2019 is a year in which female boxing is really taking off and is finally being given the platform that it well and truly deserves. The more recognised names in female boxing such as Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields have both elevated female boxing to a world level and put more eyes on the female athletes which gives the likes of Caroline Dubois, Chantelle Cameron and the amazing Shannon Courtenay in the UK an opportunity to display their talents for the British fight fans in what is a perfect time to turn over as a female boxer.
Introducing one of our best female talents, 25-year-old Shannon Courtenay who originates from Watford and accidentally fell into the sport but has used the fine art of boxing as a catalyst to turn her life around and achieve a dream. That dream she is living right now, signed to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, Shannon’s journey started four and a half years ago when she stepped into a boxing gym to try and lose some weight.
At the time Shannon weighed 82kg and admitted to drinking and smoking on a daily basis - her life really going down the wrong path, she recalled not living a good lifestyle and realised that something had to change: “I dread to think where I would be right now If I hadn’t started boxing, a lot of people say that boxing saved their life but I know that I would be in such a terrible place but I wake up every day and feel blessed that I got out of it and did it at the right time.”
Courtenay had a pretty successful amateur career where she won the Haringey Box Cup and secured the Southern area title under well-known London amateur clubs, Finchley and Islington. But she always displayed a typical pro-style of boxing and claims to have always had it in her head when competing about being on the bigger stages to display her aggressive and not so much point scoring style.
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At the beginning of 2019, Shannon handed in her notice as a Chef and stepped on to the professional boxing circuit as a full-time athlete under the Matchroom Sports banner, something that many fighters can only ever dream of.
Shannon announced herself under the bright lights of the Copperbox Arena for her debut, exactly four and a half years after watching her first ever fight there when John Ryder squared up with Billy Joe Saunders inside the same arena.
On March 23rd Courtenay, under the guidance of Adam Booth and his stable, stepped out and performed in front of thousands of people in something she only dreamed of a couple of years previous. Shannon said; "I had imagined my debut a million times in my head but it was so much better than expected. I heard my ring walk music but everything else was a blur, I couldn't see any faces apart from Adam Booth. It wasn't until the final bell rang that I tried to look for my mum in the crowd."
She went on to speak about the fight itself against the durable Cristina Busuioc: "The fight itself, technically she wasn't good but she was tough, she just wouldn't go down - I don't know how she stayed up actually. Adam did say he was glad that I got the rounds in for my debut and I am glad I stuck to my boxing and I looked slick doing it. After the interviews, I spoke with my team in the changing room and then went to find my family but I was being bombarded for photos which was really weird."
Being present at ringside reporting on Shannon’s debut, I heard first-hand the amount of noise and support she racked up inside the arena, it made hairs stand up on end, speaking on her already growing support, Shannon recalled;
"The fanbase is just amazing, I have already got a lot of support and so much afterward, the fans have just been crazy! You don't expect it straight after your debut but mine has come on straight away. Being a woman people are going to have their opinions but they also see that I fight like a man, I am exciting and they have backed me early on. I wish I could reply to everyone who said I was inspiring and congratulated me but there are just thousands."
Fighters are usually given an 8-12 week break during fights to which they can have a week or so off to just relax, eat some cheat meals and give their bodies a well-deserved break. But Courtenay is ready and raring to go again just under one month after her debut when she performs this weekend, Saturday, April 20th at another huge arena inside the O2 to make her second appearance as a professional. Speaking on the quick transition between fight dates, Shannon said, "So I knew that I was going to be fighting on April 20th before my debut and didn't tell anybody because I was just focusing on the first fight. I have had no cheat meals or time off, I think on the night of the fight I had a slice of Darren Barker's Pizza and then I couldn't sleep so I eat an Easter egg but the morning after I had a protein bar and some fruit. I went straight back into fight mode and was back sparring on Tuesday. My body had to adapt instantly, It hurt of course but I can’t wait to fight again. I have got itchy knuckles already!”
Shannon has worked extremely hard to be where she is now, right from the very first time she entered into a boxing gym to lose weight - she was at the start of a very important journey, one that has led to where she is competing in some of London’s biggest arenas. Most fighters have to wait for an important title fight to compete there and some never fulfill that dream, but Courtenay is achieving all of this when I asked her about competing at big arenas and making a name for herself she happily said,
"When I found out my debut was at the Copperbox I was a little nervous but I drove home and it really hit me! Even in the changing rooms, Adam and Charlie said to me that I deserved to be there and I have turned my life around - now it is time to show the world who you are, you are announcing yourself - that gives me chills. The O2 arena, I have always said is my dream venue and Eddie is putting me on that platform in just my second fight! From now on it will be big shows and big arenas and I am going to make a massive name for myself - I didn't work this hard to fall now."
As females, we realise that we are fighting a bigger battle than most when entering the squared circle, Shannon being previously overweight and hating the way she looked shone a light on the little things about the sport in which she felt anxious about, stuff far away from the bright lights of the arena when she fights and probably stuff that most forgets could have a severe mental effect, "Out of the entire thing I was most nervous about the weigh-in, I am somebody who used to go on holiday and cover myself in huge t-shirts by the pool because I was ashamed of my body. I had to stand on stage in my bra and knickers in front of thousands of people. I was absolutely terrified before I stepped out of the stage, I said - I can't take my clothes off I just can't do it. But when I did do it and faced my fear, after that I knew I could do anything."
