Boxing legend Lucia Rijker: 'It's the perfect time' for Cecilia Braekhus to make HBO history

Combat columnist
Yahoo Sports

Lucia Rijker is not yet a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, which says a lot more about the Hall than it ever could about Rijker.

Rijker is widely regarded as the greatest women’s boxer in history, and beyond just boxing, the finest female striker who ever lived. She earned the nickname “Lady Tyson” as an homage to former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

Rijker boxed from 1996 through 2004. She was supposed to fight Christy Martin in 2005 in Las Vegas in a bout called “Million Dollar Lady” but she ruptured an Achilles in training and never fought again.

Rijker is training Cecilia Braekhus, now widely regarded as the best female boxer in the world, for her title defense Saturday in Carson, Calif., at the StubHub Center against former middleweight champion Kali Reis.

Rijker said Braekhus reached out to her about 18 months ago, but it was not until recently that her schedule was clear enough that should could make the commitment to train her.

She heaped praise on Braekhus, who holds the IBF-WBA-WBC-WBO welterweight belts and is 32-0 with 9 KOs as well as a 22-0 record in championship fights.

“She can smile like a pretty girl; she’s gorgeous but she can fight like an animal,” Rijker said. “She has that fierce Colombian blood. Don’t let the Norwegian accent mislead you. In heart and in spirit, she has Colombian blood. She comes to fight.”

Because of that, Braekhus will become the first woman to fight on HBO in its 45 years of televising boxing. It was long overdue, but Rijker told Yahoo Sports she was overjoyed.

There are more elite women fighters now than at any point in history and she said the timing is perfect for HBO to open its doors to women.

“We’ve had women box in the past two Olympics,” she said. “There is a selection process and we’re only seeing the best women come into the pros. There are a lot of women fighting now at a very high level. There are women worldwide who fight at a powerful level and you’re seeing it in this country, too. It’s a highly skilled, highly competitive sport right now and I think it’s the perfect time.”

Cecilia Braekhus (L) arrives with her trainer, Lucia Rijker, at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. (AP)
Cecilia Braekhus (L) arrives with her trainer, Lucia Rijker, at a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, May 2, 2018. (AP)

She insists, though, that she has no regrets that it’s Braekhus and not Rijker breaking down yet another glass ceiling.

Rijker was so good, she became an almost mythologic figure, and trainers who worked with her or saw her fight tell stories about her that almost sound apocryphal but which they insist are true.

“I don’t even think about it,” Rijker said. “I mean, there is a time for everything. When I was coming up, I thought about the women like Lilly Rodriguez who came before me. There were great fighters then, but they didn’t even get the exposure I got. It was very hard for them.

“I’m not sour. I am happy for Cecilia and for all women’s boxers because this is an exciting time. They’re getting recognized for their work and people are seeing them as legitimate, high-quality athletes and not just a show. Each generation builds upon the next, but the good thing is that Cecilia is the perfect person to be the face of this. She’s beautiful, she’s intelligent, she knows how to promote and she is one hell of a fighter. She’s the perfect person to open this door, I think. I had my time and this is the time for the new generation, and Cecilia is the perfect woman to do this.”

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