Alan Hubbard

This Saturday will see British boxing history get made when Nicola Adams skips through the ropes at the Manchester Arena to make her professional debut.

The 34-year-old from Leeds is one of three British fistic stars who are currently reflecting on how the Olympics have made them the personalities they are, contributing substantially to their current fame – and varying fortunes.  

Double gold medallist and women’s boxing pioneer Adams admits that for her, none of this could have happened had women not been admitted to the Olympic ring.

Had the barrier to female boxing at the Olympics not been removed for London 2012, she admits: “My future would have gone down the road to acting following my appearances as an extra in EastEnders and Coronation Street.”

In 2012, Adams became the first female ever to win an Olympic gold medal and last year in Rio was the first to successfully defend one.

She adds: “But for the Olympics opening up for us it would have taken many more years for women’s boxing to make a real break-through.

“If it hadn’t happened then it probably would have been too late for me. I’ve been lucky with the timing. Before 2012 a lot of the public didn’t even know women boxed.

“I guess it’s been the same for all women’s sports. Thirty years or so ago, Paula Radcliffe would not have been allowed to take part in long-distance running.”

The women’s marathon was not introduced to the Olympics until the Los Angeles Games in 1984. As Nicola she points out, it took even longer for the fears for women’s health to be overcome in boxing.

Subsequently Adams stormed to a clean sweep of all the major titles in the amateur game. Now her aim is to become a multi-weight world professional champion and top the bill in Las Vegas.

First stop is a redoubtable Argentinean Virginia Noemi Carcoma, who has had seven pro fights, winning four and drawing one, and is known as La Tigresa (The Tigress). No doubt claws will out in a sound initiation test for Nicola’s much-vaunted pro debut over four two-minute rounds in Manchester where unbeaten but largely unheralded local star Terry Flanagan tops the bill in the fifth a defence of his world lightweight title against Russian hard nut Petr Petrov.

But there is little doubt that Adams will steal the show televised live under the new TV combo of Frank Warren’s BoxNation and BT.

Double Olympic champion Nicola Adams has proven to be a popular star of women's boxing ©Getty Images
Double Olympic champion Nicola Adams has proven to be a popular star of women's boxing ©Getty Images

At the ringside will be her Texan partner Marlen Esparza, who took bronze behind her in London and won her first pro fight in the US last month.

For not only was Adams pioneer for women’s boxing in Britain, but she was among the first home grown sports personalities to "come out".

Happily, it is a situation that has found total acceptance in the most macho of sports.

And in her corner will be esteemed American trainer Virgil Hunter, who also looks after such accomplished fighters as Amir Khan and Andre Ward.

Now here’s another funny thing.

A few years back, I sat near Amir at an Amateur Boxing Association finals at London’s ExCel Arena. Midway through they staged a women’s bout for the first time in a major championships and I noticed that he kept his head buried in the programme for its entire duration, never glancing at the contestants.

He had admitted to me that he neither liked nor approved of women’s boxing, declaring that sisters of sock like Nicola Adams "should stick to tennis".

Well, again, how times change. Ironically, they are stablemates now, training alongside each other in Hunter’s gym in Hayward, California, just over the Golden Gate bridge from San Francisco.

Amir confesses that, like once-sceptical veteran promoter Warren, he did a U-turn after watching her win her first Olympic title in London. “Nicola has proved everyone wrong, including me and there is no doubt it is a sport for females too," he said.

"When she first came into the gym she was a bit shy and obviously wanted to prove herself. She did that pretty quickly. She has real power.”

Not that they have sparred together. When asked about sparring with Adams, Khan said: “No thank you. I’m not getting into the ring with this lady.”

Trainer Hunter describes the fast-fisted flyweight as "an immense talent", adding: "She has still got an upside. She’ll be in the fast track. She’s really good and women’s boxing is catching the imagination now.”

I have known Nicola since her early amateur years and have long been an advocate of ladies who punch while acknowledging that theirs is a continuing fight for genuine recognition.

