Instructor Spotlight: Meet Hannah Rankin

29th July

Boxing pro Hannah is one of those people who has worked hard and seen all her dreams come true. No, we’re not (just) talking about becoming a Gymbox instructor. She’s recently achieved… a new world Rankin. Welterweight to make a tenuous pun, eh? Resident blogger Kat caught up with the woman herself to see how the view’s looking up at the top, via a few detours on training, pub quiz-level fame and bossing the bassoon. Talk about multi-talented…

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Hannah, you’ve officially won the super welterweight world title. Congrats! How did you mentally prepare for that given it was your third world title attempt?

The first two attempts that I’d had were out of my own weight class…[but] this one was a super welterweight, which is my true training weight. It was where I felt most comfortable, so mentally I felt in a really good place. I felt super strong, super confident, and really ready to go for it!

I’d spent a lot of time away from my family and my friends. I was away for about 5 weeks in training camps split between New York and Poland, so it really allowed me to get focused on the job at hand.

How did it feel winning the fight?

Amazing! They asked “How do you feel?” and I said “I’m not someone who doesn’t talk much, but I don’t have much to say on the matter!” [laughs] I was overwhelmed with happiness.

I went into the ring with the mindset of “I’m not leaving this room without the belt around my waist.” ...I knew I’d won it, I knew it when it was getting called out, but you always have these horrible little moments where you think “what if it isn’t me?!”

I’m sure, especially since it was in Scotland, on home ground.

Oh yeah, I mean the Scottish support has been insane. Massive shout-out to the whole of Scotland for their support! I think the fight had over 20,000 views on the BBC. A huge thank you to my manager, Sam Kynock, for working with BBC Scotland to get that sorted out.

They haven’t had boxing on there for a while, it was a woman's fight, and I was headlining the card...it’s not often that you get women’s fights on TV at the moment, so it was a big leap of faith for them to put it on. It was on at 11pm, so it was a big thing and we had a huge turnout for it. Loads of people came to the fight itself, so we had great ticket sales for it too.

I still have people messaging me being like “we’re so proud to have a new Scottish world champion,” people I don’t even know! That’s amazing, a really special feeling. To do something for your own country is always going to be special.

It’s always nerve-wracking because it’s in front of all your family and friends. I’ve boxed in some massive stadiums in America, for world titles on Matchroom USA and Sky Sports, but this is what I was most nervous for, because I was at home, in my country, in front of my own people, my own family and friends. It was the most stressful fight I’ve ever had!

I also made a bit of history for Scotland. I became their first female world champion for boxing, ever. Someone said to me, my favourite quote of the whole event, “you know what Hannah, one day you’ll be an answer to a pub quiz question.” And I thought you know what, what a claim to fame, I’ll take that! [laughs]

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The FIFA Women’s World Cup recently finished with record breaking audiences. Now that’s happened, have you noticed a knock-on effect on other women’s sports in terms of popularity and support?

Definitely, I feel like Scotland’s having a really positive push towards women in sport. I think I’ve even seen it more positively [there] than down here in England…

People are noticing that yes, it’s different from the men’s sports...But I think people are beginning to see it for what it is, and it’s fantastic to watch. Especially women’s boxing! My fights are ten, two minute rounds. Two minutes – it goes by so fast, if you blink, you’ll miss stuff. Whereas in the men’s, they’ll have three-minute rounds, so they can set stuff up a bit more. For us, it’s so quick. It makes it quite exciting.

The fact people had a chance to watch the fight really helps build the sport itself because if we don’t get TV time, we don’t get a chance to build connections with the fans and actually build a fan base. The problem was the chicken and egg thing - people didn’t want to watch it, but how did they know they didn’t want to watch it when they’ve never been shown it?!

I’m really excited to see where we’re going to go from this, because I can just see women’s sport starting to slowly creep up [in popularity].

Do you feel like there’s been an influx in women being interested in boxing?

Since I started boxing compared to now, there’s a lot more girls. I’ve really noticed it in the classes that I take. I started doing Gymbox glasses for training, and now I actually teach those classes, which is really special. I get to see people at the beginning, where I was. Some of them go on to do white collar fights and I’m pleased to see that happening.

