Hannah Rankin claims vacant WBA and IBO world titles with exciting points win over Maria Lindberg

With two vacant junior middleweight world championships on the line, Hannah Rankin scored a unanimous decision victory over tough veteran Maria Lindberg at Tottenham Hotspur Banqueting Hall on Friday night.

IN THE RED CORNER – HANNAH RANKIN

Scottish scrapper Rankin entered this bout as the #3 ranked junior middleweight by Ring magazine and carrying a career record of 10-5 (1KO). Rankin had recovered from a seventh round stoppage loss at the hands of Savannah Marshall to beat Kholosa Ndobayini in South Africa on points in March.

This bout represented a chance to become a two-time world champion for Rankin, who beat Sarah French (then Curran) in 2019 by unanimous decision to claim the IBO world female junior middleweight crown. With the win, a proud Rankin became the first Scottish female world champion in boxing history.

After a successful defense against Erin Toughill, Rankin dropped the strap against undefeated Patricia Berghult in Malta. Rankin was dropped in the opening 10 seconds of round one by Berghult but recovered to go the distance, ultimately coming up short in a tight but unanimous decision (96-93, 96-93, 95-94).

This would be Rankin’s second shot at the WBA title, having challenged for this belt as well as the unified WBC and IBF staps held by American great Claressa Shields. Rankin fought gamely against Shields, currently ranked #2 in The Ring pound for pound rankings, before eventually going down by a sweeping 100-90 count on all three scorecards over 10 rounds.

Back to this fight, Rankin described herself as more than ready for the challenge posed by the experienced Lindberg. “I’ve had excellent sparring with people like Chantelle Cameron and (current world champion) Kali Reis, I just can’t wait to get in there now.”

Speaking before the bout, Rankin revealed her fighting heritage and told FightZone that she is a direct descendant of the famous McGregor clan. “Scottish people love a good fight, that’s in my history as well as in my blood.” If Rankin was to bring glory to her famous ancestors, she would first have to face a Viking invasion in the form of powerful Scandinavian veteran Lindberg.

IN THE BLUE CORNER – MARIA LINDBERG

Wily veteran Lindberg entered this contest looking to rewrite her story as the nearly woman of female Boxing. At the age of 44 and 13 years older than her opponent, the Swede entered this contest with a career record of 19-7-2 (10KO) and had unsuccessfully challenged for world title gold on six separate occasions since 2017.

“This challenge is nothing different from every other challenge I’ve had, I always take them very serious,” said Lindberg of this fight.

The truth is that Lindberg was selling herself short with that statement, as the Swede faced and overcame gigantic life challenges before ever stepping through the ropes to fight for a title.

Before her professional career had even began, Lindberg suffered a brain hemorrhage in a 1999 amateur fight and was banned from fighting in her home country on medical grounds. Undeterred, Lindberg moved to the USA and achieved a win and a draw in her first two professional contests.

Despite her early success in the professional ranks, Lindberg found herself suspended by both the American Association of Boxing Commissions and European Boxing Union due to the same injury and did not return to the ring for four years.

In 2008, Lindberg passed medical tests and was licensed to fight in Germany and went on to record another win, beating Pia Porter by majority decision. In her eighth career fight, Lindberg suffered her first career loss when unsuccessfully challenging for the WBO and WBF world middleweight titles against Christina Hammer.

A run of 10 straight wins and one no-contest followed before a rematch with Hammer, and a second unanimous decision loss to the German with WBC and WBA world title gold on the line.

Four more unsuccessful world title challenges followed, most recently at the hands of undefeated Marshall, the woman who handed both Lindberg and Rankin their sole career stoppage defeats.

Now the Swede stands on the doorstep of glory once more, Lindberg vehemently agreed when asked at the press conference if a win over Rankin would be life changing. “I’m excited, I wasn’t sure that I was gonna get another world title shot at my age. I can’t wait, I am ready.”

IT’S SHOWTIME

A trained professional musician, Rankin gave the fans a miniature concert of sorts as she made Lindberg wait a full three minutes in the ring before making her ring walk to the tune of ‘Leave a Light On’ by Tom Walker.

Rankin stayed at long range in the opening minute of the fight, firing off a crisp jab while Lindberg threw hooks from behind a tight defensive shell. Rankin continued to do her best work with a jab, while Lindberg used good head movement to get in close and land punches in combinations of two and three.

Between rounds, Lindberg sat nodding along to her trainer’s instructions, while Rankin stood against the ropes and looked composed after a tight opening round.

Rankin circled the ring and continued to probe away with a crisp jab before missing with what would have been a heavy right hand in the opening stages of round two. Lindberg landed several clean shots on the counterattack before the pair ended up in a clinch on the ropes and referee Chas Coakley allowed them both to keep throwing blows to the body. Rankin kept her opponent at arms length, before good head movement made the Swede punch air at the end of round two.

In the third round, Rankin continued to look sharp at range with an excellent jab, while Lindberg was landing the heavier shots when the distance was closed between the pair. The Swede landed her best work of the fight in the closing stages of the round before receiving a stiff right hand before the bell in what was turning out to be a well balanced fight.

