Angela Hebden

Saturday 26th June 2016.  Not a date that will stand out for many, but a date that could go down as momentous within the sport of boxing.  Katie Taylor arrived as a professional.  The Irish Olympic gold medallist arrived with a thunderous bang, not dissimilar to the punches landed on her Swiss opponent in a bout that lasted all of two rounds.  Although women’s boxing had previously been seen in the UK with the likes of Kelly Morgan, this was different.  This was live on Sky Sports.  This opened the floodgates.

Nicola Adams was soon following suit, beaming smile and all joining the professional ranks following her double Olympic success.  And now, down in London, there is another name that fans of boxing should start to familiarise themselves with; Angela Hebden.

If you are a fan of combat sport in general then the name may ring a bell.  In 2015 Hebden won her 13th worlds gold medal, highly accomplished within the sport she took up at the age of 16 to “build confidence”.  It was also a marriage of convenience, numerous parts of her life combining to start her path into combat sports.

“I have a scar on the right side of my face, which when I was younger it was a lot more noticeable and visible when I was at school” Hebden tells me.  “Kids are cruel; I used to get bullied so badly from the age of eight when I had my accident.  Just to build my confidence I was going kick boxing once or twice a week as my friend persuaded me.  I went there and was like a duck to water, I was gripped.  I won a British title in six months, then I moved and started again when I was 19 or 20.”

It wasn’t a natural fit for someone who describes her childhood self as “a real girly girl”, someone who focussed more upon dance and drama than head kicks and roundhouses.  It was one that worked though, and in 2014 a chance encounter kick started a chain of events leading to a pairing with one of the UK’s elite boxing coaches.

“Back in November 2014 I met Faisal Mohammed for the first time.  He was an ex martial artist and kick boxing champion, I’d heard of him and seen his fights.  We were introduced and he said he’d like to come down sparring, which was wicked.  He came down and we just ended up doing boxing stuff, which I really loved.  For whatever reason I didn’t really pursue it as I still had a few goals that I wanted to achieve in kickboxing.  But once I did the World Championships in October 2015 I had accomplished everything I could in that sport and was going to go into K1 fighting.  I got with a K1 and boxing coach, who is David Haye’s conditioning coach, and once I started that I fell in love with the boxing side.  I then decided I wanted to do something completely fresh and completely new.  I was training with him for a while and because he was so busy with David Haye, I ducked out of there and took a couple of months out.  That was when I then started training with Don Charles.”

Don Charles.  The Coach of Dereck Chisora, a world title challenger and former British heavyweight champion.  Coach to current British light heavyweight champion Frank Buglioni.  Don Charles isn’t a man with time to spare, not the inclination to take on anyone other than top fighters.  So how did Angela Hebden, a boxing novice at this point by her own admission, come to work with such a prestigious trainer?

“He refuses boxers all the time, or will tell them to go away and work on certain things.  He’s very particular in who he trains and he’ll tell you that himself.  He doesn’t waste his time and absolutely right!  He’s a busy man.  I am so lucky and thankful to have such an amazing trainer, I couldn't ask for more.  I was training with Faisal again once or twice a week to get back into the boxing, he himself is an ex undefeated cruiserweight who has known Don for years.  Faisal took me to see Don as I hadn’t found the right Coach, he was convinced I was ready to make the transition.  We had a meeting with Don, who told me he wasn’t used to taking women, it’s not a challenge he had taken on before.  We arranged a session on the pads and he said he 100% wanted to work with me, he thought I had the potential to make that transition.”

One may assume the transition from kick boxer to boxer is a natural one, a simple removal of the kicks.  But as Hebden explains, there is plenty that needs reconfiguring in her new discipline. 

“It’s completely different.  When I went to spar Kelly Morgan and Mikaela Lauren in July last year I was still a novice to boxing, I wanted to find out where I was at.  I won’t lie; I got schooled.  But that’s alright, that’s completely alright because at least I knew where I was, where I had to be and what I had to work on.  I was just lucky to have the chance to spar with women of that calibre. I didn’t start training again after that until October.  Boxing is a completely different animal to kick boxing.  Footwork, the way you throw punches, the guard, keeping your chin down, being more grounded in your punches, having your weight on your front foot and not your back foot, the way you hold your body more square on.  There are so many different things.”
  
