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 was 45 when he stopped Michael Moorer in 1996.
But Nina Hughes has a history to match theirs after winning the WBA bantamweight title in just her fifth pro contest, and less than a year after her first.
The 40-year-old from Billericay, Essex became champions by winning a unanimous points decision over previously undefeated American Jamie Mitchell to Dubai.
And the elation of victory was all the sweeter because of the satisfaction of answering doubters.
“Since I decided to turn professional, my age went against me. No one wanted to sign me because of my age. At first they said I wouldn’t get a license,” she said. told BBC Essex.
“It was difficult trying to get people to believe in me. But I found my team, my manager, my trainer, they believed in me and I carried on.
“Even the night before [the fight] when I was reading people’s comments, everyone wrote me off, nobody 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 Nina Smith – who first became interested in the sport aged 25 when she took boxing lessons with a friend – was part of the preliminary squad for Team GB for the London 2012 Olympics.
“I was able to train full time with the British boxing team in Sheffield, we traveled around the world in different training camps, it was a great experience,” she said.
But this story didn’t have a happy ending because eventual gold medalist Nicola Adams was selected ahead of her in the flyweight category.
Adams – now retired – and her London teammates Natasha Jonas and Savannah Marshall all won world titles as professionals, but after missing the Games Hughes took a few years off and had the first of her two children.
She eventually returned to the ring, mainly to lose weight, and intended to compete in another amateur championship and call it a day – but Covid caused a change of plans.
“During lockdown I thought I was definitely retiring now. But I was watching the girls on TV turn pro and take off in the pro game and I thought ‘I have to try’ and joined a pro gym. “
She had her first paid contest against Claudia Ferenczi at Bethnal Green’s York Hall on December 3, 2021 and was later paired with Tysie Gallagher of Luton for the vacant Commonwealth and WBO International super bantamweight titles, which she won by decision majority.
Cut the forced change of tactics
In October, she retained the Commonwealth belt with a second-round TKO of Flora Machela and just 42 days later found herself facing Mitchell with the world title on the line.
“The fight went really well. I was comfortable, I was in front all the way, but I got cut in a clash of heads in the sixth or seventh round, so we had to change it up a bit. our tactic,” she said.
“The tactic was to pressure her, but once I got cut I opted to box on the back foot so I wouldn’t hurt myself anymore. Both plans worked and I got the job done. That still doesn’t seem real.”
It’s all been a bit of a whirlwind for Hughes lately, and not just because of his in-ring career.
“I still work three days a week too, so it’s not even my full-time job. Juggling work, my kids and boxing, I just don’t have time at all.
“For my last two fights in this country, my eight-year-old son brought me into the ring and he really enjoys it. They come to the gym with me all the time.”
Her next ring assignment has yet to be decided – but fellow champions Yulihan Luna (WBC), Ebanie Bridges (IBF) and Dina Thorslund (WBO) are potential contenders if she wants 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. I think it would be a lot different on my body if I had,” Hughes said.
“Now that I’ve won, that should open a lot of doors for a lot of big fights, so I can’t wait to see what offers I get in the new year.”
Nina Hughes was talking to BBC Essex’s Sonia Watson