Christina McMahon: ‘If this fight comes off, I’ll be at my own weight. It’s all I want’
Carrickmacross boxer has learned to believe nothing - until she’s in the ring
Christina McMahon: “She won Ulster titles, she won All-Irelands. She went all over Europe and the world, herself and Frick, her husband and coach. She made a genuine success of herself, yet was often baffled by what people thought of her.”
Just about the last thing you’d mistake Christina McMahon for is a boxer. She says “jeekers” a lot. As in “Jeekers, wasn’t it great to see?”, as if she’s talking about her niece getting a part in the school play. What she’s actually talking about is the gang of Irish nuns and priests who turned up ringside in Zambia the night she became interim world bantamweight champion last May. Conor McGregor, she is not.
She is, though, one of only two female professional boxers to be licensed in Ireland. She spent a long time as the only one, until Dubliner Lynn Harvey followed her into the trade late last year. She is 42 and from Carrickmacross, Co Monaghan and she might very well leave the sport to its own devices soon. Just not, she hopes, before one last shot at a title.
There is a date in the books, March 5th. There’ll be a ring in a venue somewhere in Mexico and the current WBC Superflyweight champion, Zulina Munoz, will be waiting for an opponent.
In the ring
“If this fight comes off next month, I can actually close the books on this chapter of my life,” she says.
“It will be at my own weight, a fair weight and I’ll be fighting the number one ranked boxer in the world at that weight. I fought in Brooklyn at the end of last year and it wasn’t at a fair weight. I had to go up a few weights and I was up against a lot of stuff, politics stuff that I don’t want to go into. But if this comes off, I’ll be at my own weight. It’s all I want.”
If you think the world of male boxing is murky, then take away the media coverage and substantially reduce the size of the financial pie and just imagine how opaque the female equivalent might be.
McMahon found herself in Zambia last year on just three weeks’ notice because her original fight in Berlin was pulled with 36 hours to go. She knew nobody and figured she’d have no backing until some local missionaries got wind of an Irish girl fighting and landed ringside.
No online footage
“I was a surprise to everyone I came up against because I didn’t give them anything to go on. There’s nearly no footage of me fighting online, not even from my kickboxing days. I didn’t want any of my footage going on YouTube because I didn’t want anyone studying it. I studied all of my opponents but they couldn’t study me because there was so little of me there.
“So the Africans had no idea who I was. I got the fight at three weeks’ notice, all they knew was a name and an age. I was 40 years-old so naturally enough, they thought to themselves that this was an old one coming over at the end of her career who wants a trip away to somewhere exotic. That’s what they thought they were getting.”
Wrong woman. McMahon was a world champion kickboxer in a former life. Her brothers did it in Carrick and she joined in to keep fit. “I liked it so much, I married the coach!” she laughs.
She won Ulster titles, she won All-Irelands. She went all over Europe and the world, herself and Frick, her husband and coach. She made a genuine success of herself, yet was often baffled by what people thought of her.
“Around the time I won the world title, I came close to giving it up. I was listening to other people too much, other women especially. Because I kept hearing that at my age – I was 27 at the time – I should be thinking of other things. Basically, that I should be settling down and having a family. And I did start to think that way and it was in my head to hang up the gloves.
“One night, my husband took me out for a meal and in the middle of it he said, ‘You’re in very bad form’. And in fairness to him, he knew exactly why. ‘It’s because you’re listening to everyone tell you how things are supposed to be. They’re saying it’s about time you got married and it’s about time you had kids and what are you at that oul’ kickboxing for anyway. But you know what, Christina, you haven’t even peaked at your sport yet. You haven’t got near the pinnacle you’re capable of. My advice is to go back and give it the next 15 months and try and win the world title.’ And that’s what I did!
“He was 100 per cent right. Why would I be giving up something I loved for the sake of others? And of course it was other women saying it. But I didn’t have to explain myself to anybody. Imagine people saying to you, ‘Are you still at that oul’ sport?’ Or worse, ‘Why would you want to do kickboxing?’ I got a lot of that.”
“I fought a Swedish girl in February and turned 35 that June. She went out and won the Europeans in September and I wasn’t allowed to travel because I was too old. It was tough but there was no point trying to do anything about it. Because there was no such thing as the Olympics then so it wasn’t like there was any big prize to chase. They later changed it to 40 but I had turned pro by then.”
She walked into a low-rent, double-crossing world and has held her own, by and large. She’s had eight fights and had a clean record until that defeat before Christmas. It’s been painstaking and hair-tearing and if she wasn’t doing it with Frick by her side, it’s probably fair to say she’d have hung up the gloves by now.
“If you want to get ranked, you need to fight the best. And that takes money, a lot of the time. People who are champions get protected from fighters who might beat them, the same as in the men’s game. So number one, if you want to get the best in the world, you have to pay them more but sure in Ireland there’s no sponsorship or promotion so how are you going to do that? And number two, it’s very hard to get girls to fight you at your own weight. The bigger girls will fight you, no problem.
“I have to say, I was very naive at the outset. I had no idea how far I had to go. You’re up against women who know the dirt of the game and they know the insides of the game and they’re doing it for money and they’re doing it to feed families. Have you any idea what it’s like trying to beat somebody who is doing it to feed their family?”
That’s never been her. All she ever wanted was to feed one person, the fighter within her that has always looked to be challenged. If she can do that one more time next month, she’ll be happy.