Home Australia Fed up with being told they’re “too pretty to box,” fighters punch their way from a backyard shed to the world stage.

Fed up with being told they’re “too pretty to box,” fighters punch their way from a backyard shed to the world stage.

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A boxer raises her fists.

A backyard shed on the Gold Coast is a far cry from a roaring crowd at a casino on the glittering Las Vegas strip.

But that’s where Skye Nicolson’s journey to world domination began.

The 28-year-old is one of three Australian women who began training together in a converted garage and are fighting for world titles this year.

The shed, formally known as Albert Boxing Club, was where Allan Nicolson trained his sister Skye on his family property in Yatala with Che Kenneally and Cherneka Johnson.

‘This is my time’

Undefeated as a professional boxer with an Olympic performance and a Commonwealth gold medal under her belt, Nicolson will fight Sarah Mahfoud for the vacant World Boxing Council featherweight title on Sunday morning (Australian time).

Skye Nicolson photographed in Las Vegas this week.(Supplied: Christopher Bustamate, Pride of Boxing Photography)

Despite her impeccable professional fight record of nine wins and zero losses, Nicolson is still told she is “too pretty to box.”

Even upon entering a training gym in Las Vegas this week, Nicolson was asked if she was there to practice volleyball.

Nicolson said the interaction was indicative of the attitudes she and many other female boxers often faced.

“I guess just wait until you see me fight; wait until you see what I can do,” he said.

“I know people aren’t offensive when they say it, but it would be nice if they looked at you simply for who you are and what you’re accomplishing, rather than just your exterior.”

Skye Nicolson with hands in boxing wraps shadow boxing

Nicolson will fight Sarah Mahfound in a bid for the vacant WBC women’s featherweight title.(Supplied: Allen Alcantara)

Nicolson turned professional about two years ago after some soul-searching and a heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinals of the Tokyo Olympics.

On the eve of his first title fight, he said he was “living his destiny.”

“My whole life has been boxing for 17 years and everything has led up to this moment,” Nicolson said.

“This is my time. I’m ready.”

Skye Nicolson hitting pads with a trainer at a boxing camp.

Nicolson turned professional and moved to the UK two years ago.(Supplied: Photography by Johnny Ghosts)

Where everything began

Nicolson first put on the gloves at age 12 and grew up as women’s boxing gained momentum around the world.

“Part of that journey was also when Cherneka and Che joined the Albert Boxing Club as teenagers,” he said.

“When I think back, it was the three of us in the same gym in my parents’ backyard for years… and I think that was probably a big part of our development in the sport for all three of us.”

A loss “just makes me hungrier”

Cherneka Johnson will face defending champion Nina Hughes for the WBA bantamweight title on May 12 in Perth.

Boxer Cherneka Johnson after training

Cherneka Johnson will face defending champion Nina Hughes for the WBA bantamweight title.(Supplied: Renée Oliver)

Johnson won the International Boxing Federation super bantamweight title in 2022, but lost the belt last year to Ellie Scotney.

The 29-year-old now has her sights set on becoming a unified world champion in all major sanctioning body competitions.

“After a loss, I get a lot hungrier… I deserve to be here and I know I’m going to become a world champion again,” Johnson said.

A boxer faces her opponent.

Johnson has her sights set on becoming a unified world champion in all major sanctioning body competitions.(Supplied: Renée Oliver)

The Brisbane expat now fights out of Melbourne, but started box-fit classes at her local Police Citizen Youth Club before joining Albert Boxing.

“Boxing has made me the person I am today,” Johnson said.

“I always remember where I started… the journey I have taken to get here was not easy.”

A mother and a fighter

When Che Kenneally became pregnant during COVID-19, many wrote off her boxing career.

Che Kenneally standing with his hands on his hips.

Che Kenneally will fight for a world title two years after giving birth to her daughter Havana.(Supplied: Che Kenneally)

Now, two years later, Gold Coaster will fight Angie Rocha for the WBA world heavyweight title in June after successfully defending her Australasian heavyweight title in early March.

If she wins, the 29-year-old’s comeback will break Australian boxing legend Jeff Fenech’s record of winning a world title in the fewest fights ever.

 Sequita Hemmingway boxing with Che Kenneally

Kenneally (right) beat Sequita Hemmingway in Ipswich during March.(Supplied: Che Kenneally)

“I really wanted to show everyone else that I wasn’t done with boxing yet and that a baby doesn’t keep you from your dreams,” Kenneally said.

“I want to be a world champion, but I also want to show my daughter that we are capable of achieving great things if we work hard enough for them.”

Kenneally took up boxing to stay in shape for international track and field competitions, but also worked as a model.

Che Kenneally kissing her two-year-old daughter Habana.

Kenneally with her two-year-old daughter Habana.(Supplied: Che Kenneally)

“People always told me, ‘You don’t want to hit your nose,'” he said.

“Well, why not? Well, why can’t you be pretty, smart, athletic, and independent?”

Paving the way

For Nicolson, whatever the outcome of this weekend, taking women’s boxing to the next level is what she wants to leave as a legacy.

“I feel like women’s boxing is definitely still in its infancy. It’s come a long way, but we’re still a long way from where it’s going,” she said.

“I feel like it’s our job to be a part of that movement and be a part of that growth.

“Che, Cherneka, myself and many female boxers around the world are creating that path for the next generation of girls. We have a very important role to play.”

Former Gold Coast boxer Skye Nicolson training in London

Nicolson wants her legacy to pave the way for the next generation of female boxers.(Supplied: Photography by Johnny Ghosts)

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