that when you’re fighting for the actual world title that nobody would want to watch it, might get some people down. But Rankin got that World Title and personally I just don’t think I would ever think of saying no to a boxing…world…champion….
Trying to get sponsorship was another hurdle Hannah had to face in her rise to World Champion, whilst many local businesses will invest in youngsters getting into sports, nobody was interested in sponsoring Rankin in her sporting journey. As soon as her coach mentioned ‘she’ there was very little interest from businesses: “I put a lot of my own personal savings into getting to where I am now and also feel like as women were expected to give so much more. So I do a lot of talks. I do boxing courses for women, that sort of thing with businesses, and I promote them on social media. But it was definitely a barrier just being a woman.”
Men’s ‘modern boxing’ has been around since the 18th century, however, women weren’t able to get a boxing license until the 1990’s: “Women punching women is something that some people don’t enjoy and that’s completely down to them. But nowadays it is encouraged to have strong females in our culture, and women are encouraged to be independent and go out there and try new things. So I think that attitudes are changing now. There are more opportunities to let women thrive in whatever they choose to do. But, I just think at the moment, if boys are getting in trouble at school or at home, parents might turn to boxing club and get them into the sport that way but there’s not the same drive for people to get their daughters into the sport.”
Sometimes you just have to be the one that steps up and gives girls and women a place and a platform to have a voice, and to make sure the sport gets the recognition that it deserves. During lockdown, it has lead to more people becoming interested in the sport and more women have been able to get into the spotlight. With no fights taking place, boxing fans have still wanted new content, meaning that they’re more open to watching women’s boxing as well. Hannah’s last fight was shown on the BBC. Making strides into the mainstream sports news coverage means that there will be more opportunities for women to go further in the sport. Hopefully it will encourage more sponsorship for young women breaking into the sport.
Our final discussion was about why women should get into the sport for fun. Not all of us may become a warrior like Hannah (the professional) but training your mind and body isn’t as simple as Wii Sports led us all to believe back in the day: “It’s hard work but don’t be afraid to think that you look stupid, because boxing is a lot harder than you think it is and everybody always feels like an idiot when they first start. I felt like an idiot. I always say you should give it a go. And if you’re really keen on the sport, make sure you’ve got the right people around you to support you and your decisions and have a good team”.
I heard through the grapevine that you’re fighting for a new title, I said to Hannah. I can’t actually reveal to you what title it will be just yet she replied….
Great I thought:
“I was due to actually fight on the 20th May but that’s been pushed back, so I’m just waiting for confirmation of those details. It’s so frustrating because I was about to announce it but because of Covid it’s been delayed but the announcement will be coming very soon.”
What we can confirm here, right now, is that her next fight will be taking place in South Africa. So you’ll have to keep an eye out on her social media for more information.
As Scotland’s first female world champion in the sport, Hannah is also ensuring that women who start boxing as a hobby, can translate these skills in real life: “Boxing allows you to build a sense of confidence in yourself. And I think that’s especially important for ladies. You know, when you do walk around late at night or just, you know, in social situations, it’s just good to feel confident in yourself. And boxing did that for me, so I’d love to see that for more women.”