Bec Connolly on Natasha Jonas, Ebanie Bridges and joining the army

 | 7th May | 

9 mins read

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Bec Connolly is a warrior inside and outside of the ring. Between the ropes, she has fought a who’s-who of boxing royalty. Natasha Jonas, Ebanie Bridges, Terri Harper and Skye Nicholson are just a sample of the elite names Connolly has boxed.

Outside the ring, the 39-year-old is a rifleman in the British Army reserve. She became the first female to pass out as a frontline soldier. As if her battles on two fronts were not keeping her busy enough, Connolly is also a qualified boxing manager looking to bring through the next generation of fighters. Betfred Insights sat down with Connolly to discuss a career like no other in the British boxing game.

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What inspired you to take up the sport in the first place?

It was so many years ago now everything has just rolled into one. I was fighting when I was younger, I was doing judo when I was younger and then I left. I got married really young, had kids really young. And then I was divorced and on my own really young. 

It was about a year after the divorce. I just wanted to get back to doing what I loved. It just so happened that Swindon was a boxing town, and I walked into Fitzpatrick’s and met Paddy [Fitzpatrick, trainer], the rest is kind of history.

You debuted at home in Swindon with a victory over Monika Antonik. Tell me what your first fight was like.

To this day, it's probably one of the best days in my entire life. I put so much pressure on myself for that debut. I did way too long of a camp. It was either nine weeks or 12 weeks, and six weeks would have been absolutely fine. 

I had it in my head that the step up from the amateurs and unlicensed would be huge. I just did not stop that camp at all. I was so nervous. The turnout that I had that night and the support I had that night was one of the best nights of my life.

We had a head clash in the fight so I ended up with this massive haematoma. They wouldn't let the show go on or anything until I was away in hospital. Even with that I was like, “best night ever!”

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You met Terri Harper in your fourth fight. Did you know then, after sharing a ring with her, that she was destined for world titles?

Stefy [Bull, Harper’s trainer and manager] was really upfront. When I got to the venue there was a massive banner outside like 'Terri Harper: future world champion.' Even then they knew.

Just the pure strength of Terri... the first first couple of rounds were fine and then she started to find her rhythm. The strength, the sharpness to her shots. I certainly felt them.

I was late to the game, I was 28 before I put on my first pair of boxing gloves. It’s not your average story. It was sink or swim. Paddy was really upfront, he was like: 'I think you can do it. I'm definitely behind you doing this, 100%. But turning over is gonna be really tough because you're 28 now.'

I think we had 32 fights behind us when we went to the Board [to apply for a pro license]. Obviously, that's some weekends fighting more than once. He said the first 10 fights will be so hard because you're selling tickets. If you want to fight at home you're selling and you're training and you're not really earning too much. So you’re working as well. This is jumping in the deep end and seeing how you do. That's what I did. I was like: 'Screw it. I'm gonna jump in and see if I can swim.'

It took me a while to realise the results didn't really matter. I was swimming, I wasn't drowning. No one was embarrassing me.

You faced Natasha Jonas, who was obviously a huge name already because of the Olympics. What was that experience like?

She was one of my absolute heroes. I watched her during the Olympics, sat on the sofa. 

I was away with the army up in Catterick when the phone call came through, so my coach Paddy took the fight. I came out of the gates at Catterick and he was like: 'So I’ve got some news for you. Don't doubt yourself. You absolutely can do this. The only problem is it’s in 11 days!' 

So those 11 days we were sparring 10 rounds. We had a little guy, Kyle... well, he's not little now that's for sure. But he's been a national amateur champ a couple of times. He was very good at watching someone and emulating them. So we're like: 'Go study, come back and spar like her.' I was pretty nervous, but Paddy was more nervous. He was like: 'If you dare ask her for an autograph before your fight...!' Afterwards, he was like: 'Yeah, just go on! You can now.'

You won your next bout then went on a simply incredible run of fights. Rachel Ball, Ramla Ali, Ebanie Bridges, Maria Cecchi and Skye Nicholson all in a row. What made you take so many tough fights?

I grow so much as a person and I'm proving something to myself. It's never been about the boxing for me. I’ve got some demons to put to sleep inside myself. It's like an incessant need to prove to myself that I'm okay. 

You can push past your limits and your fears and you can suck it up. Not only that, [you can] hold your own. I've never lied about the fact I do get really nervous. It's never gone. I still feel the exact same nerves in that changing room that I did. It's never become blase. Every time you put yourself in an uncomfortable situation and you've overcome that, you grow that little bit more. 

Who was the best fighter you fought during that period?

It’s really difficult. Terri was sharp, it was the sharpness of Terri that won her that fight. And probably my lack of speed to get out of the way! 

Skye Nicholson, I think I was her debut. So she's obviously changed a lot now. There was absolutely no power but I couldn't touch her because she was a southpaw and that’s my worst nightmare. I love a fighter like Ebonie Jones that just comes in. That fight was great because we could just tear up because she wanted to fight and I wanted to fight.

Ebanie Bridges has probably got the most power out of all of them. The body shots with Bridges, really strong for such a tiny little woman.

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You said in a social media post last year that you have two years left fighting. What are your goals before you retire?

I either want another shot at the Commonwealth title or I want a shot at the Southern Area title. something like that. A home fight is what I need. Because it's all well and good saying: 'I know I won that fight and that fight,' but it's not on the record. It has to be on the record for me to get the opportunities that I want. So that's the goal. 

I just don't have any financial sponsors at all. I'm not in a position to sell tickets anymore. I'm already working 60 hours a week around boxing. I just do not have the time or capacity to be out there selling tickets again to get home fights. So it is just a case of saying yes to every single fight that comes up now. Just have to hope that being in the away corner doesn't doesn't stop it forever.

You have got your manager’s licence now. What made you want to get into the business side of the sport?

I think seeing the young girls coming up. I have been there, I have done it. I do care about the fighters. It makes me really sad when I see some managers so disassociated with their product, so to speak.

In the beginning I was lucky because my coach was my manager. He absolutely cared about me and wanted to protect me at all costs. I just think some of these girls could have a female in their corner and get in their fights. I know that sounds a bit sexist, but we haven't gone full circle yet. I would like to step in for the young ones coming up.

You have boxed through a period of tremendous growth for women’s boxing. You took part in the historic all-female card at the O2 Arena in 2022. What has it been like watching the sport progress?

That O2 card was probably one of the highlights of my career. It was amazing to see the O2 sold out just for girls. I had goosebumps going down my spine during that walk out. My tiny little part that I've played in that, I’m really proud of that. No one can take that away from you. 

In addition to fighting and managing, you are also a rifleman in the army reserve. What made you want to serve and what has that experience been like?

It was around the time that the laws changed that females were allowed to go on the frontline. That only happened in 2017, I want to say. They were like: 'We've got a girl that would definitely pass out.' I think rifles definitely wanted the first female to cross the finish line.

It did push me to my absolute limits though. Getting through basic army training is exactly the same whichever role you go into so that wasn't the issue. Being infantry was the issue because you had a lot of old school, not very keen on the idea… some are just outright sexist. Then you've got people that are absolutely sound with it.

It's definitely challenging mentally. Going through infantry training was probably harder for me. Because they're trying to break you, that's what they're trying to do. Push you to your absolute limits. It helped with the Jonas fight though, because I got pushed to my absolute limit. I came out and was like: 'Wow, it can’t be as bad as that!'

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