PRO boxer Hannah Rankin’s tactic to ensure that she performed to her very best during her final recital at the Royal Academy of Music was somewhat unusual: she treated it like a professional boxing match.
Her boxing coach, Noel Callan, was there in the wings and was psyching the bassoonist up and calming her down at exactly the right moments. And it worked perfectly. “I really wanted to be at my best for my final recital so I got my coach, Noel, to come in treat it like I was going into to a fight,” she explained. “So, in my breaks between playing, I’d go out and have a few deep breaths with him just to help me relax and calm down. And it turned out that was the best I’d ever performed.”
Rankin's two passions could not be more divergent. She spends half her life as a classical musician and the other half as a professional boxer. The 27 year-old, who is originally from Luss near Loch Lomond, has played in orchestras from London to St Petersburg, will tonight embark on her fifth professional bout when she takes on Klaudia Vigh from Hungary at Glasgow’s Crown Plaza as part of MTK’s Burns Night show.
While the super welterweight admits that many are surprised to hear that she combines the ferocious world of professional boxing with the somewhat more genteel world of classical music, there are, she reveals, significant similarities between the two pursuits and they both help each other. “People are so surprised when they hear I do both but the two really connect,” the London-based fighter said.
“Boxing is all about rhythm because you need that to be able to move well and I have good rhythm from my music so that helps me a lot in the ring. And I find that boxing really helps my nerves and so performing suddenly felt much, much less stressful. All of a sudden, having fought in front boxing crowd, music was a lot less daunting – a music crowd isn’t going to be shouting or anything so it takes some of the stress off of my performances. And whatever anyone says, while boxing is a sport, it’s also entertainment and I love to perform so it’s all the same to me.”
Rankin is a relative novice to the boxing world. In her younger years, growing up in the west of Scotland, taekwondo was her sport, although her mum was never delighted at the prospect of her damaging her hands. And while the taekwondo ultimately didn’t stick, Rankin was always attracted by combat sports. “When I was a kid, my sister and I competed in taekwondo but when I got into music, my mum put a stop to that because she told me I needed to take care of myself," Rankin said. "I ended-up going to a thing in Glasgow called fight camp with was run by the Grip House just to keep fit – it was a mix of Thai boxing and circuit training and it was great so when I moved to London, I wanted to continue with my Thai boxing.”
Rankin’s Muay Thai trainer left and was replaced at her gym by Derek Williams, the former British, Commonwealth and European heavyweight champion. Reluctant to ask him to coach her in Muay Thai, Rankin decided to try her hand at boxing.
After a few white collar fights, Rankin had to make the decision as to whether to go down the amateur route or turn professional. Staying amateur would have required her to leave her team so professional it was.
Her progress in the pro ranks has been remarkable. She has only recorded one defeat and in November, in only her fourth fight, Rankin won the International Challenge Belt in show at London’s famous York Hall.
This evening, she will make her home debut, fighting in Scotland for the first time and she is confident that she will add another win to her record. “I’m so excited – it’s my first time fighting at home and so that will be amazing," she said.
"Klaudia is very unpredictable so you never quite know what she’s going to do but I’m feeling good and I’ve been working on quite a few things in camp so she’ll be a really good opponent to try them out on. Winning the title before Christmas was massive.
"It’s so positive to be winning these fights and putting in these good performances so early in my career – because I don’t come from an amateur background I’m learning on the job so it was a massive confidence boost for me getting that title early on. There’s so much to work on – it’s such a huge learning curve for me and that’s so exciting.”
While female boxing is, unquestionably, growing in profile year on year, there is still a long way to go. But Rankin knows that she has timed her entry into the sport perfectly – she is MTK's first female boxer – and she has seen herself the change in attitude from what would traditionally be called ‘hardcore boxing fans’. “I feel that things are definitely going in the right direction and in Scotland, I’ve had a really positive response from people," she said.
"For me to be the first female to box on an MTK show is massive and shows that we are getting there. It’s just about slowly breaking down barriers. The hardest age-group to break into seems to be men in their 50s and I think a lot of that it because they’ve never seen women box before. But after my second fight, two older guys came to speak to me and to tell me that they were really impressed and they thought my fight was a great fight so, for me, that was a very small victory and a small step forward. But having said that, I still get people asking why I'd want to box or I have people saying things like you’re too pretty to box.”
Rankin’s schedule, which combines playing music concerts, teaching music, training and fighting is understandably hectic but that has not dulled her ambition in the slightest. A major title in 2018 is her short-term aim before she goes for the ultimate prize in boxing. “I’ll hopefully be boxing at home a bit more this year and I’d really like to go for a European or a Commonwealth title," she said. "The Commonwealth title is currently vacant so that’s potentially a target this year. And there’s also been talk of a British title for women so if that does happen, I’d love to be involved in that.
"And the ultimate goal is to be world champion. My coach and I are very driven and I’d love to, one day, say that I made it, I became world champion.”
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