THE reaction from Skye Nicolson wasn’t surprising: mild frustration yet retaining a high level of courtesy and professionalism, enough to give her opinion.
Female fighters have rightly grown tired of talking about the matter, but Amanda Serrano’s recent efforts have made it a relevant talking point once again. Naturally, then, two thirds of the way through Boxing News’ interview with Nicolson, the debate that won’t go away was brought into the conversation: two-minute or three-minute rounds for women’s boxing.
The female code has flourished in recent years and the Chantelle Cameron-Katie Taylor rematch on November 25 in Dublin holds its own in the company of other upcoming big fights; male or female. The main event in Dublin will be fought over 10 two-minute rounds – just like every other championship fight in the last 16 years – and this despite the fact Amanda Serrano, a campaigner for three not two, will on October 27 fight Danila Ramos over 12 three-minute rounds. (The first time since 2007, when Layla McCarter defeated Donna Biggers and Melissa Hernandez in bouts scheduled for 12x3s.)
Thirty-four-year-old Serrano, the best female featherweight in the world, is a strong advocate for women getting the full 36 minutes. She also remains very much in the sights of Skye Nicolson, 7-0 (0), who takes to the ring later tonight (September 15) against Sabrina Maribel Perez, 18-1-1 (2), in Mexico. While Nicolson has been and continues to be an admirer of Serrano, she doesn’t share her belief that women should fight in three-minute rounds.
“People are feeling like they need to ‘fight for equality’ or whatever they think it is,” said Nicolson, who spoke to BN from a hotel room in Tijuana on Wednesday (September 13). “Men and women are different. There’s no point trying to make us the same; we’re not the same. I saw the WBC’s argument about it… about female tennis players and female basketball players.”
On September 6 WBC President Mauricio Sulaiman wrote on Twitter: “Tennis – women play 3 sets, basketball the basket is shorter and the ball smaller and those are not contact sports. We stand by safety and well-being of the fighters.” This means that Serrano will not be allowed to defend her WBC title against Ramos but will be able to put her other three championships on the line.
Writer’s note: Basketball hoops in the NBA and WNBA both stand at 10 feet tall.
“Men and women are not the same,” Nicolson reiterated. “You don’t need to prove a point. I disagree with it.” She then added: “Three-minute rounds suit my style. It’s a nice pace for me. I don’t mind it. I’m fit and I can box and box and box forever. It’s not [about] that. It’s almost like this hero mentality is kind of what I’m seeing. I find it a bit unnecessary. Also, the reason I think that the ten-twos are in place has actually been backed up by science and I think they should probably be considering that as well, especially people who have had lots of wars, and [they] should think about their health and physical well-being as well.
“If I get told the rules have changed and you’re fighting ten-threes or twelve-threes happy days, okay. If that’s the rule, that’s the rule. But for me I feel like at the moment it’s just like people going a bit rogue and kind of trying to run boxing and do what they want to do instead of just following protocol. That’s my take on it.”
A win against Perez tonight on Matchroom’s latest Mexican show will place Nicolson near the front of challengers looking to get their shot against Serrano who holds all the aces at 126lbs. Winning the WBC Interim trinket obviously isn’t the one Nicolson really wants but it may help justify her decision to turn down the opportunity to try and qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
The 28-year-old has been walking around with a dilemma running through her head for some time now and believes it has affected her commitment to the pro ranks. Beating Perez, however, could see Amanda Serrano vs. Skye Nicolson up in lights somewhere around the world prior to the summer Olympics.
“It actually ended up being a pretty easy decision for me,” she explains.
“I had already started to let go of that dream as I started to progress through my pro career and as the qualification process started drawing nearer. I had the national team from back home in Australia reaching out to me about coming back and doing the qualifying process and it was almost like I was convincing myself I wanted to go and do it rather than me actually wanting to go and do it.
“I trained with the Irish national team in Dublin – sparring with all the girls – and then I went over to Italy and met the Australian team at a multi-nations training camp that I did with about 10 other countries; training and sparring with all of those teams. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being back in the team environment; I enjoyed the training camp. At the end of the day boxing’s boxing and I love boxing and [being] surrounded by athletes who are driven and motivated and they’ve all got this big end goal, but it just wasn’t the same anymore.
“I didn’t have that same excitement, that same drive, and that feeling that I had in the past around the Olympic Games. I went back to the UK and started training back in the iBox gym and still felt really unsure, still kind of saying, ‘Yeah, I’ll go do it.’ There was just something in the back of my mind telling me that this isn’t what you want to do.
“I was staying up late on a Saturday night watching a Matchroom USA show; it was like 2am. I was getting so excited, and I was watching the fighters walk out, watching them win, watching them dig deep in those late rounds and I was like, ‘This is what gets me excited! This is what I want to do!’ I literally texted my manager, my coach, everyone at 2am I was like, ‘I’m not going back, I’m not doing it, let’s lock in a fight, I’m ready, I want to get straight back into my pro career.’ That was it. I was done. There was no looking back after that. I messaged the Board of Boxing in Australia and said I won’t be coming and competing in the trial events and that was me done. I was set.”
