It’s November 2019 and Nicola Adams composes herself as she drafts an emotional letter. The message she is writing will soon be published in the UK regional newspaper The Yorkshire Evening Post. The female boxer is calling time on her career, and what she confesses in her missive will break the hearts of her fans and send shockwaves through the sport of boxing.
Adams’s decision to quit boxing was largely unexpected, and it’s fair to say it took many people by surprise. Even though she was deep into her 30s her professional career was, after all, was only a few fights old. But now the trailblazing female boxer was climbing out of the ring for good.
So, what drove Adams to make her heartfelt confession? Why did she call time on her professional boxing career after just six professional bouts, in which she had remained undefeated? Well, we’ll get to the full details of that a bit later. Firstly though, we should rewind right back to the beginning, where her remarkable life story began.
Nicola Adams entered the world on October 26, 1982. Her place of birth was the city of Leeds, the biggest city in England’s largest county, Yorkshire. Leeds is widely known for its industrial heritage, for being the place where the first Marks & Spencer store opened, and for its once-dominant soccer team Leeds United.
Adams was the first child and only daughter of a couple named Innocent and Denver Adams. Her mom later gave birth to a boy who was named Kurtis. While British roots by birth, Adams could trace her French/Caribbean heritage back to Saint Kitts and Nevis and Saint Martin.
Adams suffered from poor health as a young child, unluckily inheriting both asthma and eczema. She regularly endured asthma attacks both in the daytime and late at night, and would be made to wear mittens to prevent herself from scratching her dry skin. Adams also acquired allergies to several foods, including fish and chocolate.
Even worse for the young Adams was the fact that her father was violent and abusive towards her mother. Her poppa may have been named Innocent, but the name was arguably a misnomer: Adams recalled to The Guardian newspaper in 2017 how, at the age of four, she tried to defend her mom by brandishing a plastic sword at him. Evidently it was a union that couldn’t last, and when her parents finally split when she was 11 years old, Adams and her brother went to live with their mom.
Despite all this, Adams told The Yorkshire Post in 2017 that she was a “happy” child. At least she was once she, her mom, and her brother began living together on the East End Park council estate on the outskirts of Leeds, away from Innocent. Before that, she perhaps understandably suffered from anxiety and had also developed anger issues. Furthermore, the hyperactive young Adams would also be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (A.D.H.D.).
Adams admitted to The Guardian in 2017 that ditching Innocent transformed their lives, and the trio’s bond would grow much stronger throughout the years. Being free of the abusive Innocent meant they started “laughing, and joking,” which they couldn’t freely do before, as it had often carried consequences. “It was tough because you didn’t want to do anything where you could get into trouble… everybody would be tiptoeing around,” she said.
Furthermore, Innocent would often go off on a tirade without prior warning. It wasn’t drink that made him violent and abusive, though. According to Adams, “He was just really controlling.” What’s more, “My mum wouldn’t be allowed to go out with her friends,” she told The Guardian in that same 2017 interview.
Adams attended Agnes Stewart Church of England High School as a young girl, while her mother toiled as both a restaurant manager and a hairdresser to put food on the table for her two young children. The future pugilist quite enjoyed her primary education, as she told The Yorkshire Post in 2017. “I was okay at school. I was good at the subjects I liked, [such as] maths, science, P.E. and drama,” she revealed.
Adams would also take care of her younger brother Kurtis whenever her mother Denver was working at the restaurant or cutting people’s hair. Evidently, without a father’s income, things were relatively tight for the family (hence her mom working two jobs), but they managed. Then it was at the age of 12 that Adams would, almost by accident, discover exactly what she was born to do.
Yes, a 12-year-old Adams would stumble into boxing, and besides providing the youngster with a way to release for her aggression and hyperactivity, she would soon discover she had a real talent for it. “My mum was going to an aerobics class and she couldn’t get a babysitter for me and my brother, so while she went to aerobics, I went to the boxing club and absolutely loved it,” she explained to The Yorkshire Post.
The boxing gym on Compton Road in the Burmantofts area of inner-city Leeds would quickly become a regular haunt for Adams. The young teen quickly found her feet, and her talent caught the eyes of coaches who marked her out for competitive boxing. She told the The Yorkshire Post: “Some of the people there went to the same school as me and I made a few friends. I just loved the training and when one of the coaches asked if I was interested in doing competitions I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a go.’”
So, at the tender age of 13, Adams would make her competitive boxing debut. She took on a girl named Claire Newton, from a nearby boxing club. Adams won the bout, and reminisced about the experience to The Yorkshire Post in 2017: “There might have been about 100 people there. They hadn’t (banned) smoking by then, so my lungs were burning at the end of the rounds,” she told the local newspaper.
Around this time in her life, Adams would endure a frightening few months, when her mother became seriously ill with a potentially fatal illness. “My mum got meningitis when I was 13 or 14 and she ended up in hospital for a couple of months and I had to take care of my brother,” she told “It was really tough, I had to get him ready for school and sort out breakfast and make dinner in the evening.”
