28-year-old Hannah Rankin is not your typical female boxer as her time outside the ropes is spent creating beautiful symphonies as a classically trained musician. Hannah plays the bassoon solo and in orchestras all over the world - from Scotland to India where she once taught music.
Scotland’s Hannah Rankin is used to high pressured environments where all eyes and ears closely follow her work both inside the ring and on the stage. Even more so on June 15th where she vows to become Scotland’s first ever female world champion.
The Scottish born fighter came from humble beginnings - where she grew up on a sheep farm in Scotland - but always showed a love for combat sports - at the age of just 9 she enrolled in Taekwondo classes, but of course as she grew into secondary school the musical history in her family had a massive influence on her - naturally taking her down the rhythmic route.
Hannah’s grandad was a music teacher, her mum played the piano and her aunts all played instruments too which resulted in her playing the flute and then the piano at just 15-years-old.
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Taekwondo seemed much cooler to Hannah in her teens but it seems that both paths have led her to the amazing one she lives now combining the beautiful brutality of boxing and the classical harmonies of the bassoon. Hannah remembers: “An old lady donated a bassoon to my school and it just seemed to work, it was the one for me and it clicked - I believe there is an instrument that fits every person and that was mine.”
After her younger school years and in further education Hannah secured her first degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire in Glasgow and then moved to London to finish her masters at the Royal Academy of Music. But although the music was something she loved, the want to fight still burned brightly inside of her and she ended up at GymBox, where she met two men who remain her coaches until the present day, Derek Williams and Noel Callan.
On moving to London and meeting the Noel and Dereck at GymBox, Hannah said: “That’s where I completely fell in love with the sport of boxing. It was always something new to learn so I never got bored.”
Hannah then had a handful of fights at white-collar level but admitted to getting frustrated: “I would turn up for fights and my opponent sometimes wouldn’t show up, so I would go through all of the weight making and training camps for it all to be wasted. These shows I was performing on were to raise money for charities especially Macmillan because I lost my mum to cancer so not turning up and being able to perform was really frustrating for me.”
After this Hannah decided to take it more seriously and dedicate more of her time to the sport and take the path of professional boxing rather than the amateur route so she could stick with her amazing team.
Things have really taken on pace since Hannah turned professional in May 2017 where she faced Ester Konecna in her debut and won on points, her next fight was Borislava Goranova which she also won on points but it was her third fight in which she tasted defeat. In October 2017 Hannah lost a split decision in Norway to Joanna Ekedahl. But less than a month later, never letting defeat keep her from achieving her goals Hannah beat Ester Konecna again and also stopped Klaudia Vigh in her hometown of Glasgow. Then on June 16th, 2018 Hannah secured the vacant WBC Female middleweight title against Sanna Turunen in just her sixth fight as a pro - recalling this moment, Hannah said: “It was unreal, it felt amazing as well that I got to do it in Scotland.
"I was really pleased that I got the chance, I was fighting an unbeaten opponent, it was a real step up, It went to Middleweight as well because my opponent fell through so we just agreed to fight. It meant stepping up a weight class, it was all over the place but I was so proud of my performance in a 10-round fight, she came to give me a really good fight but I won every round. It was a fantastic performance from us both and the crowd loved it - it was a real battle and I am so proud that I got to have the belt back home with me in the end.”
This then set her up for a world title fight for the WBA Super Middleweight title against Alicia Napoleon in Long Island which she lost on a unanimous decision. Speaking on the fight, Hannah recalled: “To represent Scotland in New York was insane and there were so many Scottish people there it seemed like I had so many fans - they loved me. It was great to box on a big show in America and that is something that all boxers want to do in their career. I got a loss against Napoleon but I left it all in there and I was very proud of myself, there were loads of positives coming out of the fight.”
It was after her gladiatorial performance and impressing against Napoleon that she set up a huge world title clash for the IBF, WBA and WBC middleweight titles against Olympic Gold Medalist Claressa Shields in November 2018. This fight was a huge one for Hannah and she recalls the stature of it in the build-up: “It was an amazing opportunity to go to America and fight Shields, loads of people turned the fight down but I got to fight one of the best.
