CARSON, Calif., May 5, 2018 – It was a long time coming, but the wait was worth it. Ceceilia Braekus (33-0, 9 KOs) of Norway and American Kelli Reis (13-7, 4 KOs) helped HBO Boxing make history. Their welterweight championship bout at the Stub Hub Center was the network’s first ever women’s professional championship fight in its 45 year run.
Braekhus, considered the world’s best pound for pound women’s boxer, retained her five title belts with a unanimous decision over Reis. The judges’ scores were 97-92, and 96-93 twice. Not all the fans in Carson agreed with the decision, or the wide scores.
Someone forgot to tell Kelli Reis she was the underdog, Entering the ring flanked by Native American dancers honoring her tribal heritage, Reis summoned a fierce performance against the skilled Braekhus. Braekhus is powerful, accurate, and so technically sound it’s almost impossible to find a single flaw. After the first few rounds, it seemed Braekhus would win with ease.
A notoriously slow starter, Reis found a home for her own powerful right hand. In the fourth round, she rocked Braekhus, whose knees buckled. She didn’t go down, but her glove touched the canvas, which is scored as a knockdown. It was the first knockdown for Braekhus in 33 fights.
Reis landed another flush right to Braekhus’s face two rounds later, and once again Braekhus’s knees buckled. The shot came just seconds from the bell. If women’s rounds were three minutes long instead of only two minutes, Braekhus might have hit the canvas again.
As the final bell sounded with Reis coming on strong, Braekhus looked worried and Reis looked hopeful. Would the unified champion’s American debut end with the words “And the new?” Braekhus heard the words “And still” instead from announcer Joe Martinez, remaining undefeated.
Reis a far tougher opponent than expected against Braekhus
“This was such a hard fight, she is such an amazing and tough fighter,” said Braekhus after the bout. “I think she gave me a very, very tough fight. I think it was very close. She had some very good hard punches, and she actually, one or two times, I was a little bit surprised.”
Braekhus explained she had to adjust to American gloves, and pointed out Reis, as a middleweight, is naturally heavier than she is. “I have to give her credit and all the honor for fighting me on HBO,” said Braekhus.
Braekhus landed 115 of 377 total punches thrown (31 percent), compared to 78 of 357 punches for Reis (42 percent). Braekhus had the edge in power punches, 78 of 357 (22 percent) to 66 of 228 (29 percent). Had Reis been busier earlier in the bout, the outcome might have been quite different.
Braekhus thanked her trainer Johnathan Banks for quickly changing plans and flying in from Germany just 48 hours before the fight to work her corner in place of retired women’s champion Lucia Rijker, who had been training Braekhus for the bout. The Norweigian said she’d welcome a rematch with the American. “For sure, for sure, it would be a hell of a fight” said Braekhus.
Reis, a natural middleweight who agreed to come down to welterweight to face Braekhus, had never been stopped. Fans seeing her for the first time now know why. No one can dispute her toughness. Although Reis was defeated, many fans in the Stub Hub Center thought she was the winner, and made their displeasure clear, booing the decision announcement, and applauding Reis as she left the ring.
UFC star Cris Cyborg attended the bout at the Stub Hub Center, causing a stir in her “Cyborg vs Cecilia” t-shirt. She wants to shift to boxing after a few more mixed martial arts bouts, and Braekhus says she’s willing to take her on. But it won’t be anytime soon. Until then, Braekhus’ challengers for the top spot in women’s boxing are two Olympic gold medealists turned pro: Katie Taylor of Ireland, and Claressa Shields of the United States.
Putting up such strong opposition even in a loss was a victory for Reis. She got to appear on boxing’s premier network in front of millions of viewers who didn’t know her. As women’s boxing continues its rise, Reis should have many more opportunities to get in the ring again. How about that rematch for starters?
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal is an award-winning boxing journalist covering the Sweet Science for Communities and for boxing fans worldwide. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News.
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