I think some women like to have a female instructor, especially in a combat sport, because it can seem quite daunting or intimidating to have a male instructor. I think that’s why I enjoy teaching because I can say to people “I was there where you are now, so I know where you’re coming from.”

I definitely think that boxing should be used more with young people in general, because we’ve got a lot of angry and frustrated teenagers out there, and I think boxing is a great way of getting rid of some frustration and anger. It’s also a great way to tire yourself out! By the time you’ve finished, you’re not thinking about doing anything ridiculous! I think it’s going to take a bit of time before the government sees it as a positive thing to be brought into schools, but I’m pushing for that.

I think it’s quite ironic because most boxers I’ve spoken to are incredibly positive, optimistic and cheerful.

Yes - we’re the last people to get into fights…! We’re calm, laid back, and in control of ourselves. Boxing teaches you all of that, as most combat sports do. They teach you respect and discipline. Whether you think you’re being taught discipline or not is a completely different matter. [Laughs]

This is why I think it would be great for kids, and also for young girls, it’s quite empowering for them. It gives you that confidence in yourself and you can feel strong. When I was in London, I used to feel a little bit nervous walking around late at night, but when I started boxing I started to feel a new sense of confidence in myself.

I often see this happening with girls in my classes. It’s not like you start looking for fights on the street, but you don’t get as many people harassing you. I think you just exude more “I’m confident in myself, I know what I’m doing.”

There’s so many positives in doing boxing, not to mention it’s an epic workout! You can’t do a boxing session without feeling like you’ve worked hard at the end of it.

I think the sport needs to be pushed a lot more and I want to be at the forefront of that. I work with a charity called Active Communities Network and they help get kids involved with sports, get them active, get them off the streets and give them the opportunity to get a qualification in coaching, so it’s something that’s quite close to my heart.

To see these kids develop is great. Hopefully I can do more of that.

As a coach, how does it feel watching people you’ve taught win a fight?

There’s nothing better! Just tonight, at Holborn, there was a guy there who’s been coming to my classes for maybe five, six months now. I noticed him today at the pads and stopped him to say “congratulations, what an improvement!”

It’s so satisfying to see somebody who started off all elbows and knees, no coordination, to suddenly see them do that.

I’ve had some girls in my class go on to do white collar fights, and they’ve messaged me beforehand asking for last minute advice. Even if they don’t win, to see them so proud of their achievement, to actually be up there...doing a white collar fight is a big thing! If you’re one of those people who wants to set themselves challenges like a marathon, Tough Mudder, Iron Man, all that type of stuff, then a white collar fight is something you should do.

It’s a really special connection when I’m in the corner on fight night and I’m seeing my fighter, who has gone through their 8 weeks of training, pull it all off. You just feel so proud! And you get so attached to them all too. There’s a real moment of “I’m so proud to see that,” especially because I love teaching.

I do a lot of music teaching as well as boxing. I work with kids a lot, but I teach adults too. I just love working out what makes people tick and how they can best learn from what you’ve got to tell them. Sometimes you’ll explain something and about 85% of your class understands exactly what you mean, but the last 15% needs to be taught in a different way.

I find the balance you have between sport and music super interesting. Do you think that having a break from one helps with the other?

I was given the best bit of advice I’ve ever been given when I started my masters at the Royal Academy of Music. One of the lecturers said to us “I do not want to see you in a practice room at one hour and then six hours later see you there again. I want to see you do two hours, be productive in those two hours and get things done, then go out and go for a run, go to the park, go to the gym... go for a walk and be active, because you’ll notice a massive difference in your performance and your ability to learn.”

If you’re just slogging it out for six hours in a practice room - and let me tell you, that did happen, because you’re so focused on getting something right - you’re not as productive as you should be, though you convince yourself you can stay a bit longer. I thank them for that because it’s what got me going down to the gym. It just cleared my head, gave me time off from thinking about how far my third finger was away from the hole to make a perfect trill! [laughs] It was really helpful.

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Music is really good for the soul and is something I will always have in my life. It was my first love, and I’m really lucky that I have a career which I can come back to and be involved in at an older age, potentially when I retire.

I’m still heavily involved in it, I play the bassoon a lot with my quintet. We do lots of concerts for Live Music Now, which takes us into care homes. We do a lot for older people living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and work with kids who have special educational needs. It’s so rewarding, and also so interactive. It’s a great outlet for my energy.

