Braekhus Survives Reis In Historic HBO Televised Fight
By Felipe Leon
LOS ANGELES-Despite employing a war dance in her ring walk and dropping the undefeated and undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus in the seventh round, it just wasn’t enough for the game Kali Reis (13-7-1, 4KO) to score the upset with Braekhus (33-0, 9KO) defending her WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO titles with a unpopular unanimous decision over ten rounds.
Braekhus was awarded a unanimous decision that was met with some jeers from the nearly 8,000 fans in attendance at the StubHub Center in Carson, California. Judge Tim Cheatham scored it a much too wide 97-92 while Edward Hernandez and Zac Young had it a much more credible 96-93 each.
“I haven’t had so much fun in such a long time,” Braekhus said with a laugh after the fight. “She was an amazing opponent. I needed someone that would bring out the best of me so I went two divisions up and got the former world champion and I knew she would just come for the belt and give everything. She was definitely a worthy opponent for this historical fight.”
The championship fight was a historic one since it was the first time in over 40 years the HBO network broadcasted a female fight on their airwaves.
Despite Braekhus having fought in Florida in 2008, that fight was stricken from the record and this fight against Reis was listed as her first across the pond from her home country of Norway.
Reis, who dropped down from 160 pounds to challenge Breakhus, was coming off three straight wins since suffering her last defeat at the fists of WBC and WBO middleweight champion Christina Hammer in late 2016.
“She was definitely the biggest opponent I have faced,” Braekhus stated of the size difference. “That is one of the reasons I picked her because in my weight division I have pretty much beaten all of the competitive girls and that is what I needed to really bring a competitive fight.”
As expected the slightly taller and leaner Breakhus applied her boxing skills from the opening bell using her lateral movement to stay away from the more aggressive Reis. Reis looked cool, calm and collected as she bided her time and looked for her opening.
Braekhus continued to pump her jab in the opening stanzas of the fight as the crowd grew slightly impatient from the lack of action. Reis looked to counterpunch but wasn’t quick enough off the trigger to catch the defending champion. Braekhus tried to incorporate her right hand but wasn’t finding the range and at the end of the round Reis scored with a well-placed left hook.
By the third the 36-year-old Breakhus began to land that right hand to the chin of Reis but the Rhode Island native walked right through the attack. Reis kept attacking in the fourth but Braekhus mobility made her tough to catch while at the same time she began to attack the body of Reis.
Braekhus looked in control midway through the fight as she doubled the hook and then followed up with the right hand to start the round. Covered in a fine layer of sweat Braekhus looked adjusted while she dominated the exchanges and began to amp up her tempo.
It looked as if Braekhus was on her way to an easy unanimous win but the tough Reis, 31, was not surrendering and in the seventh round changed the tide of the fight with a hard right hand that wobbled Braekhus and nearly dropped her. Braekhus used the bottom rope to steady herself and thus it was correctly ruled a knocked down, the first of her career.
“She is very strong, she is bigger than me,” the undisputed world champion said of the first knockdown of her career. “It was a good shot. I don’t want to take anything away from her. She fought a great fight and she definitely studied me. I got back on my feet and finished the fight. It happened, I just pulled myself together and finished the fight.”
The knockdown gave Reis hope as she stepped up her attack and began to look for that right hand again. She found it again at the end of the eighth scoring a left hook followed with another flush right hand square to the face of the champion. Braekhus was visibly hurt but the bell saved her from any more punishment.
Braekhus began to hold in the ninth and tenth, anything to try to slow down the pace the aggressive Reis was offering. Braekhus went back to boxing but Reis was able to find her much easier now than in the beginning rounds and kept looking for that right hand that might close the show.
“I felt I had the second half of the fight, the scores were a little weird,” the outspoken Reis said regarding the unpopular decision. “I felt after the 10-8 round it would have been a little closer. It is what it is, we made history tonight, I am not going to make excuses. I am very proud of myself and Cecilia and of women’s boxing.”
“We did women’s boxing due diligence and opened that door,” Reis said after the fight. “It was a learning experience. I am going to stay at welterweight because I want the rematch and there are more opportunities here. I feel comfortable, we did it the right way, I just didn’t dry out from 160. I gradually got down there and we’ll see what the future holds.”
“Definitely, I have to see the fight of course and if that is something of interest I would definitely do that,” Braekhus said of a possible rematch. “For sure, if that is something of interest, absolutely.”
“Kali Reis came to take the titles and hitting Cecilia with some of those shots that she did, you can tell she was very hungry, she fought her heart out” Tom Loeffler, Braekhus’ promoter, said at the post fight press conference. “Cecilia showed why she is the only undisputed champion in the sport of boxing. Her technical skill is above any other female fighter in the sport and she showed how she was able to outbox a much bigger opponent, a very dangerous opponent like Kali Reis.”
Now with her US and major network debut under her belt, Braekhus was asked of future opponents and her thoughts on facing them. When asked of Claressa Shields, the current WBC and IBF super middleweight champion who is dropping down to 160 pounds for her next fight, Braekhus looked to her trainer Jonathan Banks for the answer.
“You have two different fighters, two different styles,” Banks explained regarding Shields. “I think in this fight she showed some sparks of what she can do as far as moving and boxing and I think this is what this sport is all about. When she was boxing, she was doing a great job in my opinion and when she traded and got caught, it didn’t erase any of the previous rounds that she was winning.”
“With Claressa, that is a different animal,” Banks continued. “You can’t compare these two fighters in the same category. You got a two-time gold medalist against somebody that doesn’t have a gold medal (meaning Reis). At the same time I am not trying to take anything away from Reis because she has a very good championship spirit. I just think those are two different level fighters and Cecilia would have to bring her A game every second of every round to beat Claressa Shields.”
As far as the #1 ranked IBF welterweight contender Layla McCarter, Braekhus didn’t want to say much.
“We are in talks with her,” Braekhus said of McCarter. “We have for a long time and I hope we can figure something out. I don’t like to do this public, on Twitter, on Facebook, I don’t do that, in my book it happens the right way between managers and promoters. I don’t want to say anything about it.”
Tom Loeffler did say something about it.
“There was some pretty high financial expectations on McCarter’s side,” Loeffler revealed when he interjected. “It didn’t even fit the HBO budget, couldn’t meet those expectations. She was the mandatory, she took a fight in Mexico and as the mandatory you are not allowed to do that. If something like that presents itself and the financial expectations are realistic for what works, certainly that is something to consider but that is a pretty direct answer of why that fight has not happened.”
(Photo by Al Applerose)