November 16. Thirteen days prior, Alycia Baumgardner shocked previously unbeaten Terri Harper to win the WBC and IBO junior lightweight titles in Sheffield, England.
Back home, the glow hasn’t worn off for the new champ.
“Not yet,” she laughs. “It's still glowing. Pretty bright.”
That’s an understatement. Traveling across the pond to face one of the sport’s rising stars in her backyard, Baumgardner didn’t eke out a decision over Harper. The 27-year-old from Michigan was in control from the start, hurt the champion in the second, and in the fourth round, landed a right hand that put Harper out on her feet and brought in referee Mark Lyson to wisely stop the bout.
What happened next will be remembered for a long time, especially by Baumgardner, whose pure joy at becoming a world champion was the release of years of frustration at the business, the resilience to get through injury and personal tragedies, and the realization of a dream.
“Many people said they could feel my excitement,” she said. “Everything was such a build-up for that moment. From the beginning of my career, hearing women's boxing is this, women's boxing is that, and you're not gonna make no money, this, that and the other. And also, getting to that moment, I had really low moments in my life. I really struggled with a lot of things and I was able to bring myself out of those dark places. My coach dying from COVID, my grandma died of COVID the week before I went out there. There were all these emotions and just wanting this moment so bad. Everybody dreams of being a world champion and to have my opportunity come in the way that it came, I just wanted it so bad, and when I did it and I saw the ref wave, all I could do was jump with excitement. It was just a relief of all these emotions. I talk about it every day to somebody.”
She laughs, but she earned the right to talk about that moment as much as she wants to as many people as she wants to. That comes with a world championship, one many believed was a foregone conclusion as soon as they saw her early fights, the first four of which ended in a single round. Baumgardner could punch, she was marketable, and did I mention that she could punch?
“I would say since a young age,” she said when asked when she knew she had more on the fastball than most of her peers. “Even when I was wrestling (from the age of five until middle school) and I was able to throw these guys around, I was like, 'I'm strong.' And then when I started boxing, I was hurting guys. Ask any guy that has sparred me, and they will tell you, 'She hits hard as f---.' And I've just known that I've had this power for a very long time. It's crazy.”
So crazy that she was the first woman signed by Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing, was The Ring magazine’s 2017 Prospect of the Year, and seemingly within reach of a title shot by 2019 at the latest.
That didn’t happen.
After moving her record to 6-0, a run that included a tougher than expected split decision win over Kirstie Simmons, Baumgardner suffered her first loss to Christina Linardatou in July 2018. She wouldn’t return for nearly a year. By this time, Holyfield’s promotional company was defunct, Baumgardner was coming off a loss, and though she won her next three bouts, 2020 brought ACL surgery, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the coronavirus-related death of her trainer Ali Salaam, father of Tony and LJ Harrison.
It would be enough to break many people. Baumgardner didn’t break.
“I honestly just want to say I know that I've been gifted a talent to be an athlete, and I know that God has a plan for my life,” she said. “So, in order to really see the bigger picture and not just see what I'm looking at, I knew that the patience was necessary and that it was going to pay off. I knew I was gonna be a star. I've envisioned this many times. And sometimes you're like, 'Why isn't it me?' or 'Why isn't it this?' It wasn't my time then. If you look back on the things I had to go through - I had to take that loss for a reason, my coach passed from COVID, I had to get knee surgery. All these things added up to have me where I am today to be a hundred percent.”
Baumgardner was back in the ring in August, decisioning Vanessa Bradford over eight rounds, but from the spring of 2021, she was messaging Matchroom Boxing boss Eddie Hearn, looking for a fight.
Then came the response she wanted.
“Hey, you got your shot.”
Yes, it was against an unbeaten champion in England, but Baumgardner didn’t care. Well, she cared a little about getting a fair shake from the judges, but she also planned on bringing her own judges to Sheffield.
“The only thing that was in the back of my head was the judges because we've seen plenty of times how judging can really tear people's dreams apart,” she said. “We've seen that happen, so that was one thing that was in the back of my head, but I knew that if I had a dominating performance, if I had a knockout, there was no way the judges could take it away from me.”
That didn’t mean all was sunshine and roses. She knew there were skeptics, those who didn’t know about that early hype, only that she was going to be the next victim on Harper’s list.
“The doubters really fueled me,” Baumgardner said. “They were like, ‘We don't even know who this girl is. She's coming as the B-side, she's a B-side opponent, she's fighting Terri Harper.’ I thought, ‘You guys do not know, but you'll soon find out Saturday night.’
They did. Not only in England, but all over the boxing world. Alycia Baumgardner had arrived. Maybe not on time, but better late than never. And in her eyes, it might have been a little earlier than expected.
“I always thought it was gonna be maybe 30, but it came early,” she laughs, clearly at ease in the spotlight. Of course, being a Ford model helps on that side of the equation, but as far as the fighting goes, she is now a player in a stacked 130-pound division where unification is the first thing on everybody’s mind. So it wasn’t too shocking when a bit of a rivalry started to kick up between Baumgardner and IBF, WBO and The Ring champion Mikaela Mayer.
But if Harper doesn’t invoke her right to a rematch, Baumgardner first wants to take the WBA belt from South Korea’s Hyun Mi Choi before a megafight with Mayer.
“I would definitely like to fight Choi first,” she said. “I think that would just put on another great show for the fans, and I think everyone wants to have that USA fight, so Mikaela's last on the list to fight. But I definitely want to have Choi next.”
It’s good to be the Queen.
“It (winning a world title) is the best feeling ever,” she said. “It's something you envision, and then when it actually happens, you're like, 'Wow.' I spoke about it, I wrote it down, and I did it in such a fashionable way that nobody else in women's boxing is doing. It was amazing.”