Thankfully, Adams’ mother Denver would make a full recovery. The young Leeds girl would continue with her boxing education, but as well as having to overcome the prejudice towards female boxers that was prevalent in the 1990s, Adams would have to endure four frustrating years waiting for a second adversary to be found. Yes, her coaches would struggle badly to find her another opponent to fight, with the wait finally ending when Adams was 17.
Nevertheless, Adams would announce herself as an exciting emerging talent in the fight, earning a knockout victory over her opponent in just the second round. Then in 2001 Adams would attend a special boxing camp for England. It was here that she met and trained with the future unified Cruiserweight and W.B.A. Heavyweight Champion David Haye. ‘The Hayemaker’ inspired the diminutive Adams to really put the work in and pursue her boxing dream with everything she had.
Later that year, Adams would make history for the first time in her fledgling career. Yes, the Leeds-born prospect was selected to represent England, making her the country’s first ever recognized female boxer. It was quite the honor, flying the flag for her nation and her gender, and in her first fight, Adams won a second-round decision over her Irish opponent. She was on the way to boxing superstardom.
Two years later Adams would win her first major title as a boxer, when she was crowned the English amateur champion in 2003. She would go on to claim that coveted title a further three times. Another ground-breaking moment in her career would arrive in 2007, when Adams traveled to the Women’s European Championships in Vejle, Denmark. In the 54kg bantamweight category she reached the final, where she lost to Russia’s Sofia Ochigava but picked up a silver medal for Great Britain. It was the first medal ever won by an Englishwoman at a major boxing competition.
Adams would claim silver for Great Britain again a year later, this time at the World Championships in Ningbo, China. She gave the world’s best female bantamweight at that time, Poland’s Karolina Michalczuk, a real fright in the gold medal match, and announced herself as a serious contender on the world stage. Yet 2009 was a quiet year, with Adams being sidelined for several months with a back injury.
Adams ran into financial difficulties while pursuing her boxing dream, and as a result had to take up other work. The Leeds fighter found work in the building trade, and bizarrely made appearances as an extra on notable British TV soap operas including EastEnders, Emmerdale and Coronation Street. Thankfully, the International Olympic Committee’s decision to approve the proper funding of women’s boxing would put her career back on track.
In 2010 Adams, now competing in the flyweight division, won her country yet another silver medal, losing out to Cancan Ren of China 10-5 in the Women’s World Boxing Championships that took place in Barbados that year. But by the end of the year, Adams started to win tournaments; having her hand raised in the final of the inaugural Great Britain Amateur Boxing Championship in Liverpool and also in the gold medal match of the European Union Amateur Boxing Championships in Katowice in 2011. And 2012 would be the year she became a major star of the sport and a household name in her own country.
Yes, 2012 was an Olympic year, and the global sporting event would be held in England’s capital city, London. However, the year did not get off to a good start for Adams. On the contrary, she nearly missed the biggest sporting event in her life when she tumbled down some stairs before the selection camps. Adams broke a vertebra, and worried doctors initially believed it was so bad she might be wheelchair-bound.
Adams was incapacitated for three long months, her Olympic dream firmly in the balance. Adams was incapacitated for three long months, her Olympic dream firmly in the balance. Eventually, with the help of painkillers, she managed to climb out of the bed and attend one of the camps. She later told the BBC’s Desert Island Discs radio show, “[I] did a couple of rounds sparring… It was the hardest day I have ever had in my life.” Nevertheless, a revitalized Adams went on to qualify for the Olympics via the 2012 A.I.B.A. Women’s World Boxing Championships in May.
But even better was to come, as on August 9, 2012 Adams powered her way to an Olympic gold medal in the London 2012 Games. The Briton outclassed China’s Ren Cancan in the gold medal bout for the Women’s Flyweight category, bamboozling the three-time world champion with her lightning fast hands, considerable power and quick feet. As if that wasn’t sweet enough, Adams broke yet another record, this time becoming the first ever female to claim an Olympic boxing gold medal, with London 2012 being the sport’s inaugural women’s competition.
Adams, with her huge talent, cheerful personality and beaming, white-toothed smile almost instantly became a major star in her home country. A short trip to the supermarket or local store suddenly took a long time, as new fans asked for autographs or congratulated her on her success. The openly-bisexual Adams also rose to the top of newspaper the Independent on Sunday’s Pink List of influential gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Great Britain and earned an invitation to the nation’s Boxing Writers’ Club, becoming the first female boxer to do so.
But if anyone thought winning Olympic gold in her home country would mean Adams would lose her hunger and merely rest on her laurels, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead, over the next four years Adams would go on to claim gold in the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (yet another first for the star) and retain her Olympic title in the Rio 2016 Games, defeating Ukraine’s Tetyana Kob in the final. That last victory made her the first Brit in 92 years to successfully defend an Olympic boxing title.
