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Hannah Rankin set for homecoming WBA 154-pound defense against Mexico’s Alejandra Ayala

Photo by Rob Casey/ SNS Group via Getty Images
22
Mar

Becoming a world champion in boxing should never be an easy journey and it certainly hasn’t been for Scotland’s Hannah Rankin.

An accomplished musician with a master’s degree, the Glasgow-based Rankin turned to professional boxing in 2017 and has given everything in pursuit of success. There were early setbacks, there were world title defeats – to Alicia Napoleon Espinosa, Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall – but the thought of quitting never entered her mind.

Rankin, who is rated No. 3 by The Ring at 154 pounds, was finally rewarded for her dogged determination in November, when she scored a wide 10-round unanimous decision over Swedish veteran Maria Lindberg to lift the WBA junior middleweight title.

“It was a very emotional moment for me because I’d come off three camps, back-to-back, for fights that were going to happen, then they weren’t going to happen,” Rankin (11-5-2 KOs) told The Ring. “This one finally got locked in and it was for a world title at Tottenham Hotspur (soccer) stadium. After a whole year of hard work, having fought at welterweight at the beginning of the year, then winning the [junior middleweight title,] I was just overwhelmed with emotion. It meant the whole world to me.”

The affable 31-year-old spent Christmas in Las Vegas, but downtime is not really in her nature. She trained at the Mayweather Gym, did some sparring at City Athletic Boxing and met up with some U.S. sponsors.

On Tuesday, however, it was back down to serious business at a press conference in her home city. Rankin has now signed on for a maiden title defense against Mexico’s Alejandra Ayala (14-5, 8 KOs) at The Hydro in Glasgow on May 13.

“I’m obviously ecstatic because it’s a great venue,” said Rankin, who was originally scheduled to fight on April 23. “At first, when they said the fight was being pushed back a couple of weeks, I was like, ‘What?’ But it’s actually worked out really well because it means we don’t clash with the Tyson Fury fight (against Dillian Whyte).

“[Ayala] is only known in the U.K. for being stopped by Savannah Marshall pretty quickly (TKO 2), but she’s not in Savannah’s weight class (middleweight), so I don’t put much stock in that performance. She has an aggressive style – a come-forward fighter like most Mexicans. It’s actually been on my bucket list to fight a Mexican, so I’m quite excited about it. I think we’ll put on a great show and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Photo by Ed Mulholland/ Matchroom Boxing USA

Having fought away from home so many times – there’s been assignments in the U.S., South Africa and Malta – Rankin is over the moon to be defending a world title on Scottish soil.

“Well, firstly, a massive thank you to Dennis Hobson Promotions, Steve Crump, and Fight Zone for making this happen,” she said. “It’s just an amazing opportunity for me. They said they wanted my maiden defense to be a homecoming, then they said they’d go one better and make it at The Hydro. For me, that’s phenomenal. I’m getting to defend my title in front of a home crowd, family, friends, in my home city. You really can’t ask for anything else. Ironically, when Josh Taylor was fighting [Jack Catterall] there, and I was doing the commentary, I said, ‘My God! One day I want to be here. This is an amazing venue!’ It’s dreams to reality kind of stuff.”

In February, Rankin was asked by executives from U.K. broadcasting giant Sky Sports to provide commentary for Natasha Jonas’ vacant WBO 154-pound title fight against Chris Namus. Her insight and delivery was so impressive that she was asked back to help call the undisputed 140-pound championship fight between Taylor and Catterall.

“I thought maybe when I retired, I’d have got an opportunity to have a go at commentary, but it’s came around a lot faster than I’d have thought,” said Rankin of her brief career departure. “I did some commentary for Fight Zone, then Sky’s Ed Robinson got in touch. It was really nice to be asked. I really enjoyed it, and it appeals to my inner-geek (laughs): Check out the whole card, watch all the fighters, see what’s going on. I still need to get used to not getting overly excited when it’s a mate of mine, or swearing on the mic (laughs), but working with Adam Smith and Matt Macklin was a great experience because they’ve been in the game for a long time.”

Jonas’ impressive second-round stoppage of Namus immediately led to calls for an all-British unification showdown at 154 pounds.

“I’m sure we’ll see that because I want all the belts in the division, so we’re going to have to fight at some point,” said Rankin. “It’s a good fight, and it’s good that Tasha has ended up in this division because it’s really mixed things up. I’ve also heard that [former undisputed welterweight champion and pound-for pound No. 1] Cecilia Braekhus is thinking of making an appearance at 154. The 154 division is hot at the moment and it’s exciting to be part of that. But me and Tasha would be a fantastic fight for women’s boxing and for British boxing as a whole.”

However, first up is the homecoming defense, and following in the footsteps of previous modern-day world titleholders such as Scott Harrison, Alex Arthur, Ricky Burns and Taylor, Rankin made it clear that a big priority is to secure young Scottish fighters for the undercard.

 

Tom Gray is managing editor for Ring Magazine. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing

 

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