Sandy Ryan can be the next face of women’s boxing after emerging from brutal journey

Sandy Ryan celebrates victory after defeating Terri Harper (Getty Images)
Sandy Ryan celebrates victory after defeating Terri Harper (Getty Images)

After just nine fights in the professional boxing ring, Sandy Ryan is a hard veteran of all the knocks and all the glory in the dirty old game.

On Saturday night in Sheffield, she defended her WBO welterweight title with a flawless display to force Terri Harper to retire after four rounds. Harper is the WBA champion at the higher weight of super-welter, but Ryan just walked through her.

Ryan is 30 now and this was her first fight since switching her training from Derby to Las Vegas; it was fight nine, win seven and it makes her one of the faces to watch in the world of women’s boxing.

Harper had a plan, she tried to move, tried to pick Ryan off, but there was nothing that she could do; at the end of the fourth, Stefy Bull, her trainer and friend, shook his head. Bull called the ref over, Harper knew, and Ryan was the winner. It is rare that an end like that happens in a fight that was expected to be hard, close and competitive. Harper is still the champion at the higher weight and a good fighter.

Liverpool’s Tasha Jonas is the IBF champion at the same weight as Ryan, while Northampton’s Chantelle Cameron, a former champion of all four belts at the lower weight of light-welterweight, is another option for a future fight and going forward, Olympic gold medal winner Lauren Price fights Jessica McCaskill for the WBA welterweight title in May.

It is a rich and talented playing field. Jonas and Harper fought a controversial draw in 2020; both Jonas and Ryan have deep amateur boxing pedigree. It can often feel like women boxers have become overnight stars after 15 years of hard work in the amateur game.

“There are a lot of great fights to be made and I want them all,” said Ryan. Last September, Ryan looked unlucky not to beat McCaskill when their fight in Florida finished in a draw; Price, with only six fights, has the chance to ruin the formbook when she fights for the title; the women’s game can be a lottery, but the quality is there at the top.

Ryan lost her fourth fight when she met the veteran and former world champion, Erica Anabella Farias; she was broken that night, dropping a tight decision. Just five months later she met Farias in a rematch and won comfortably. Two fights later she won the world title, then there was the McCaskill draw and then Harper.

The women’s game moves at a different pace to the men’s version; they take risks to move faster, and the men can avoid taking those early gambles because there are hundreds of other men to beat. There are currently 2,194 registered male welterweights in the world; there are only 98 female welterweights.

Sandy Ryan in action against Terri Harper (Action Images via Reuters)
Sandy Ryan in action against Terri Harper (Action Images via Reuters)

As an amateur, Ryan won the Commonwealth Games gold in Australia in 2018, missed out on the Tokyo Olympics and turned professional when the Olympics were taking place; her first fight was behind closed doors on one of the lockdown shows in Matchroom HQ’s garden. The Farias loss came just a few months later; no man would have been in a fight with an opponent like Farias so early. It’s a brutal business, the women’s business.

Ryan won a silver medal at the European youth championships in 2010 and that gives you an idea of her depth; the major tournaments followed, and she fought all over the world in the European and the World championships. She met the best amateur boxers of her generation, fighting five times in five days at some events and then going again a month later. In 2017 she beat Price; it was her third fight in five days at a tournament in Bulgaria. The best women now are the best we have ever had, make no mistake.

Terri Harper attempts to evade the punch from Sandy Ryan (Getty Images)
Terri Harper attempts to evade the punch from Sandy Ryan (Getty Images)

The main event in Sheffield was Dalton Smith, and his fifth-round knockout of Mexico’s Jose Zepeda was both chilling and impressive. Smith, who fought at the European schoolboy championships in 2010 in Bulgaria, was in the same GB squads as Ryan; they are veterans of an international amateur elite system that creates special talents. Both will be in big fights this year.