Nina Hughes: ‘No-one wanted to sign me because of my age’, says new world champion

Nina Hughes
Nina Hughes took to the ring in her mid 20s following boxercise and kickboxing classes

She may not be the oldest person to win a world title – Bernard Hopkins was 46 when he beat Jean Pascal in 2011 and George Foreman 45 when he stopped Michael Moorer in 1996.

But Nina Hughes has a story to equal theirs after winning the WBA bantamweight title in only her fifth pro contest, and less than a year after her first.

The 40-year-old from Billericay, Essex became champion by winning a unanimous points decision against previously unbeaten American Jamie Mitchell in Dubai.

And the elation of victory was made all the sweeter because of the satisfaction of answering the doubters.

“Ever since I decided to turn professional my age has gone against me. No-one wanted to sign me because of my age. At first they said I wouldn’t get a licence,” she told BBC Essex.

“It has been hard trying to get people to believe in me. But I found my team, my manager, my coach, they did believe in me and I pushed on.

“Even the night before [the fight] when I was reading people’s comments, everyone wrote me off, no-one gave me a chance, everyone thought Jamie was going to beat me. It just gave me more fire to prove everyone wrong.”

It was a different story 10 years ago when the then Nina Smith – who first became interested in the sport at the age of 25 when she attended boxercise classes with a friend – made the preliminary Team GB squad for the London 2012 Olympics.

“I got to train full-time on the GB boxing squad up in Sheffield, we travelled all round the world to different training camps, it was great experience,” she said.

But that story did not have a happy ending as eventual gold medallist Nicola Adams was selected ahead of her in the flyweight category.

Adams – now retired – and London team-mates Natasha Jonas and Savannah Marshall all went on to win world titles as professionals but after missing the Games, Hughes took a break for a few years and had the first of her two children.

She eventually stepped back into the ring, primarily in order to lose some weight, and intended to compete in one more amateur championship and call it a day – but Covid brought about a change of plan.

“During lockdown I thought I’m definitely retiring now. But I was watching the girls on the TV turning pro, and taking off in the pro game and thought ‘I’ve got to give it a go’ and joined a pro gym.”

She had her first paid contest against Claudia Ferenczi at Bethnal Green’s York Hall on 3 December 2021 and was later matched with Luton’s Tysie Gallagher for the vacant Commonwealth super-bantamweight and WBO international titles, which she won by a majority decision.

Cut forced change of tactics

Nina Hughes
Hughes beat Mitchell on points – the judges scoring the bout 97-93, 96-94, 96-94 in her favour after the 10 rounds

In October she retained the Commonwealth belt with a second-round TKO of Flora Machela and just 42 days later found herself across the ring from Mitchell with the world title on the line.

“The fight went really well. I was comfortable, I was ahead throughout, but I did get cut in a clash of heads in round six or seven, so we had to change our tactics a bit,” she said.

“The tactics were to pressure her but once I got cut I opted to box on the back foot so I didn’t get injured any more. Both plans worked and I got the job done. It still doesn’t feel real.”

It has all been a bit of a whirlwind for Hughes of late, and not just because of her ring career.

“I still work three days a week as well, so it’s not even my full-time profession. Juggling work, my kids, and boxing, I just don’t have any time left at all.

“For my last two fights in this country, my eight year old walked me into the ring and he really enjoys it. They come to gym all the time with me.”

Her next in-ring assignment has yet to be decided – but fellow champions Yulihan Luna (WBC), Ebanie Bridges (IBF) and Dina Thorslund (WBO) are potential opponents if she wishes to add to her collection of belts.

“I don’t feel my age and I started late, it’s not like I’ve been doing it since I was 10 years old. I think it would be a lot different on my body if I had,” Hughes said.

“Now I’ve won, it should open many doors for a lot of big fights so I’m looking forward to seeing what offers I get in the new year.”

Nina Hughes was talking to BBC Essex’s Sonia Watson

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What's it like being a barber for footballers?

In Qatar for the World Cup, Sheldon Edwards – also known as HD Cutz – describes life as a footballers’ barber.

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World Cup 2022: Wales progress has been ‘misjudged’, says Connor Roberts

Defender Connor Roberts believes people have “misjudged” Wales’ progress as a football nation after their World Cup exit.

Wales were eliminated after the group stage in Qatar following defeat by England on Tuesday.

Burnley’s Roberts says this may have been the tournament where Wales’ journey “plateaued”.

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World Cup 2022: Mexico out but Poland through on ‘crazy day of football’

Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

The final games in Group C will go down as one of the most dramatic evenings at any World Cup.

