Friday, December 01, 2023  |

By Thomas Gerbasi | 


The first time Jessica McCaskill stood in a ring after a 10-round fight with longtime welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus and waited to hear three judges decide her fate, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that she had done enough in their eyes to get the victory.

The second time, there were no such doubts.

“I was confident after every round that I was still up on the scorecards,” said McCaskill, who followed up a majority decision win over Norway’s “First Lady” last August with a decisive, near-shutout decision victory on March 13. “A lot of things that we had been working on, I was able to execute, and I could see that she wasn’t trying to come forward unless she was trying to throw a flurry, but she was mostly opening herself up for big shots. She was hurt in a couple rounds, so I felt very confident in this one.”

The win, McCaskill’s 10th as a pro, cemented her place as the undisputed welterweight champion of the world, put the inaugural Ring Magazine women’s 147-pound title around her waist and saw her soar past Braekhus on the pound-for-pound list. Add in WBC and WBA belts at 140 pounds and the 36-year-old is already well on her way to producing a hall of fame-worthy resume, even if she doesn’t believe she’s gotten true respect for her accomplishments.

McCaskill has quickly become a towering figure in women’s boxing. (Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)

“Not necessarily, because we did have to do this twice for it to really, really count,” she said of the two fights with Braekhus. “So that has a bit of an annoyance to it. The last time, everything was really exciting for the team, just to be able to get the win, and this time, it was just like, ‘You guys asked for it, so here ya go. Take it, and we’re gone.’”

McCaskill’s coach and manager, Rick Ramos, agrees, but the dynamic duo from Chicago isn’t about to stop doing what got them here in the first place, and that’s being the aggressive underdogs willing to take the big risks in order to reap the biggest rewards.

“Yes, I feel we have to keep that same energy and redirect it in different places,” McCaskill said. “I have to be vocal and use that same energy of aggressiveness to expose people and really solidify why I am where I am.”

And from here on out, McCaskill isn’t interested in tune-ups, keep-busy bouts or mandatories. She’s all about the big fights and nothing else.

“I felt like ever since the first WBC fight (against Erica Farias in 2018), we could only go up,” she said. “You want to go up and do better things and expand your resume in a positive way. I’m looking for big things, and as we go along, it gets a little harder to make sure the next one is even bigger. But that’s why I have Rick.”

Not surprisingly, Ramos is already thinking big for his fighter’s next trip to the ring, and whether that’s figuratively with a Katie Taylor rematch or literally with a showdown against multi-division queen Claressa Shields, it’s clear that there will be no steps taken backwards if Team McCaskill has its way. 

First order of business, a bout with undisputed lightweight champion Taylor, who was the last person to beat McCaskill back in December 2017. 

Pound-for-pound queen Katie Taylor is firmly in McCaskill’s crosshairs. (Photo by Mark Robinson/Matchroom)

“Everybody’s talking about the Katie Taylor fight,” said McCaskill, who gave the Ireland native one of her toughest battles before losing a 10-round decision. “I know the fans want to see it; they’ve been asking for it for years. I get so many messages from people from different countries and people from Ireland and they tell me that they’re Taylor fans, but they love that fight, and I’ve been growing on people over the years. I just think it’s a big fight that boxing needs to have, so if they’re ready for it, then we can start negotiations.”

That’s where Ramos comes in, and while he’s gone toe-to-toe with Matchroom Boxing boss Eddie Hearn over the years, he’s ultimately found a way to get the deals he’s wanted for his fighter. And he wants a Taylor fight.

“I have to go all-in on Katie or Claressa,” said Ramos, who looks at Shields as a realistic Plan B because he doesn’t believe Taylor’s upcoming bout with Natasha Jonas is a slam-dunk win for the pride of Bray. “I think it’s 60-40 Katie with Jonas. That’s too close for comfort for me to lose a megafight with Katie Taylor, but if Eddie wants to risk it, he’s crazy, because I don’t think that’s a guaranteed win. But I think I should focus on the Katie fight and get Jessica over a million dollars for that fight. And this will be the first time two female fighters make a million dollars each, and it will sell itself. Both of them are different fighters. I don’t think Katie got worse [since the 2017 fight], but I definitely don’t think she got better, and the percentage of Jessica’s improvement versus Katie’s is dramatic. At the right weight, I think we beat her.” 

Ramos believes Hearn will ask for a 141-pound catchweight for the fight, while he would be amenable to 144 or 145 pounds. That’s what negotiations are for. But would Ramos accept 141 pounds for a welterweight title fight?

Beating Claressa Shields would be a massive challenge for McCaskill, but her trainer thinks it could be done. (Photo by Stephanie Trapp/ Trapp Fotos)

“There’s a price for everything,” he said. “At 141, I feel like I’m disrespecting boxing, but getting Jessica the most money, especially on a fight like that, is my priority.”

In the dream scenario for Team McCaskill, the champ gets the Taylor fight, wins it and then waits to see if the two-time U.S. Olympic gold medalist Shields, who has won titles at 168, 160 and 154 pounds, can come down even further in weight to challenge McCaskill.

How much further? Ramos is looking once again at 144 or 145 pounds, but he’s open to suggestions.

“I think she can make 147,” he said of the Flint native. “She knows she can make 147. And there’s no one for her to fight.”

He’s not wrong there, and for once, Ramos and McCaskill are in a position of strength when it comes to making the fights they want happen. Then again, the attitude at the Body Shot Boxing Club in the Windy City’s South Side is unchanged. They’re still the underdogs ready to outwork everybody.

McCaskill was back to work as soon as she got back home from Dallas after the Braekhus rematch, and Ramos was right there with her. It’s just what they do. And all the belts in the world won’t change that. He recalls the early days of McCaskill’s career, when no one wanted to give them the time of day.

McCaskill seems to relish every moment in the ring. (Photo by Ed Mulholland/Matchroom)

“I used to email the WBC, the IBF, the WBO, all of them, every Thursday to get Jessica ranked,” Ramos said. “This went on for six months. And finally, I think it was the WBC, they were so tired of me emailing them that they ranked her like 14th, and there was nobody in the eighth spot to the 13th spot. It was all blank, and in the 14th spot was Jessica. After that, I felt like I won.”

He laughs. There have been plenty of victories since then, but they’re not done yet.

“I think [McCaskill] secured her position in the female boxing hall of fame with the second win over Cecilia,” said Ramos. “I think if we beat Katie, Jess walks away, and if the opportunity comes where a Claressa fight has to happen, then it’s gonna be on our terms as well.”

Will McCaskill finally take a day off then? 

“I think I have to say no just to say I didn’t,” she laughs. “Make everybody up their game.”