International Women’s Day 2024

Chantelle Cameron: ‘Boys in the gym looked at me like I was an alien – but I sparred them and held my own’

Exclusive interview: The former undisputed champion tells Alex Pattle about her iconic rivalry with Katie Taylor and her desire to inspire young girls to try boxing

Wednesday 06 March 2024 09:09 GMT
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Chantelle Cameron during her second of two fights with Katie Taylor in 2023
Chantelle Cameron during her second of two fights with Katie Taylor in 2023 (Getty Images)

Chantelle Cameron breathes rarefied air. There are just 12 women on Earth who have reigned as undisputed world champions in boxing, and Cameron is one of them – though the boys she fought as a teenager would have told you she was not of this planet at all.

“The first time I walked into a boxing gym, I was the only female. All the boys were looking at me like I was an alien,” Cameron told The Independent, ahead of International Women’s Day. “The coach was like, ‘What are you doing here?’ He wasn’t that keen on me. I actually hated my first time there because I’d come from a kickboxing background where there were a load of girls.

“But the coach did pads with me, and he couldn’t believe the pop in my punches and my natural ability. He was impressed and said, ‘I don’t like girls in the gym but come back on Wednesday.’ I kind of had to get his validation. Eventually, I was treated like one of the lads and they stopped making digs at me because I sparred them and held my own.”

Cameron, now 32, was forced to prove herself in the kind of ritualistic initiation that is gradually approaching extinction. As the presence of women in boxing gyms comes to represent the norm, each drop of their sweat is a nod to every drop of blood Cameron has leaked for the cause.

“I never really saw myself as someone that people would look up to but now that I’ve had the big nights and a big platform, I take it upon myself,” Cameron said. “I want to inspire the young ones and be that role model. I’ve got that confidence now; I feel like I’ve proven myself, I feel like I can go into schools, clubs, and tell my story.

“I’m quite proud because I used to suffer quite badly from [a lack of] confidence, but now I’m going out there in front of thousands of people booing me. It just shows you that you don’t have to be the most confident person in the room or fake confidence. Just work hard and stick to it, and you can reach any goals you want. Be whoever you want to be, just believe in hard training and listen to your coach.”

Cameron is the only fighter to have beaten Taylor in the pro ranks (PA Wire)

If it seems bewildering that Cameron would be subjected to boos, context is crucial. In May, the Northampton fighter strode into Dublin as the undisputed super-lightweight champion, and she emerged from the Irish capital with that status intact, having thoroughly beaten a national icon in a way that no one ever had; in fact, prior to that spring evening, Katie Taylor had never been beaten as a professional – full stop.

Taylor, 37, was unable to cope with the pressure and power that Cameron produced in the 3Arena. Although the Olympic gold medalist remained the undisputed lightweight champion, her bid to wrest the super-lightweight belts from Cameron had failed.

Six months later, Cameron sauntered back into Dublin with a shrug, ready to face the Irish legend and her legion of worshippers in the very same venue. This time, against the backdrop of a riotous city aflame, Taylor claimed a glorious victory after 10 rounds of melodrama. This time, it was the zero in Cameron’s record that was taken.

Remarkably, Cameron is willing to venture into enemy territory for the third time, as she eyes history: the first women’s boxing trilogy at this level.

‘I want my belts back, and I want revenge and redemption on Katie,’ says Cameron (Reuters)

“I think for women’s boxing to go to the next level, we need fights like this,” said Cameron, who last month confirmed to The Independent that a third visit to the 3Arena is in the works for 25 May. “It’s going to inspire the next generation and programme them to [take] these opportunities. That’s why it means a lot to me. My career is gonna be over someday and when I’m sitting on the couch, I wanna see the next generation having cracking fights. I wanna think: ‘I was part of the journey to make this happen for the young ones.’ Of course, I want my belts back, and I want revenge and redemption on Katie, but for women’s boxing, it’s a must that this fight happens.”

The risk involved, for both combatants, would rarely be taken in men’s boxing. In recent years, however, it has been a staple on the women’s side.

“We have to gamble, we have to take these 50-50 fights because we don’t have the depth in the talent pool [yet],” Cameron explained. “We’re still trying to grab the attention of the male audience; there are a lot of people who don’t wanna watch women box and think women can’t. We’re showing that women can fight just like men – it doesn’t matter our sex, it doesn’t matter if we’re male or female. We’re there to box, and we don’t back down.”

Cameron’s place in history is secure, but she is not satiated. Driven by a desire to inspire and a will to regain her world titles, this extraterrestrial’s purpose on Earth is clear.

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