The decision removed a heavy weight from her shoulders, and following it came a change in her approach to training, which ultimately led to Nicolson bringing in a new strength and conditioning coach. Now she is convinced no-one has seen the best of her yet in her time as a professional and has hinted, too, her performance against Perez will prove to be a turning point in her career.
“I think I came into the pro game, I guess, very naïve,” said the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold medallist. “I was so like in the amateur system, the pro boxing stuff was never on my radar. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve developed a lot, I’ve changed my style a lot. I think we’re going to see a performance that’s unlike any of the other seven fights.
“In my first year as a pro in the back of my mind I was always going back to the amateurs. I was always still going to go and try and qualify for the Paris Olympics. This camp, though, has been a 100 per cent sole focus on my professional career and being a professional world champion. That’s probably been the biggest change of this camp. I think in all of my other camps you haven’t seen me give all of myself because I still had in the back of my mind this uncertainty about what I was going to do. When I went into this one, I was 100 per cent decided. I’ve left that dream, I’ve put it to bed, I’m done with the Olympics. I’m very, very focused on what I want to achieve as a professional. My team have seen the change in me this camp. I’ve had incredible sparring and I feel like I’m much more open to trying new things and changing my style to suit the professional rounds over the longer distance.”
The subject of Amanda Serrano still floats around, of course, primarily because Nicolson’s end game at featherweight is to fight and beat the highly respected Puerto Rican. Winning a world title remains the dream, yes, but should Serrano move up in weight or even retire, it would, Nicolson admits, take a little bit of shine off any triumph should she then have to fight someone for a vacant belt rather than be given the chance to take it off the number one.
“For me dethroning a champion to become a champion is the best way to become champion,” she says. “I don’t want to be fighting for vacant titles, especially if the option is there to fight the champion. For me, the ultimate goal is Amanda Serrano. She’s one of the pound-for-pound greats; arguably pound-for-pound number one for a lot of people. There would be nothing sweeter than dethroning the best of the best. Of course, that’s the fight I would love but at the end of the day there’s a lot of politics that goes into boxing. But for me that’s best-case scenario. The goal remains the same. How we get there, we’ll just have to leave it up to the boxing gods.”
In a male-dominated sport Nicolson and her peers strive to have as many eyes on their fights as possible. The lack of depth in each division means the best usually fight the best which is terrific for fight fans. Katie Taylor, Chantelle Cameron, Amanda Serrano and many others have fought tooth and nail to get to the very top, not only to become best in class but also to prove something; prove, for example, that they can box and fight just as well as their gender opposites. However, in an online world where idiotic opinions and mindsets are never far away, one always feels that women in boxing are maybe deep-down fighting to gain more and more respect, too. So, does respect matter to Skye Nicolson?
“I try not to let the validation of others be a driving motivation for me,” she answers. “I want to inspire younger girls; I want to inspire that younger generation of fighters coming through. It’s nice to be recognised as an athlete, as a contender, but also in that same breath there’s always going to be people that are going to say horrible, negative things about you no matter how good you’re doing. For me it’s a lose-lose if that’s your driving motivation: to gain respect of the boxing fans.
“For me it’s all about what I achieve, what I go on to achieve, proving what I’m actually capable of, showing the world what I can do, and showing the next generation they can do it, too.”
Skye Nicolson wants to stay true to herself, particularly when she isn’t training and putting herself through the mill to help fulfil her ambitions. Her Instagram page shows a woman comfortable to post pictures about her life as a fighter but there are just as many of her participating in a photo shoot, wearing nice clothes, make-up, and showcasing her more feminine side when the gloves are off.
Some women in boxing feel at ease doing similar, while others simply choose not to for their own personal reasons. BN asked Nicolson if she is surprised by the latter choice.
“For me I’ve always been like such a 50-50. You can never have called me a ‘girly girl’ or a ‘tomboy’. It’s just what I woke up like and felt like that day. I could be in the baggiest, raggedy, boilery clothes one day and then a pink frilly dress the next. That was just me. That’s always been me. I’ve tried to keep that very genuine through my social media to show there are two sides to me.
“I can be a sweaty hot mess in the gym, and I can get dressed up and go out and have a nice night with the girls. That’s me. I hope that other girls out there that are just like that can still feel that they can embrace their femininity just because they’re in a male-dominated sport.
“I think a lot of the girls that are in male-dominated sports are just usually more tomboy as well and they probably don’t want to force a narrative that isn’t true. I know there are some girls that have PR and stuff trying to guide them to being more feminine when they’re not in the boxing. It’s just not them and they don’t want to be forced to be something they’re not. I think it’s important that everyone just tries to stay genuine and true to who they are and embrace their femininity and their masculinity in their own ways. Everyone has a bit of both and it’s just how much they like to tap into each side.”