With Mexico winning by the same scoreline against Saudi Arabia, Poland and Mexico were level on points, goals scored, conceded and goal difference.

Gerardo Martino’s Mexico were staring at the prospect of going out on Fifa’s fair play rule having collected seven yellow cards to Poland’s five, and becoming just the second side after Senegal four years ago to exit by that metric.

With seven minutes of time added on, a goal Mexico would have completed the swing required for an unlikely progression into the round of 16.

But Salem Al Dawsari’s injury-time consolation strike ended any hope of a remarkable Mexico revival having failed to win their opening two games.

“I am the man responsible for this frustration and disappointment. It is real sadness and I assume all the responsibility for this huge failure,” said Argentine Martino, who will leave his role after the tournament.

“We outplayed the opponent created more chances and we could have scored as many goals as needed.

“But we failed and I don’t think we were knocked out in the previous matches, rather today.”

Mexico exit at the group stage for the first time since 1978, ending a run of eight straight occasions of advancing to the knockout stage, while Poland’s reward is a meeting with defending champions France on Sunday (15:00 GMT).

‘We knew we were going out’

The game at Stadium 974 had finished 2-0 and the one at Lusail Stadium – just 18 miles away – was the same scoreline, with play still going on.

Asked by BBC Sport if he knew the result of the other game, Martino said: “Yes. That is why we went for the third goal and we added two centre-forwards together.

“The moment we knew that Poland had fewer yellows [than us], we were going out and it was necessary in that moment.

“We knew the result of Argentina winning 2-0 and we assessed that unless many players were booked in the Poland game, the results meant we were still out.”

Poland boss Czeslaw Michniewicz said: “We had an agreement that only me and the technical staff would be across what was happening in the Mexico match.

“My heart stopped a bit when Grzegorz Krychowiak was booked, we knew it was minus three points and fair play was already taken into consideration.

“So Piotr Zielinski was supposed to leave but we substituted Krychowiak because for five minutes we didn’t have control of the game and couldn’t make the substitution, while he was endangered by the second yellow card.

“My technical staff told me there was only a difference of two or three yellow cards so it was very close, we were at a difficult time when it was 2-0.

“The mistake of Krychowiak could have made us go back to the hotel and pack but now I hear we are going to play France.

“I told them to avoid stupid cards, we were doing anything to avoid any provocation, avoid talking to referees.”

‘Madness – such a good game of football’

The lead-up to the game was all about nervous Saudi Arabia fans filling the metro, the boulevard and the stadium in the hope of seeing a victory that would take them through to the knockout stage.

One local journalist said around 150,000 supporters had travelled across the border for the game, with more than 60,000 estimated to be at the game, heavily outnumbering the Mexicans.

“Inshallah” (God willing) was the word on every supporter’s lips but at the final whistle it was both sets of fans in green who went home disappointed.

Saudi finished bottom of the group with one victory – and what a win it was against Argentina – while Mexico’s goalless draw against Poland and loss to Lionel Scaloni’s side proved costly.

Henry Martin’s goal from close range and Luis Chavez’s stunning free-kick set their small number of fans alight, and the Mariachi band behind the goal did its best to suck the ball into the net one more time.

Mexico players embraced each other at the final whistle knowing their journey was over, while supporters sat in their seats long after the final whistle with some in tears of disbelief.

“It’s been a crazy day of football with the twists and turns you get at this stage of the competition,” said Gary Lineker on BBC One.

Former Wales defender Ashley Williams said: “Madness. That was such a good game of football regardless of who went through.”

Tears of celebration for Poland

BBC Sport’s Andy Cryer at Stadium 974

From the moment Alex Mac Allister put a dominant Argentina ahead early in the second half against Poland, there was never any doubt about who was winning the game.

The doubt was whether Poland would survive and for most of the second half the players on the pitch looked fairly unconcerned. There was no racing forward looking for a goal, they were simply hanging on and hoping they did not lose by more than the eventual 2-0 scoreline.

While the players may have been unaware of the drama being played out, the small pocket of Poland fans – who were drowned out by the incredible Argentine support – certainly weren’t.

Most of them were spending more time on their phones checking events at Mexico v Saudi Arabia than they were watching their own – fairly hapless – side.

Heads went into hands from many of the Poles as Mexico scored their second and, when Argentina deservedly made it 2-0, they knew they were surviving in the tournament purely on yellow cards.

Argentina were inches from scoring in injury time, to knock Poland out, but the final whistle was not the end of the agony for Poland.

