By Lyle Fitzsimmons –
Don’t look now, but Norway is fast becoming a world boxing capital.
Long dormant due to a decades-long ban, the sport has been revived thanks to the efforts of unified women’s welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus.
Braekhus is originally from Colombia but was adopted as a toddler and raised in Bergen, Norway, where she began boxing as a teenager and ultimately won 75 of 80 amateur fights prior to turning pro in 2007.
She’ll make her third appearance in Norway – and first in her hometown – when she faces Erica Farias, a once-beaten foe with world title claims in two weight classes, on Friday at the historic Bergenhus Fortress.
The 13th century structure sits at the entrance to the harbor in Bergen and could house more than 15,000 fans for the fight, which will mark Braekhus’ 20th defense of the WBC belt that she won with a unanimous decision over Vinni Skovgaard in March 2009.
She added the WBA’s title with the same victory and has since defended it 18 times.
The WBO crown came 14 months later with a defeat of Victoria Cisneros, the IBF bauble was added in September 2014 against Ivana Habazin and the IBO’s jewelry rounded out the collection – via decision against Chris Namus – in February 2016.
Braekhus made her Norwegian debut with a second-round TKO of Anne Sophie Mathis last October in Oslo. Her first professional appearance there came after she worked with political leaders to lift a domestic boxing ban that had stood since 1981.
“I have to give a special thanks to the prime minister of Norway, Erna Solberg, who has been so very supportive of my work and played a huge role towards lifting the ban in Norway that allowed me to fight here,” Braekhus said.
She had fought in Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Finland and Denmark before bringing her act to back home.
“I’ve fought all over Europe but it was always my dream to fight in Norway, this is my home and it meant so much to me on Saturday to see the huge crowd and know how much it meant to so many people in this country,” Braekhus said. “The entire fight week truly exceeded my expectations, everywhere I went the response from fans and media was incredible.”
More than a quarter of the 4 million people residing in Norway tuned in to the fight on TV3, making it the second-most watched program in the station’s history.
The champion returned to The Spectrum for a unanimous decision defeat of Klara Svensson on Feb. 24.
Braekhus is preparing for the Farias fight in Spain, where’s she’s working for the fourth time with Johnathon Banks, a former IBO cruiserweight champion who’s worked for many years with longtime heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
Banks was 29-3-1 with 19 KOs in a pro career that stretched from 2004 to 2014. He won the cruiserweight title by decision over Vincenzo Rossitto in 2008 before losing it to Tomasz Adamek.
“This training camp has been terrific with Johnathon. I’m continuing to learn a great deal from him,” Braekhus said. “In my last three fights I’ve become much more of an aggressive fighter and he’s truly brought that out in me, more of an American and Detroit style of fighting.”
Farias, 32, has scored 10 KOs while winning 24 of 25 fights in a career that began in 2009.
She staked her first WBC title claim at 135 pounds in 2011, then moved to 140 after losing the championship in 2014. A second WBC belt came in 2015 following a defeat of the aforementioned Svensson, and she’s since made two successful defenses.
The Braekhus fight will be her first as a full-fledged welterweight. The champion has a three-inch height advantage and has fought exclusively in the 147-pound class.
Advantages notwithstanding, Braekhus has no intention of overlooking the task at hand.
“Erica Farias is the toughest opponent of my career,” she said. “She’s moving up from the junior welterweight division where she’s the WBC champion and one of the best fighters in the division. I know Farias is coming for all my belts and I’m up to the challenge. No way I won’t be ready.”