Both definitely help each other. Boxing helped my performance anxiety when I first started to box and when I did my first white collar fight. It totally put all the nerves about doing a recital or concert into perspective because I was like “no one is trying to punch me in my face right now!” [laughs]...It put it all into perspective and I was able to enjoy performances so much more.

Given that you’ve just won a world title, what’s your next goal?

I have to defend my title...and I would love to unify the super welterweight division. As a division, it’s got some strong people in it.

There’s 5 governing bodies and there are five titles available with different people. There’s four of us who have them at the moment. I have the IBO, there is also the IBF, WBA, WBC, and WBO. All of these are separate bodies and they each have different champions. So to get these titles, I have to fight those champions and win as a unification fight...

How have you found the media attention after the win, has it increased dramatically?

Massively! I’m still really impressed with how long it’s been rolling on. We’re now into the fourth week since the fight and people are still getting in touch, articles are coming out, interviews are getting done.

People are really interested in my dual career, my personal and family life, and also where I’ve come from to become a world champion and what I want to do next. It’s been quite amazing, I wasn’t expecting so much attention!

It’s good that it’s happened! For you obviously, but as we were saying, for women in general too

100%! Someone said to me, “you must feel great to be a role model for young girls.” And it does feel great. It makes me so proud that maybe one day someone will decide to take a boxing career, even though they do something else too.

One thing for me is that I want to smash that stereotype that’s like “if you do music, you can’t do sport,” or vice versa. That’s a lie, that’s utter bollocks! I want people to feel that if they work hard enough at something, and want something bad enough...you can do anything. And I want to be that person who young girls look up to and think “I want to do that, I can be like that.”

Just having young girls contacting me asking me questions about the sport, or asking me “what should I do about this training, what’s your advice?” Even better, I have their dads contacting me! It makes me really proud that it’s people’s fathers contacting me because it means men in families are getting behind their daughters in sports.

I’m so lucky that my dad and my fiancé have been to every single one of my fights and they back me whatever the outcome, win or lose. They’re always there and are always proud of me. I can’t imagine being in a situation where my dad didn’t approve of what I wanted to do, or he thought girls shouldn’t do that. So I’m really proud people’s fathers are contacting me! It’s great.

What’s something you would say to people who are looking to start doing boxing professionally?

If you’re looking to take it further than just doing boxing classes, I would say go and join an amateur club because they’re fantastic and have great set-ups, a fantastic mixture of people.

I did it all a little bit unorthodox. I did white collar and then went professional. But normally people go down the amateur route, where you compete within England, then in Britain. Then there’s also our Team GB, who are our podium team. They go to the Olympics.

The amateur system is really good, but I bypassed that because I wanted to stay with my coach! I would definitely say check out your local amateur club, they’ll have some fantastic trainers and teachers there who’ll get you involved with the sport and get you involved in sparring.

Gymbox [partnered with The White Collar Fight Club] has an amazing thing where you can do a white collar fight. So you’ll start with no experience, and then at the end of 8 weeks you’ll have a fight. As trainers, we’ll take you through how to get involved, how to spar properly, how to be technically good. It’s a great set-up, and it’s a great way to learn something about yourself and challenge yourself.

I think as well, it’s good to give something a go but in a good, safe environment. When I’m taking my sparring classes, as a professional I’m very qualified, so I’m never going to let anything be taken too far. It’s all about learning, not taking lumps out of each other! You’re there to learn technique and skill. I’d encourage people to give it a go.

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To finish: if you could be skilled at anything else that you’re not currently skilled at, what would it be?

I like cooking. I’m not terrible at it, I’m OK, but I would love to be a chef. I think I’d like the high-paced environment, but also the creative, artistic side of it.

It’s also a bit sciencey. I endlessly watch Masterchef, and I learn all these techniques that I’m never going to do because I could never afford to buy that particular piece of meat...I know how to perfectly cook a duck breast, I’ve just never had the chance or money! [laughs]

There are so many great things you could make as a chef which I definitely can’t eat in training camp! [laughs]...Maybe I’d be a pastry chef, because that’s hard, that’s a real challenge.

You can follow Hannah on Instagram

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