Jessica McCaskill, a 35-year-old investment banker from Chicago who overcame homelessness as a child and moonlights as a professional boxer, sprang a seismic upset on Saturday night in dethroning Cecilia Brækhus, the undisputed welterweight champion widely regarded as the sport’s pound-for-pound world No 1.
The younger and busier American challenger won a narrow 10-round majority decision by scores of 97-94, 97-93 and 95-95 to capture the WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO titles at 147lbs in a purpose-built ring on the streets of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. (The Guardian had it 95-95.)
“This is for the fourth-grade homeless Jessica,” said McCaskill, a titleholder at 140lbs who moved up in weight for a shot at Brækhus, who was undefeated in 36 professional bouts. “This is for the little girl that just didn’t care what people thought about her, and learned to love herself even though she was really weird. And for the me now that sacrifices everything to put this sport first and make a difference.”
Brækhus (36-1, 9 KOs), the 38-year-old Norwegian who became a world champion in 2009 and the first woman to unify all four major title belts in any weight class in 2014, landed the cleaner and more accurate blows throughout the fight, which took place at a catch-weight of 145lbs.
But McCaskill (9-2, 3 KOs), who went off as a 6-1 underdog, was by far the more active fighter, landing 84 of 499 punches (17%) compared to 85 of 269 for her opponent (32%).
“I just didn’t stop,” said McCaskill, who balances her boxing career with a full-time job as an analyst for Chicago brokerage giant RJ O’Brien & Associates. “I didn’t expect her to be as rough as she was, but I was ready to be as rough as I had to be and that’s what came out.”