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"It was my first time fighting on TV with Matchroom USA and Dazn - it was also amazing for a female world title fight to be televised. It was weird being over there and doing all of the studies you see other fighters do like the press conferences, the weigh-in and it was unbelievable. In regards to prep for the fight, I was in the best shape I have ever been in, we couldn’t have worked harder.”
On what Shields was like as an opponent, Hannah explained: “Claressa is a naturally aggressive person, she is a lot of talks and she does back it up. She has a typical American style, we had a whole week of back and forth - I think it was refreshing for her to have someone who stood up and spoke out against her. She says she is massively into the trash talking but I am not like that, I will say what is true and get my opinion over but I was just a girl from Scotland standing up to her.
"When we got to the weigh-in, she is quite demanding, she acts like a bit of a diva and made us wait again - there was a natural dislike between the pair of us. After the 10 rounds though there was such respect from both of us, she had been mouthing off a lot about knocking me out so going the rounds was a proud moment for me.”
Her fight against Claressa Shields was shown as a co-featured bout on a Matchroom Boxing promoted card on Dazn in the United States, a platform women could only have ever dreamt about before the likes of Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor made female boxing relevant and more able to broadcast to the masses. Hannah lost the fight on a tough unanimous decision but came out of the fight with her head held high and nothing but pride in her performance, Hannah recalled: “I felt calm on fight night, I was enjoying it and I only lost on points, I was really pleased with my performance - I would love to fight her again at my own weight. She was very quick but I worked on angles and went in there in the best shape of my life.”
In her most recent fight, Hannah was back to winning ways with a points win in January against Eva Bajic and now has set up her biggest fight to date where she has a chance to get her hands on the vacant IBO world super welterweight title in her hometown of Paisley. The only woman standing in her way is Sarah Curran - the fight is set to take place on June 15th where Hannah could potentially become Scotland’s first ever female world champion.
Speaking on this opportunity Hannah said: “It is an unreal opportunity for a world title shot at my own weight class especially at home in Scotland. There is nothing that compares to this - every fighter dreams of it! And I will not be defeated on home turf I can promise you, it is a real chance to make history for Scotland as the first female world champion, I just can’t wait to get in there now. It is a proud moment for me and my whole team and I am headlining. It is going to be live on TV, watch it, I will put on a show and I will be crowned Scotland’s first ever female world champion, I promise that.”
Boxing and music are art forms, both of which can be closely linked to discipline, practice, routine, preparation and performance. Hannah’s day to day job is teaching music theory in schools around London and when asked to compare the two Hannah said: “For me, boxing and music actually make a lot of sense together, people think I am nuts but it is all about performing though. When you study music you put in the hours, it is a specialist and you spend a lot of time making it perfect, boxing is the exact same thing. You repeat moves and punches until they become natural for you. When I am performing I am either on stage as a soloist or on my own in the ring under the lights - it is that adrenaline that I love.”
She continued: “Playing to a classical music audience is way less stressful than a boxing crowd so it put everything into perspective for me, plus you are not getting punched in the face.”
Female boxing has come a long way since it was given an Olympic platform in 2012 but there is also some improvement that needs to be made to get it to the wider masses.
Hannah said: “Hate her or love her, Claressa Shields is doing great things for the sport, her and Katie Taylor are getting more airtime and demanding fights be on TV meaning more people get involved and the fanbase is growing - slowly but surely we are building.”
She continued: “We bleed just the same as men and train just as hard, we should be given the same time and respect as them too. Men are biologically stronger but it doesn’t mean that I am not as interesting to watch and that I don’t have as much to offer. It is great to feel strong as a woman you know and combat sports is a great place to do that.”
Hannah is nothing but proud of where she has been but excited on where she is headed next. Speaking on her career to date and what she has achieved Hannah said: “I am incredibly proud of my career - I have not ducked anyone or anything - I feel like if you are a boxer you should take opportunities when they are presented to you. I have stepped up to every challenge put in front of me and I am really excited to see what happens next. I am not disappointed about the 0, it means that I have gone out and tried something new - in female boxing especially you have to take risks, there are not enough people to wait around for if opportunities arise you just have to take them!”
Rankin still has many dreams she intends to fulfil including winning the world title in Scotland and playing with The Metropolitan Opera in New York or London but she is doing a pretty good job of ticking off her bucket list and impressing along the way - next stop June 15th for the world title in her backyard, good luck Hannah.