SKYE NICOLSON IS THE TORCHBEARER FOR A STRONG FAMILY TRADITION OF BOXING, BUT SHE IS RAPIDLY FORGING HER OWN LEGACY
When Skye Nicolson was born in 1995, she was a gift to parents grieving the loss of not just one, but two sons a little over a year before.
“I remember Mom saying to me once, ‘I was so happy when we found out that you were a girl, because we’d never have to compare you, but you came out and you’re just him. You’re just Jamie, in a girl.’”
Skye smiles at the recollection, and she’s proud to be compared to Jamie, the brother she never met.
In Australian boxing circles, Jamie Nicolson was royalty, and the Nicolsons were the royal family. A bronze medalist at the 1989 World Championships and the 1990 Commonwealth Games, Jamie also represented his country in the 1992 Olympics before turning pro later that year. But just eight fights into his career, a car accident took the 22-year-old’s life and that of his 10-year-old brother, Gavin.
For Allan and Pat Nicolson, Skye was a light in the darkness, but never did they think she would join the family business in the gym where her older brother Allan Jr. and younger brother Tony, along with the occasional cousin, taught and learned the sweet science.
“I grew up around boxing,” said Skye. “I was at the amateur tournaments every weekend from infancy. (laughs) But I didn’t really have much interest in boxing. I was always at all the tournaments, but I was off playing with all the other little sisters and didn’t really take much notice of the actual boxing, because I never really saw girls doing it.”
But at 12, everything changed.
“I was getting a little bit on the chubby side, and I was starting high school after the Christmas break,” she recalled. “I started going into the gym – my brother (Allan Jr.) was the coach in our family boxing gym – and I started going for self-confidence reasons more than anything to get fit. It was more of a little social thing.”
Eight weeks later, Skye Nicolson had her first amateur fight and never looked back.
“I don’t think I’ve been out of a boxing gym for more than two or three weeks ever since.”
“When I found something that I was really good at and had some talent at, that became my drive and motivation. … It was just boxing, boxing, boxing.”
In that time, from 12 to 27, Nicolson carved out her own piece of the family’s boxing legacy by not just becoming a fighter, but, like her brother, one of Australia’s best. As an amateur, the Queensland native won a bronze at the World Championships but barely missed making the 2016 Olympics. Four years and a drop from welterweight to featherweight later, she was in the 2020 Tokyo Games for Team Australia. It was the dream come true for a young lady who captured the imagination of her nation.
“I found something that I was good at, and I liked the feeling of winning, and I just stuck with it,” she said. “I don’t like being OK at stuff; I like being the best at stuff. So when I found something that I was really good at and had some talent at, that became my drive and motivation. I wanted to be the best, so nothing else really mattered. It was just boxing, boxing, boxing.”
Yet the fairy tale came to a heartbreaking end in the Olympic quarterfinals when she lost a 3-2 decision to England’s Karriss Artingstall.
Keeping her amateur eligibility for the World Championships, Nicolson and Team Australia ventured to the U.K. for some training in late 2021, but when that tournament got postponed, her plans changed. Suddenly, Nicolson was getting ready for a pro debut while still keeping her eyes on a return to the Olympics in 2024.
“The pro scene was never an end-game goal for me,” she admits. “My focus was always the Olympic Games and the Olympic gold medal. That was always the dream for me. Even after Tokyo, obviously coming so close to finishing in the medals and potentially even the gold medal, it was really hard to accept, and I feel like I do have unfinished business with the Olympics. But I also did feel like I was getting quite static in the amateurs, and I felt like I needed something new, and I needed to change what I was doing, and I needed to change my environment. So when the conversation came up with Eddie [Hearn] and Matchroom, I felt excited by that and I felt that fire that I had kind of stopped feeling in the amateurs. And with the rule change and being able to choose to go back to the Olympics for 2024 if I so wish helped make that decision a little bit easier.”
What wasn’t easy was making the decision to train in England with coach Eddie Lam, far from home in Australia. But with the scene for women’s boxing in the U.K. stronger than ever, it was the right decision, one she is happy with.
“It’s been amazing,” she said. “All new and exciting. I’m really just taking it all in my stride and trying to enjoy the process. I feel like I moved because it was the best option to be the best boxer I can be. To get the right training that I need and to have quality sparring partner options, you need to be abroad. Australia’s got talent, but they really lack depth, and everything’s so spread out. The boxing community’s quite small, really. It’s a few hours’ flight to go to other Australian champions to train with them. Here, you’ve got so many more options and so much more depth.”
In March of 2022, Nicolson made her pro debut with a six-round unanimous decision win over Jessica Juarez. Four more wins followed, making it a busy year for the 27-year-old, who, despite her mother’s early wishes, is being positively compared to her brother, something she doesn’t have a problem with.
“They always say Jamie would be so proud of you, and I’m just so like him, and they say that it’s not even just the boxing,” said Nicolson. “In boxing, our styles are so similar – southpaw, counterboxers. But with our personalities, apparently, we’re very similar as well. I feel like it’s quite cool, to be honest. I have this brother that I never met, and all I hear are these amazing, wonderful stories from people that have met him and knew him, and I guess to be a reminder of such an amazing person that they lost, it’s quite special.”
Nicolson is quite special in her own right, the kind of fighter who has “star” written all over her. That’s rare, to have an athlete who can fight, who is great with the media, has a compelling backstory and is comfortable in her own skin, but that’s her. And even though she’s still in the early stages of life in the public eye beyond Australia, she’s enjoying every minute of it.
“I love it,” she laughs. “I’m understanding that as I’m more successful and as I achieve more things, there’s gonna probably be more negative things, especially online, to read. But I try to separate myself from that. I don’t try to read into the social media stuff too much, but I really appreciate people coming and asking for photos with me and complimenting my boxing and things like that. I think it’s great. I love it. It’s definitely something that you don’t really get in the amateurs, so it’s kind of nice.”
From a boxing standpoint, Nicolson is still a work in progress, but you can see her evolve with each passing fight, most recently a lopsided February 4 victory over previously unbeaten Tania Alvarez that earned her the WBC Silver featherweight belt, and as the stakes keep getting higher over the rest of 2023 and beyond, the feeling is that she will rise to the occasion. That’s a good thing not just for her, but for the sport, yet she’s not in a rush. She’s just taking it all in.
“I know this will probably sound so cliche, but I’m a pretty big believer in destiny, and I feel like I’m on my destined path and everything that’s happened has led me to where I am right now,” she said. “The setbacks, the teams I didn’t make, the medals I didn’t win, but also the teams I did make and the medals I did win, every circumstance that’s happened in my life has led me to where I am right now, and everything is already kind of written for me and I’m just living it. And I’m thriving. I absolutely love my life, and I feel so grateful to be able to say that.”