The players and staff gathered, the fans were glued to their screens, and then a cheer. Saudi Arabia had pulled a goal back against Mexico in stoppage time, Poland were now safe on goal difference rather than fair play.

A goal for Mexico would still have knocked Poland out though, guaranteeing a couple more minutes of pain before the final whistle at Lusail was greeted by emotional scenes at the 974.

Tearful fans hugged each other, some players charged around in celebration, while others sank to the floor in the knowledge they had got very, very lucky.

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Pakistan v England: First Test in Rawalpindi starts on Thursday

Breaking news

England’s first Test against Pakistan will start on Thursday as scheduled after the tourists confirmed they are able to field an XI.

An illness affecting the England camp had led to discussions over postponing the match by a day.

Around 14 members of the party of players and coaches were hit and only five players trained on Wednesday.

England named an XI for the match on Tuesday but may be forced into making changes to the team.

The Test, the first in a three-match series, begins at 05:00 GMT. It is England’s first Test in Pakistan for 17 years.

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World Cup 2022: Late Saudi Arabia goal secures Poland’s place in last 16

There were dramatic scenes as Group C concluded on Wednesday.

At one point Poland and Mexico were only separated by the of yellow cards each team had received, but a late consolation goal for Saudi Arabia in their game with Mexico meant that Poland were celebrating and secured second place in the group on goal difference.

READ MORE: Mexico out but Poland through on ‘crazy day of football’

WATCH MORE: Szczesny makes brilliant save from Messi penalty

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Scottish Open: O’Sullivan out as Higgins battles through

Gary Wilson led from the front to beat the world number one in Edinburgh
Gary Wilson led from the front to beat the world number one in Edinburgh

Ronnie O’Sullivan is out of the Scottish Open after a shock third-round loss to Gary Wilson in Edinburgh.

The world number one came from behind to level three times, but Wilson, ranked 32, held his nerve to make it 4-3 with a break of 73 in the decider.

Wilson, 37, has never been beyond the semi-finals on tour and will meet Hossein Vafaei or Yan Bingtao next.

“I felt like I didn’t have much to lose because I’ve been in that situation quite a bit,” Wilson told Eurosport.

“I just tried to stay as calm as I could, in the moment.”

Mark Selby, champion in 2019 and 2020, beat Robert Milkins 4-1, making breaks of 114 and 123 along the way.

Judd Trump and Neil Robertson also eased through by the same margin of victory, against Jamie Clarke and Joe Perry respectively.

In the earlier session, John Higgins had to dig deep to avoid an upset, winning a final frame decider against China’s Cao Yupeng to reach the third round.

A runner-up in this event for the third time last year, Higgins led 2-0 before trailing 3-2 to the world number 58.

Higgins, a four-time world champion, drew level with a break of 70 and a break of 55 helped clinch the match.

The Scot next plays Jamie Jones, who rattled off three centuries in a 4-0 win over Chen Zifan.

UK champion Mark Allen beat England’s Martin Gould 4-2, with two century breaks.

The Northern Irishman, aiming for a third successive ranking title, will face Thailand’s Thepchaiya Un-Nooh on Thursday.

In an all-Scottish battle, Anthony McGill prevailed 4-3 against Scott Donaldson.

Stephen Maguire had little trouble in a 4-1 triumph against Ashley Hugill but there was local disappointment for Fraser Patrick, who lost out 4-3 to Sam Craigie.

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World Cup 2022: MOTD pundits on why Lionel Messi was Argentina’s ‘best player’ against Poland

BBC Sport’s Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer and Rio Ferdinand explain why Lionel Messi was “the best player on the pitch” during Argentina’s World Cup victory over Poland.

MATCH REPORT: Argentina top group as Poland through on goal difference

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'Free kick perfection!' Chavez doubles Mexico lead

Luis Chavez gives Mexico a two-goal lead over Saudi Arabia with a ‘perfect’ free kick.

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England: Ben White leaves World Cup squad in Qatar for personal reasons

Breaking news

Defender Ben White has left England’s World Cup squad in Qatar to return home for personal reasons.

The Arsenal player is not expected to return for the rest of the tournament, England said in a statement.

“We ask that the player’s privacy is respected at this moment in time,” it added.

The 25-year-old has four caps for England but did not make an appearance for the Three Lions as they finished top of Group B.

He was not selected for the first two group games against Iran and the United States and missed the win against Wales on Tuesday night because of illness.

Following the news, the Gunners said on social media:external-link “We’re all with you, Ben”.

White, who has spent much of his career in central defence, was included in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the World Cup following an impressive season at right-back for Premier League leaders Arsenal.

More to follow.

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