When Shannon Courtenay returns to the boxing ring on December 10 she will be coming back to the scene of the lowest point of her career.
The 29-year-old is preparing for what she calls her ‘comeback’ against an unnamed opponent following more than a year of inactivity.
Her absence from the squared circle has been caused by the sparring accident that left her with ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments and a dislocated right knee.
She was then due to appear on the undercard of Chris Eubank Jr’s bout with Conor Benn, only for the October event to fall through following the latter’s failed drugs tests.
It was on March 26 at Leeds’ First Direct Arena, where Josh Warrington defeated Kiko Martinez and where Courtenay was commentating, that she feared she would never box again.
Almost nine months on, at the very same venue, she will do exactly that.
Convinced she is not only significantly physically stronger, the ex-WBA bantamweight champion also believes she is mentally transformed.
Courtenay told talkSPORT: “I can remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to box again – this is over for me – I don’t know how to come to terms with it’.
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“After the first operation, when it wasn’t getting any better and I was in more pain, I actually thought I’d never be able to box again.
“I was living on crutches. I thought I’d never run again, let alone box. I look like I’ve been attacked by a shark, I’ve got so many scars on my leg, but the second operation was a success, thank God.
“The first operation didn’t go 100 per cent to plan. I fought with the ruptured ACL and lost my world title because of it, because I could only go in straight lines. I was living in pain, but I was told by the WBA I had to fight.
“I had to learn how to walk again – that’s how serious it was – with help. I got put on a machine and taught how to walk again. It wasn’t easy for me.
“My feet were out of place. I spent months and months in so much pain, but I’m a stubborn little cow and I refused to take medication.
“For the first eight, nine months [I was injured] I refused to watch boxing. It just hurt so much.
“I [usually] sit there at night-time and go on YouTube to watch old fights – I love boxing – but I wouldn’t watch anything. I was depressed from the whole thing.
“When there was a big women’s fight on, I loved it was getting new eyes on the sport, but it was a frustrating time for me.”
It was April’s fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, revered as the finest staged between two women, that troubled her.
More recently Claressa Shields, widely recognised as the finest female fighter of all time, defeated Savannah Marshall.
And while away on a holiday during which she often trained twice a day and at a time when she had rediscovered her faith in her body and her enthusiasm for boxing, Courtenay relished every round.
She added: “I was in Dubai for it but I set my alarm and woke up in the middle of the night to watch it on my phone, because I knew it was going to be a huge fight.
“The next day, by the pool, people were stopping me. ‘Did you see the fight?’ Everyone was talking about it – it really was a talking point. It was amazing.
“I won a world title during lockdown, with no crowd, which was gutting for me. The first time I defended it I’m doing it with, pretty much, one leg. ‘I’m going to lose this fight because I can’t actually move.’ That was devastating.
“I’ve got a new mindset; I’m a lot happier; I’m finally being myself on camera. I’m enjoying boxing a lot more, because I’m happy. I’d started to hate it because I was so miserable.
“All I care about is getting my world title back. Where I’ve got a different mindset, I’m able to absorb more of what my coaches are saying.
“I’ve got a greater understanding of what I’m doing and why. Before, I’d go through the motions because I wanted to get out of the gym. I’ve [still] got so much to learn.
“I hadn’t retired but I do see it as a comeback because I’m coming back as a different person.”
Courtenay credits her appearance on reality TV programme, Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins as the catalyst for the change in her outlook.
A friendship with Calum Best – like Courtenay, the child of a parent troubled by alcoholism – strengthened, and another developed with Ferne McCann, contributed to her addressing so much of what she had retained from a difficult start to life.
Her willingness, as she describes it, to be ‘vulnerable’ has also increased her profile and popularity when she was already established among the most marketable female fighters.
Should she return to winning ways on her comeback, Courtneay has also been promised another shot at the WBA title she won against Ebanie Bridges in April 2021.
She then lost the strap on the scales, while injured, ahead of what would have been her first defence against Jamie Mitchell that October.
Reflecting on her appearance on Celebrity SAS, Courtenay stated: “Mentally, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve done.
“To let yourself be vulnerable – I went on TV in front of millions, and I let my guard down and showed the real me. People realised I’m a little bit of a nervous person, and what you’d seen beforehand was a bit of a front.
“Me covering up that I actually used to hate myself and I was unhappy in life. I used to wear massive sunglasses to hide my face because I was so unhappy.
“Saying these things out loud and talking about my childhood – how I didn’t have the greatest start in life – really allowed me to be vulnerable, break down the barriers, and build myself up again. Which is what I did.
“I made fantastic friends – people who aren’t in the boxing world – who helped me see myself in a different light. Ferne’s become one of my closest friends.
“Calum lost his dad because of him being an alcoholic as well, so we was able to bond quite a lot about that, which helped me a lot.
“After this fight, I want to start working with different charities for children that have been affected by losing a parent through addiction. It helped me a lot.”
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