Unlike in the United States, where Muhammad Ali’s decorative daughter Laila was both talented and telegenic, as is their only 2016 boxing gold medallist Claressa Shields now, British boxing has taken its time to shed a chauvinistic image.

But it is getting there thanks to Nicola and fellow Olympic star Katie Taylor.

Ireland's Katie Taylor, left, is another Olympic women's boxing champion who has turned professional ©Getty Images
Ireland's Katie Taylor, left, is another Olympic women's boxing champion who has turned professional ©Getty Images

Irish icon Taylor may have beaten Adams to the punch by turning pro first, but there is no question in my mind as to who will be the bigger draw.

Taylor has a massive fan base in Ireland where she is a goddess in gloves, but she is a relatively hard sell here because though a brilliant boxer, she lacks pizzazz, whereas Adams has achieved the status of national treasure not just because of her fistic prowess but that ever-effervescent, sunny persona.

And as she has demonstrated in appearances on shows such as 8 out of 10 Cats, Good Morning Britain and Room 101, she is a TV natural. Her smile lights up the screen – and British sport.

So never mind what Katie does, Adams truly is the First Lady of boxing.

Her professional debut in Manchester precedes a “homecoming” fight in Leeds on May 13.

This marks a nostalgic return to her home city – she recently moved to Hackney in east London – for it was there as a 13-year-old that she had her first bout in a small, smoky ex-servicemen’ club.

“After that I couldn’t find another tournament until I was 17," she says.

“It will be amazing to box there again. But first I want to box well and excite the crowd in Manchester."

No doubt she will.

And she adds: “I’m really looking forward to fighting without headguards covering my face. It will be the first time in the ring that people will see me properly.”

Warren, who says he genuinely changed his mind after his wife and daughter called him "a dinosaur" recognises that Nicola’s is now the most familiar face in British boxing, even more so than fellow Olympic gold medallist and now world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s.

And in boxing, charisma carries the sort of clout which will enable Adams to handsomely cash on her gold medals.

The International Boxing Association's (AIBA) development of women’s boxing has seen both the sport’s popularity and the level of competition soar since the first world championships were held in 2001. Stars like Adams, Taylor, Shields and Mary Kom of India have helped the competition garner unprecedented exposure.

Amir Khan has gone from not being convinced by women's boxing to a convert of the discipline after training alongside Nicola Adams ©Getty Images
Amir Khan has gone from not being convinced by women's boxing to a convert of the discipline after training alongside Nicola Adams ©Getty Images

As with Adams, I go back a long way with Khan, first watching him as a schoolboy champion, then our youngest-ever Olympic medallist – he took silver against the legendary Cuban Mario Kindelan - through to his world title ups and downs. Over the years, I got to know him and his folks well.

So I feel great sadness that news of the acrimonious family split has featured so prominently in the public prints.

If what Amir says is true, that those close to him have walked away after his shattering knock-out by Canelo Alvarez, believing that the gravy train has come to a halt, it is a quite shocking state of affairs.

Amir once told me that he felt he was something of a cash cow, financially supporting a dozen family members and friends who formed an entourage almost as huge as Muhammad Ali’s.

But I believe there is even more to it than that. Since his marriage to a very modern young American Muslim woman, he has become more his own man, less dependent on the Khan clan’s traditional values and involvement with his career. 

I am not sure where Amir, now 30, goes from here but despite some youthful aberrations, he’s a terrific person who continues to do wonders for charity and community relations and I wish him well.

Hopefully he still has plenty of fight left in him.

Completing our newsworthy trio of Olympic notables is James DeGale, who proved an entertaining and quotable lunch guest for the Boxing Writers Club at Soho’s Little Italy last week.

The 2008 Olympic gold medallist and now IBF super-world middleweight champion – the first Briton to win titles on Olympic and world title stages - has matured into a much more personable and fan-friendly character from the time when he was booed in Birmingham on his professional debut.

The once chippy ‘Chunky’ who said he was like Marmite is now far more loved than loathed. Changing times again in boxing, and for the better.