After dominating the amateur ranks and securing back-to-back Olympic gold medals, there was really only one thing for Adams to do to further her career, and that was to turn professional. So “The Lioness” did just that, signing with the renowned promoter Frank Warren. Her first pro bout was on April 8, 2017, in which she scored a comfortable points victory over her Argentine challenger Virginia Carcamo.
Adams followed up her winning debut with a sparkling knockout win over Mexican Maryan Salazar just a month later, with this bout taking place in front of her adoring Leeds crowd. She closed out a successful 2017 by traveling to Canada to face Uruguayan Soledad Macedo. Adams also got the business done early in this fight, stopping her opponent in three rounds. The year wasn’t all sunshine and roses however, with Adams taking some time out to care for her mother, who was suffering from cancer.
Adams would fight just twice in 2018, firstly recording a technical knockout victory over Soldedad del Valle Frias at Leeds United’s famous Elland Road stadium on May 19. The bout was on the undercard of her fellow Leeds hero Josh Warrington’s IBF world title fight with Lee Selby. Her second fight was on October 6, and Adams became a professional world champion when she won a unanimous decision over Isabel Millan with the World Boxing Organisation World Female Fly Title on the line. It was a huge moment, but Adams would suffer personal heartbreak that year, when she split with her fiancé of 16 months, the American boxer Marlen Esparza.
Nevertheless, Adams had to pick herself up from her private heartache and prepare for the first defence of her world title. That bout would take place on September 27, 2019 at the Royal Albert Hall in London, and she would come up against the experienced Mexican warrior Maria Salinas. The brutal bout went the distance and ended in a split-decision draw, ending Adams’ perfect winning record, but meaning she retained her world title. But it was what followed in the aftermath of the fight that would really shock the boxing world.
That’s because on November 6, 2019, less than two months after the bout with Salinas, Adams would have an emotional open letter published in the regional newspaper The Yorkshire Evening Post. It was in this letter that she would make the confession that amazed many of her fans and those who love the sport of boxing. She was hanging up her gloves for good.
“To my hometown and the wonderful readers of The Yorkshire Evening Post,” it began. “Many years ago, the paper wrote a story about a young girl wanting to embark on a boxing career. That girl wanted to make Leeds, Yorkshire and the people of Great Britain proud and pave the way for a new generation of female fighters,” she wrote.
Adams then thanked the newspaper for its support: “You’ve championed me from the very start of my career and so I wanted you to be the first to know I’ve made the very difficult decision to step down from the ring,” she wrote, before reminiscing about the remarkable voyage she had been on. “My journey started aged 12 when I decided to take part in my first fight. Years of watching boxing greats (Ali, Tyson, Bruno) had amounted to an intense passion for the sport and winning that first fight cemented my decision to pursue my dreams,” she added.
“I trained hard and was raring to go, but finding my next opponent took years and finding female fighters in my category turned out to be more challenging than I thought,” she admitted. But when she did – and when female boxing really took off – she was hugely proud of her achievements. “I’m immensely honoured to have represented our country – to win double Olympic gold medals and then the WBO championship belt is a dream come true,” she wrote.
“But it’s not without taking its toll on my body,” admitted Adams, before confessing the heartbreaking reason she has had to throw in the towel for good. “Aside from the expected aches and pains – I’ve been advised that any further impact to my eye would most likely lead to irreparable damage and permanent vision loss,” she wrote.
Yes, if Adams boxed on, there was a very real chance she could go blind in one eye, and she later revealed the full extent of the injury. “I [initially] didn’t think it would be anything too serious, but I had torn the pupil in my eye,” Adams told BBC’s Radio 5 Live. “I got the injury in the first round of my last fight [against Maria Salinas]. I phoned the doctors a couple of days afterwards. I could take the chance and keep boxing and hope nothing would happen to my eye, or an unlucky punch could mean I lose my sight,” she admitted.
In her open letter in The Yorkshire Evening Post, Adams – who has been dating beauty blogger Ella Baig since 2018 – paid an emotional tribute to her long-time trainer Alywn Belcher. The Yorkshireman had guided her career from the beginning, when she was little more than an enthusiastic youngster, and had helped turn her into a world champion. “To my wonderful team, I would not be the fighter I am today without your encouragement and understanding – what you have taught me goes beyond the ring. Particularly special thanks go to the wonderful Alwyn Belcher, my coach and personal mentor of many years,” she added.
Finally, Adams signed off with a message of respect to her opponents and a gleeful nod to everyone who supported her throughout her journey, from her trainer to her fans. “It has been an honor to compete on the global stage, and it has been a privilege to fight against such remarkable athletes,” she wrote. “Whilst I am proud of my achievements, the unwavering belief from everyone in my corner, is something I will appreciate for the rest of my life,” she concluded. No doubt the many fans of Nicola Adams, as well as the female boxers who have since followed in her trailblazing steps, will forever be appreciative of her remarkable career, and vividly remember her many successes, as well as that infectious toothy smile.