As well as body hang-ups, another huge hurdle to battle is the social media platforms, especially in today’s generation where tickets are bought and sold and fighters are presented as a package via their social media handles but along with the inspirational messages it is easy to get bundled up into the negativity that circulates online, something that Shannon admits to seeing but never giving the time of day as she aims to focus on positive people and believes that the only people’s opinion that matters are the people that matter which is a solid piece of advice for anyone experiencing any online hate.
Going on to speak about body hang-ups and body confidence, Shannon gives her body credit for what she puts it through, just like any athlete, a fighter's body goes through absolute hell in the build-up to a fight but as a woman there are various factors that need to be taken into consideration, “My body can do more now than I ever thought it could, when I first started with Adam I had never lifted weights, I couldn’t deadlift properly or do pull ups but I am doing it all for fun now. My body is amazing, men are physically stronger and I am the only female in the gym but I try not to look at that, our bodies are different, we have periods and some sessions are much harder for us. We naturally hold water weight but I think you just have to block it all out and just get on with the job in hand. I say all of the time in the gym, don’t treat me as a woman treat me as a fighter and that’s all I want - to be equal.”
And as many in the trade know, being part of Team Booth and the guidance of world recognised trainer Adam Booth isn't easy but is an honor to a young woman like Shannon, she recalls: “It is better than what I ever thought! It is hard I won’t lie - I do quite a lot of work with Ryan Burnett who is a two-time world champion. I have pushed myself more than ever to compete with them and both mentally and physically I have come on. I ask loads of questions and apply them to my own life. Adam teaches me things that nobody else could, there are no better coaches than Adam and Charlie.”
Looking back on the early years so far it is clear to see that Shannon is an inspiration and for anyone who saw her debut, a real talent with so much more to display - speaking about the journey so far, Shannon reflected: “You know what, some people may say I am arrogant but I am so proud of myself! Nobody even knows half of my story and struggles or even what I went through. I looked on my memories on FB and a picture from six years ago popped up with a bottle of Sambuca and cigarettes in my car drinks holder - God knows what I was doing with my life and now I couldn’t imagine being back there because I am so happy.
I am happy because I made my mum proud, my dad left us when I was 10 and he left us in a bad way. I caused my mother heartache and went off the rails but she stuck by me, to make her proud is my biggest accomplishment and seeing her cry at my debut meant more to me than anything!”
Shannon is very early on in her career as a whole, only having one professional fight and heading into her second fight this weekend at the O2 Arena, but the future looks bright for the super bantamweight despite her knowing she has to take her time and learn things along the way.
Courtenay is keeping things professional and just keep her eyes fixed firmly on the next date and no further, when asked about her plans for 2019 Shannon said: “Do you know what, I am not looking past April 20th at all - my team have a busy year planned for me but they plan my moves and I just perform.”
Many fighters say that they turn to other fighters in the field for inspiration but Shannon looks only to one place, to her mother. The woman who brought her into this world is the woman that she is vowing to make proud throughout her career. Shannon’s mum saw her fight for the first time in her debut previously being too scared to do so as an amateur - speaking about her inspirational mother Shannon recalled, “My mum inspires me because we went through a lot of tough times - she went through hell and back, when my dad left she was working eight hour shifts but me and my brother still had the best of the best. She never once did anything for herself - she is an incredible and inspirational woman who has done well for herself and she never broke. If I turn out to be half the woman she is, I’d be amazed.”
Recently female boxing has gone from strength to strength and is now more than ever, giving females a chance to perform on the same stage as their male counterparts - speaking on female boxing being taken more seriously, Shannon passionately explained, “I 100% think female boxing is being taken more seriously now. Katie Taylor has set the pace for women but she came from a massive amateur background, winning an Olympic medal and world championships but I’ve never had that background. I am not the typical female boxer, I have my nails done and wear dresses - going into my debut they must have thought what is she all about, she’s a girly girl but she can box. I can break faces and stereotypes, that is a big thing for me.”
Shannon signed off: "I am patting myself on the back regardless of others opinions, I am doing well, I am happy and content in my life and career. I have been down and made bad decisions that put me in bad places but I have made good decisions and got myself out of that. I am very proud." She continued with her advice to up and coming fighters/people in general, she said:
"Advice I would give people is: One, it is never too late to turn your life around and two, always talk to someone. I always wish I spoke to someone about everything because I may have made my changes sooner. I never got into boxing until I was 21, I am 25 now and performing in huge arenas on the biggest platform. I am telling you anything is possible!”
The end goal for Courtenay, of course, it to be a world champion and Shannon is confident that with her work ethic and determination she can get there and do it in style but she is humble enough to know that there is also a lot to learn and she has to prove herself along the way.
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One thing's for sure is that Shannon has an exciting style, has tonnes of talent and an amazing heart to go with it. Hold on, it’s going to be an exciting ride!