Erica Farias aims for a shot at glory against Cecilia Braekhus
By Diego Morilla
The fight ended with the same mood with which it started. A smile before the first round, and the very same smile at the very end of the bout. And with it, the gratitude for a chance to get in the ring, without any further ambition beyond the chance to realize a dream. That was the final comment, without even mentioning the result of the bout, as if proclaiming that if the road ended right then and there, it would be considered a road well-traveled.
This scene took place on July 25, 2009, almost eight years ago to the date, in the small Argentine Boxing Federation stadium where a 25-years young Erica Farias was realizing her dream to compete for the first time as a professional prizefighter against Betiana Viñas.
And upon this modest achievement of making a professional debut after a brilliant amateur career in the earliest days of Argentine female boxing, Farias knew how to build, fight by fight, step by step, a career that will take her to face the best fighter in the world right in her opponent’s backyard of Bergen, Norway, this Friday, June 9, where she will meet unbeaten unified welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus (30-0, 8 KO).
In the hours before her departure from Argentina, Farias (24-1, 10 KO) revisited her journey in boxing with the same humility with which she expressed her feelings in the night of her debut, and expressing the same gratitude for yet another chance, for the opportunity to have yet another one of those bricks that she has been patiently kneading, molding and laying, one after the other, to build her career.
“First of all, I am grateful for the opportunity that I have to face a great opponent with such a great experience as Cecilia Braekhus, a very complete fighter,” said Farias during a halt in her training headquarters, the C.E.D.E.M. No. 2 in the town of Caseros. “This is a fight that I had been looking forward to for some time, and I knew how to wait for the opportunity. I don’t want to squander it now. We had a very intense training camp for three months. We changed our entire team for reasons totally unrelated to the proposal of fighting Cecilia. I believe this change came in the right time, because we did a very different job than the one I had been doing up there in the ring. I exploited my best traits to the fullest, and I incorporated new things”.
Farias’ new team, headed by the experienced Juan Ledesma, comes in at a very special moment in her career, when expectations are unusually high. But Farias trusts that the job she has been doing with him will accumulate on top of his previous work to generate the best performance of her career.
“I’ve been told many times that I am not a fighter who works the body enough, or perhaps I need to loosen up a bit more, and today with Juan I believe we have reached some important improvements and this will be seen on the day of the fight,” she said. “It’s not only fighting Cecilia and bringing all four crowns to Argentina, but also developing all of what we have been working on during this time.”
The stress of an imminent fight against such an outstanding opponent could break other fighters, but Farias is known for dancing her way to the ring and ending her fights with a smile, even after her only defeat to date which came in Belgium against Delfine Persoon back in 2014. And it is not strange to see that the imminence of a challenge that would take the air out of the lungs of any other fighter would provoke the exact opposite reaction in Farias.
“To me, this whole thing is a party,” she said, without even considering that this will be only the fourth time she will be fighting abroad in her career. “From the moment in which I learned that I would fight Cecilia I enjoyed this whole thing to the max. I had the chance to visit Norway twice, and I am psychologically in the fight now. I have already been there, I met the people and the place, and now I am going in with only one goal in mind, which is to beat Braekhus.”
If she wins that fight, Farias would become only the second Argentine fighter (male or female) to grab all four titles from the major sanctioning bodies, a feat that took her friend, the legendary Marcela Acuña, an entire career to achieve, little by little and in different weight classes. And the enormity of that potential achievement is not lost to her.
“As a fighter, you always want to be a champion and to own all four titles, right? This is every champion’s dream. And I have the opportunity tonight to win all four titles, and this would be like reaching the sky for me,” she said, when confronted with the idea of becoming the “female Chino Maidana” and repeating his quest to defeat the “female Mayweather” in her own backyard.
“There is a lot of expectation in Argentina for this fight, and I feel loved and truly accepted by the fans and the media. I feel that there is a lot of people following me in this important opportunity, and I feel happy,” said Farias. “I am enjoying every moment, and I will come out to enjoy the evening. I believe that the onus is on her, because she is fighting at home and in front of her people, and she’s going to want to give them a show. Many people think that this fight could be similar to Maidana vs. Mayweather, but this might be different because she could go out and bring the fight to me, looking to show off in front of her fans.”
In spite of her great repertoire and her aggression in the ring, Farias knows that the magnitude of her challenge clamors for a clear strategy, and she believes she has it.
“The idea is to stay away from her game, because most of the fighters who faced Braekhus have respected her too much and have fallen into her game of coming in and out and feint and keeping the opponent off balance and entangle them, and this has been usual in her fights,” she said. “I haven’t seen anyone putting any real pressure on her, I haven’t seen her in trouble before. The key here is to have a ‘cold mind and a hot heart,’ sticking to the plan and performing as I am told in the corner, working round after round, and the only voice I will hear will be the one coming from my coach. If we did it in the gym, we can do it again up there in the ring. Cecilia is not a machine, she is a human being and can lose too.”
Physically, the always impeccably prepared Farias has all the tools to impose her strength if the fight moves into phone booth territory. But the psychological aspect is also in play, and Farias has been working on this ever since she started openly harassing and calling out Braekhus on social media for a few years now, only to then travel to Norway to continue her campaign face to face. And from those encounters she has drawn the conclusion that this aspect of the confrontation is well taken care of.
“I never thought she was a cold person, not at all,” said Farias, disproving those who see Braekhus as a cerebral fighter with a behavior more related to the calmness of her adoptive homeland than the one from her hot South American birthplace. “Just by having her in front of me at the press conference and looking into her eyes, her gestures and movements, I have noticed weaknesses too. One knows when the other person is nervous or worried, and I don’t think this will be just another fight for her, she said so herself. She said that against Farias she had to be at 110% and she knows that this is a fight in which she will be pressured.”
That extra ten percent could be either physical or mental, and Farias claims to have found a way to project that extra mental fortitude from his mind into Braekhus without even landing a punch to her head.
“My stare will be lethal, no words will be necessary. I will never take my eyes away from here, that’s the key. I will put pressure on her all the time just to let her know that I will beat her, and that I am coming for her titles, not just to visit her country like the others,” she said.
But a hard stare is not enough to mold the new bricks that are needed to continue building her personal legacy. The sweat, tears, blood and manual labor needed are still the main ingredients of a recipe in which Farias has placed her highest hopes, and now that this soft mass of clay lays in front of her at the reach of her fingers, the moment is right to make one final push.
Whether this push brings her any closer to victory or not, nothing will take away from Farias the joy of having arrived and the gratitude of having the opportunity to live to experience it.
“I love challenges,” she said. “As a fighter I am always chasing big things. If I dwell in the mediocrity of picking easy opponents that do not push me hard enough or that are never at their best, I end up being just a good local fighter in Argentina, but I want to be the best pound-for-pound, and to reach for the highest possible level. That’s why I get such joy from fights like these. I am not worried or stressed. On the contrary, I am grateful for having this opportunity.”
(Photo courtesy of OFR Promotions)