Things are going well though.  As Angela tell me, Don is happy with the progression “and he’d be the first one to say if he wasn’t!” she laughs.  It will be a long process, and one that Hebden is confident can merge her skillset from the past with the skillset of her Trainer.  So is it a matter of Don breaking her down first?  “Definitely.  Even now he’ll say ‘oh you’re still doing that!’.  But he gets it, he gets why I’m doing it and he accepts that actually some of those traits will work for me.  He still builds my confidence all the time, between him and Faisal they motivate me, especially in times of self doubt.  I’ll definitely bring positives from kick boxing to boxing; although I’m changing a lot, there are definitely some things I won’t have to change. Between us all it's a winning formula."

There is still a journey to travel before Hebden becomes a professional boxer.  An assessment by the British Boxing Board of Control will need to be passed, where they check a fighter’s pad work, defensive skills and an array of boxing requirements.  If all goes as hoped then there are plans afoot for Hebden to take her bow in a boxing ring later in 2017.  As well as having Don Charles as part of the team, Hebden has signed with Goodwin Boxing, fronted by Steve Goodwin.  She is the first female to be on the books of the premium small hall Promoters and it was a pairing that was put together by her new trainer.

“Don Charles has a fantastic relationship with Steve and a lot of his pro fighters are with Steve.  Don arranged a meeting, and I have had meetings previously with other Promoters and Managers, and we all just clicked in the meeting.  I was happy.  That was that really!  We signed on the dotted line there and then, it’s all good.”  So how does it feel to be the first female boxer under the Goodwin banner?  “I’m nervous about the response from the crowd, how they’ll respond to a female bout.  It’s not something you see at York Hall very often, so it will be interesting to see the response to it.”

Does Hebden feel that with the likes of Katie Taylor and Nicola Adams making female boxing more prevalent within the sporting arena, fans will be more receptive to her when she does debut?  “Hopefully so, and I hope I can perform and get the same results and performance that they do.  I hope I can meet the expectations.  I’m confident, but it is boxing so anything can happen.”

The aspirations and confidence levels are high, as you would expect from someone who has already excelled at the elite level in another discipline.  “Because I am very competitive and have always set high goals for myself, my true goal is to be world champion, because I have been world champion in kick boxing” says Hebden. “It’s something I want out of boxing too, and we have set a plan towards that level.  We have an idea of when Don thinks I will be ready to compete at that level, it’s something I am looking at.  I’m not just doing this for the experience.  There’s a focus that has started on women’s boxing and I want to be part of that revolution, I want to be part of getting women’s boxing on the map where it deserves to be.”

In an industry that has been so heavily dominated by males up until now, does Hebden see it as a case of making the female version of the sport accepted alongside the males?  “Sometimes it isn’t even about the boxer.  Some people prefer boxers because of their personality or appearance or something else.  As women we just want to go in there and fight, we don’t want to be judged on all of that.  It’s hard, because you know people will be judging you on anything other than your boxing skills and you don’t want that, to be treated differently.”

Alongside the plans for a career within boxing, Hebden is also a Personal Trainer in London as well as a model.  Although it will undoubtedly prove a strain on her lifestyle, Hebden is wise enough to know that her options need to be open outside of the ring.

“It’s got to all fit in somehow” she says.  “It will be hectic when I start going into camp for a fight, that will be hard work when you’re training two or three times a day, plus getting runs in and then training clients.  It will be exhausting, but that’s when I have to bite down and get on with it.  You need to have a backup as anything can happen.  You could pick up an injury that is completely unexpected and all of a sudden you can’t box any more, asking yourself ‘what do I do now?’ – so you have to have other things going on in the background as a backup just in case.  Nick Blackwell; he was so young and would never have suspected his career would be over that quickly so you have to have other things in the background.  Some people may say you’re not fully committed but I am, but I am also fully aware of the commitments I have financially.”

It's a very wise outlook; as ambitious as she is to replicate her success in kick boxing, Angela Hebden is also realistic enough not to close other avenues.  Her journey promises to be exciting; the transition from champion to contender could carry as many challenges as kick boxer to boxer.  It will be a different mindset as well as a new sport.  However with assembling such a solid team of Don Charles and Steve Goodwin around herself, Hebden has shown that she is as savvy as she has been successful.  Now it is her time to blaze a trail for women’s boxing and if all goes well, that starts in June 2017.

Angela wished to thank her sponsors who support her career and training.  This include the team at Pep Talk UK (Frankie B, Shaz Chaudry, Pascal, JP Smith) who have been great in backing her as well as Epsom Skin Clinics, who have clinics all over London and surrounding areas.