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Changing of the guard: Braekhus, Shields headline final HBO Boxing event Saturday

Written By | Dec 7, 2018
Claressa Shields (left) and Cecilia Braekhus, who shared a card in December, now own eight of the eight titles available in their two weight divisions. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

Claressa Shields (left) and Cecilia Braekhus, who shared a card in December, now own eight of the eight titles available in their two weight divisions. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

Carson, Calif., December 7, 2018 – Unified and undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus of Norway became the first woman to win as a professional on HBO Boxing in May. On Saturday, December 8, Braekhus may also become the last woman and last person ever to win a fight on HBO Boxing, after 45 years and 1,119 televised bouts.

HBO Boxing is ending its 45-year run of boxing broadcasts at Southern California’s favorite boxing venue, the StubHub Center in Carson, California. It is both the end of an era, and the launch of a new one where women’s professional boxing is concerned. The “Boxing After Dark” tripleheader features two women’s championship bouts, with another women’s fight on the non-televised undercard.

Tripleheader features two women’s championship bouts

Two of Saturday's three televised bouts feature women 's champions. Left to right: Claressa Shields, Juan Francisco Estrada, Cecilia Braekhus. Aleksandra Peres, Victor Mendez, Femke Hermans. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

Two of Saturday’s three televised bouts feature women ‘s champions. Left to right: Claressa Shields, Juan Francisco Estrada, Cecilia Braekhus. Aleksandra Peres, Victor Mendez, Femke Hermans. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

In the main event, Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs), age 37, will face worthy challenger Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes (18-4-3, 1 KO), 38, of Gliwice, Poland. Braekhus, known around the world as “First Lady of Boxing,” fills arenas in Europe and has been in the main event several times outside the U.S. But women’s boxing is still working for acceptance in America.

At the final news conference this week, Braekhus acknowledged her accomplishment. “This is my second time fighting on HBO, of course it’s a huge honor … This is a huge statement for HBO, going out with three female fighters on the show. I’m so proud to be part of it. I can’t wait for what the future holds for women’s boxing.”

Braekhus’ trainer, Johnathon Banks, says the opportunity has been a long time coming. “I’m a fan of boxing, period. This is one of the best times to be a female fighter in the sport of boxing. Female boxing, they have always had the talent. The opportunities haven’t been there for them to display their talents.

“All the female fighters are starting to fight more … There might be pressure, but I think it’s awesome. Every time a female fighter is able to compete, especially on TV, it does so much for the young ones in different communities,” explained Banks.

Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields carries the banner for American women

Claressa Shields (right) gave the fans what they came to see in June, an all-action fight. Photo: Stephanie Trapp, Showtime Boxing

Helping break barriers in the U.S. is two-time Olympic gold medalist and current women’s WBC, WBA, and WBO middleweight champion Claressa Shields of Flint, Michigan (7-0, 2 KOs). Shields will open the telecast and make her HBO debut just three weeks after her unanimous decision victory over Hannah Rankin. Shields, age 23, defends her titles against 28-year-old Femke Hermans (9-1, 3 KOs) of Belgium.

“Growing up in the amateurs, I watched HBO, and I told myself, ‘I want to fight on HBO,’ said Shields. “And then I thought my chance was gone, but boom, here we are. I’m just so happy that HBO thought of me and gave me the chance.” Shields said she was at first worried about becoming a professional after her second Olympics due to the seeming lack of opportunities for women’s pros, but they have opened up just in time.

Estrada vs. Mendez poised to be a StubHub classic

Juan Francisco Estrada (left) would love to eventually avenge his loss to world champion super flyweight Srisikat Sor Rungvisai. Photo: Ed Mulholland, HBO Boxing

The co-feature features popular super flyweight Juan Francisco Estrada (37-3-0, 25 KOs) and Victor Mendez, (28-3-2, 20 KOs), both of Sonora, Mexico. Estrada is a late substitution for Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez, who was originally scheduled to face Mendez, but has pulled out due to injury. It’s the fans’ gain. Estrada has fought on all three of HBO’s popular “Superfly” cards. It will be Estrada’s fourth consecutive fight in southern California on HBO.

Mendez, 25, has won nine of his last ten bouts. Although he hasn’t ever faced opposition at Estrada’s level, the 25-year-old is the fresher fighter, with 99 fewer rounds in the ring than the 28-year-old Estrada. It’s a recipe for the kind of fight magic StubHub fans have come to expect: an all-Mexican guerra delivering more thrills than anticipated. It’s a classic “Boxing After Dark” matchup and fitting for this final HBO event.

“I’m going to give you guys a great show,” said Estrada. “We’re going to give HBO a good farewell with a great fight on Saturday. I hope you enjoy the whole night of boxing. There are some great fights here to enjoy. I hope we put on a great show for everyone since it’s the last show on HBO.”

‘A celebration, not a funeral’

The StubHub Center in Carson, California, plays host to the final HBO Boxing card in its 45-year history. Photo: StubHub Center/Twitter

It’s hard to grasp the magnitude of HBO’s 45 year legacy ending for the sport. Promoter Tom Loeffler admitted it was an emotional day for him at the final news conference. “HBO has been critical in its 45 years involved in boxing, creating some of the biggest stars we know of this generation, including names like Mayweather, Pacquiao, De La Hoya, and the Klitschko brothers,” he said. The network also brought fans unexpected thrills like the Gatti – Ward trilogy, considered by many people the most memorable fight in boxing history.

HBO Sports vice president Tony Walker preferred to focus on the network’s legacy as a positive story. “This is our 18th trip to Carson. Big things always happen. Maybe it is the air, I don’t know.

“(We’ve had) 351 total ‘Boxing After Dark’ fights since 1996, 175 different shows. This franchise has been a great platform for boxing. We really expect a big night and a memorable night. Thank you for your support of this show and all the shows we’ve done over the years,” concluded Walker.

There will be plenty of time Saturday after the final bell to reflect on HBO’s history and what this changing of the guard means to boxing. In so many ways, it’s a positive development with the advent of multiple streaming platforms and digital technology stepping in where premium subscriptions once stood.

Fittingly, it’s Shields who found the right words to say at the right moment.

“I know this is HBO’s last card, but this is a not a funeral. This is a celebration,” said Shields. “This is a celebration of women’s boxing. This has never happened before. Cecilia Braekhus was the first woman to fight on HBO in 45 years. That’s huge. She was the co-main event. On Saturday she’s the main event.

“Celebrate this, not being the last of the HBO card, but being the first of the women’s era. A fight on TV where we’re getting paid a lot of money.”

Of her opponent, Shields expressed the universal thinking of any ring warrior: “I’m going to break down her body. I’m going to punch her in the face. And hopefully we’ll see some blood.”

The final HBO Boxing broadcast (for now) airs starting at 10:20 p.m. ET/PT. The fights will also be available on HBO NOW, HBO GO, HBO On Demand and partners’ streaming platforms.

READ MORE: Escape from LA: Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder fight to split draw

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is a veteran boxing observer covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

Please credit “Gayle Falkenthal for Communities Digital News” when quoting from or linking to this story.  

Copyright © 2018 by Falcon Valley Group

Gayle Falkenthal

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, MS, APR, is President of the Falcon Valley Group, a San Diego based communications consulting firm. Falkenthal is a veteran award-winning broadcast and print journalist, editor, producer, talk host and commentator. She is an instructor at National University in San Diego, and previously taught in the School of Journalism & Media Studies at San Diego State University.