Four straight jabs from rankin opened round four, before the Scottish fighter missed with another swinging right hand and keeping Lindberg at bay with quick left handed shots. Rankin threw the greater volume of punches in round four, while Lindberg kept the Scot honest by throwing heavy blows on the counter.

Between rounds, Rankin continued to stand against the ropes as grease was applied to her face, while a seated Lindberg started to show signs of fatigue, her shoulders rising and falling with visibly heavier breathing.

The overhand right finally connected for Rankin at the beginning of round five, but it barely phased Lindberg who walked through the punch and connected shots to the body and head. An aggressive Rankin threw several shots without reply, before Lindberg started to walk down her opponent and landed short, powerful hooks to the head and body before the Scot closed strongly to swing round five in her favor.

Rankin continued to circle the ring and flick out the jab while the battle hardened features of Lindberg stared back at her from behind a tight defensive guard. The higher volume of punches continued to come from Rankin, while Lindberg closed the distance and landed powerful shots at a more intermittent rate.

FightZone announcer Glenn McRory commented on the jab of Rankin coming up short of the target in the opening minute of round seven, before Lindberg closed the distance and unleashed an offensive flurry. Rankin grabbed onto her opponent and backed the Swede into the ropes with referee Coakley allowing the pair to fight on, Rankin circling the ring while Lindstrom stalked forward throwing blows to the head and body.

The fight opened up in the closing minute of round seven, with both combatants landing powerful blows to end a round that was slightly edged by Lindberg in what was a tight affair through seven rounds.

Lindberg caught Rankin with a clean jab to the face at the start of round eight, with the Scot being stung into reply. Rankin opened up offensively but was caught consistently on the counter by Lindberg, before leaning against the Swede on the ropes and forcing a separation from referee Coakley. The round ended with both fighters landing blows and a likely razor thin margin between the pair on the scorecards.

It appeared both fighters realized the judges could have scored the fight in either direction, as both started the ninth round aggressively. Rankin backed Lindstrom onto the ropes and swung away, only for the Swede to land two hooks and circle away out of trouble. It seemed like every combination from one fighter was countered by the other for the remainder of a rare 10-10 round on this author’s scorecard (score 86-86 going into the final round).

Both combatants strode out for the 10th and final round with the result seeming to be well and truly in the balance. Rankin fought behind the jab to open round 10 before grabbing onto an advancing Lindberg as the pair wrestled into the ropes. It was a familiar pattern for the rest of the round, Rankin circling and throwing blows from distance as Lindberg advanced. Rankin likely edged the final round, ducking under two blows in the final seconds and landing shots on the counter attack.

At the final bell, both fighters raised their arms and were seemingly confident they had done enough to win. Few in the pro-Rankin crowd would have been overconfident of the result after what was a tight and compelling affair.

As the surprisingly wide margin scores in favor of Rankin were announced (98-92, 97-93, 97-93), the Scot sank to her knees in ecstatic celebration of becoming a two-time world champion. “It would mean absolutely everything to me. It would be the culmination of six years of work,” said Rankin pre-fight of winning a world title for a second time. That dream had now become a reality.

WHAT THEY SAID

“It means everything to me,” said an emotional Rankin to FightZone after the fight. “All the work I’ve been doing is for this moment” she said while pointing towards her newly acquired title belt that rested on the shoulder of promoter Dennis Hobson..

Of her opponent, Rankin said ”she’s a very experienced fighter and she’s tough as hell.” Despite a tough bout, the Scottish champion agreed with the judges scoring, stating her belief that “all the way through the fight my boxing was cleaner, she landed a few (shots) of her own but I feel I was the better boxer on the night.”

WHAT NEXT FOR THE WINNER

“I’m gonna enjoy it for the rest of the year and then I wanna be defending my titles” said Rankin from ringside post-fight. As for a possible location, “we need to go to Scotland where I can defend my titles in front of my country and my people,” the newly crowned champion told FightZone.

“If you’re gonna have a rematch it better be because the first fight was bloody brilliant. You want to watch it again” were the words of Rankin at the pre-fight press conference. Based on that, a world title rematch with Lindberg is one possibility going forward after this thoroughly entertaining affair.

Other top level options at junior middleweight are Femke Hermans of Belgium or IBF world champion Christina Hammer in a unification bout.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE LOSER

If a brain hemorrhage and two intended lifetime bans could not stop Lindberg, it is unlikely this defeat will. The 44-year old Swede did not look past her best and this entertaining duel will make her an easy sell for promoters and potential matchmakers.

Lindberg can look to Alicia Ashley, who was a world champion at 48 years old for inspiration if she is to carry on her pursuit of world championship gold. “She lives in the boxing gym, it’s her job and it’s what she does all the time,” said Rankin of her opponent after the fight.

If that is the case, her coach would be wise to leave a light on, as Lindberg will be back in the gym soon enough in search of another title shot.

Author’s scorecard (round by round)

Ran-Lin

Rd1: 9-10

Rd2: 19-19

Rd3: 28-29

Rd4: 38-38

Rd5: 48-47

Rd6: 58-56

Rd7: 67-66

Rd8: 76-76

Rd9: 86-86

Final: 96-95

Photo: Dennis Hobson Promotions