By the time the calendars flipped over to signal the beginning of 2017, Cecilia Braekhus had already earned recognition as the best female boxer on the planet.
Now for the second time in just over three years, the Colombia-born, Norway-based boxer makes boxing history. Already the only truly undisputed champion in the history of women's boxing, she has now earned the distinction of being named the first-ever recipient of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) Christy Martin Female Fighter of the Year award, the organization announced on Friday.
The selection is the first major BWAA announcement of the 2017 awards season, with the balance of the winners to come later this month.
“I’m very excited about this,” said Braekhus of earning the honors. “This is important to me, because it’s part of boxing history and it’s very big for me because of the young girls that may think about boxing in their future.
Braekhus (32-0, 9KOs) added to an already stellar résumé three more wins on the year, including a 10-round points victory over Erica Farias in their pound-for-pound showdown last June in her hometown of Bergen, Norway.
In a year where she faced stiff ballot competition including Olympic Gold medalists Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor both winning major titles in their first full year in the pro ranks, Braekhus ultimately took honors thanks to whom she beat more so than what was collected.
“We were looking at performances throughout 2017, but not just the performances and the wins, but the level of competition each of the women faced,” said Thomas Gerbasi, chairman of the BWAA selection committee. “When you look at that, it’s hard to look at anyone other than Cecilia. Everyone who was nominated was worthy. If you ask 20 people about the seven nominees, you might get several different answers.
“When we looked at Cecilia, she fought two former world champions and fought one current world champion in Erica Farias, who was moving up in weight, making it a super fight between two of the pound-for-pound best. Cecilia did all of this with a target on her back, because she had five world titles to defend.”
The other nominees—named after Martin who took women's boxing to new heights during the height of her popularity in the 1990s—were (in alphabetical order):
- Jessica Chavez (30-4-3, 4KOs): Two successful defenses of her flyweight title including a decisive points victory over Esmeralda Moreno in their rubber match last September;
- Naoko Fujioka (17-2, 7KOs): Two wins, including a 10th round stoppage of Isabel Millan to win a title (flyweight) in a fourth weight division (previously reigning at strawweight, super flyweight, bantamweight);
- Mariana Juarez (47-9-4, 18KOs): Three wins, beat Catherine Phiri for bantamweight title to become a two-division world champ after having previously reigned at flyweight;
- Amanda Serrano (34-1-1, 26KOs): Four wins, 9th round knockout of Dahiana Santana to become first-ever Puerto Rico-born boxer to win titles in five weight classes;
- Claressa Shields (4-0, 4KOs): Three wins, including a knockout win over Nikki Adler to win two super middleweight titles in just her third pro fight;
- Katie Taylor (8-0, 6KOs): Six wins, including a 10-round victory over Anahi Esther Sanchez to win a lightweight title.
Braekhus became boxing's lone active undisputed world champion in September 2014, with a win over Ivana Habazin etching her place in boxing history. She's held at least two belts throughout a title reign that extends nearly eight years, with a 6th round knockout of Mikaela Lauren in October marking her 22nd consecutive successful title defense—just three behind the all-time mark (male or female) established by the late, legendary Joe Louis over the course of his 13-year World heavyweight championship stay.
There's a strong argument to be made that the award is long overdue—and perhaps by three years for Braekhus, who enjoyed a memorable 2014 campaign in and out of the ring. In addition to becoming the undisputed welterweight queen, she was also instrumental in having a professional boxing ban lifted in her adopted home country of Norway, where her last four bouts have taken place.
Having long ago established herself as the pound-for-pound queen, she once again beats out the best that boxing has to offer in earning the sport's top honors.
“I think also of all the girls whose name should be on this that are a huge part of this; the girls who went to the gym and trained hard twice a day, only because they loved the sport of boxing," notes the ever-humble Braekhus. "They gave everything and didn’t get anything back: money, fame or anything. They did it because they loved it and wanted to compete and represent their country.
"It’s been a long road for women’s boxing, so it’s great for the BWAA to recognize a female fighter of the year. I’m very proud to be the first, but there a lot of women that came before me that made this possible.”