Life begins at 40 for Laurén
Luke G. Williams
On 23 April, big-time boxing returns to Stockholm with a bill featuring some of the best talent in Sweden, including Mikaela Laurén’s latest defence of her WBC female super-welterweight world title against Croatia’s former IBF welterweight titlist Ivana Habazin. On a recent break from training in London, Laurén spoke to Boxing Monthly.
A former national swimming champion, Mikaela Laurén did not make her professional boxing debut until past her 30th birthday. Despite her late start in the sport it’s a testament to her determination and athletic excellence that now, at the age of 40, she seems to be getting better and better.
“I was 28 when I quit swimming and 30 when I started boxing so people didn’t really think I was going to make it,” the charming and relentlessly upbeat Laurén told BM. “But I believed in myself and what I could do. I worked really hard and now I really feel like a boxer and not a swimmer.
“Right now I feel stronger than I’ve ever done before. I feel like a beast! I’m very, very excited about the fight on 23 April. I think people are going to see someone they’ve never seen before in the ring!”
Laurén’s contest against Habazin represents a new stage in her pugilistic career, with a new head coach in her corner - in the form of St. Pancras Boxing Club’s CJ Hussein - and a new promoter, namely the powerful Sauerland brothers, the masterminds of the ‘Capital Showdown’ bill in Stockholm which has attracted such attention for the resurgent Swedish boxing scene.
“It’s my first fight with CJ in my corner and my first fight with Sauerland and it will be my best fight!” Laurén declared confidently. “I’ve watched a couple of her [Habazin’s] fights. I know she’s technical, I know she’s never been stopped before. She’s only lost two fights, one against [undisputed world welterweight champion] Cecilia Brækhus, where she went 10 rounds.
“But I don’t think she’s strong enough. She’s got the experience, she’s gone 10 rounds a couple of times, but I don’t think she’s going to be strong enough to stop me. I think she’s in for a shock. I don’t think she’s going to last 10 rounds with me.”
Laurén attributes much of her current confidence to her new trainer Hussein, with whom she has been working in London, as well as an intense spell in France at a training camp in Aix-en-Provence.
“CJ’s really been bringing me up to the top and helping me put everything together,” she enthuses. ”He’s been teaching me lots. My footwork is a lot better, my punches are sharp, my right hand is coming. Today I’ve been hitting so hard my knuckles have started to bleed! I have a lot of confidence stepping into the ring. My training has been terrific - above all expectations.”
The prospect of fighting in front of her home Swedish support, in front of an expected 8,000 capacity crowd at the historic Hovet arena, where greats such as Ingemar Johansson and Sonny Liston appeared during Sweden’s boom boxing years in the 1950s and 1960s, is also a significant motivator for Stockholm-born Laurén.
“It’s super exciting,” she declared. “I only live about five minutes from the arena so this is really my home base, where I’ve been brought up, where I’ve moved back to. So to be able to be in a show with all the best Swedish boxers is amazing. It’s going to be a great show for the Swedish fans. We’re hoping for a sell-out. My whole family and my best friends are coming to cheer me on - that’s what means the most to me.”
Among the other Swedish boxers on the Hovet bill is Laurén’s domestic rival Klara Svensson. The ‘Swedish princess’ faces Italy’s Lucia Morelli in a rematch of their intense November 2014 showdown, which Svensson won by unanimous decision. Despite a two-weight division difference between the pair, Laurén admits she is keen to face Svensson in what would be a domestic blockbuster.
“We’re talking about meeting in the middle at welterweight, which I think is fair enough,” she explained. “I think that fight is going to happen before the year is over. That’s going to be big in Sweden, very big, but it’s not going to be a lucky day for her. I’m very confident about meeting Klara. I’m feeling stronger and stronger and becoming sharper. I think I’m too strong for Klara.”
Laurén is already one of the top female boxing stars in Europe and has held the WBC super-welterweight crown since November 2014. However, she admits that there is some unfinished business that she is desperate to attend to in the future – namely claiming the scalp of Norway’s Brækhus, the undisputed world welterweight champion who is also regarded, pound-for-pound, as the best female boxer in the world.
Brækhus and Laurén have already met once, in October 2010, with the Norwegian winning by seventh-round TKO. However Laurén insists that she is now ready to tussle again with the ‘first lady’ of female boxing.
“That’s what I’m waiting for,” she insisted. “I’m more than happy to have a rematch. We fought in 2010 and I was a beginner back then. I didn’t know what boxing was! Today, I’m a true world champion and I’m more than ready to have a rematch with her, I’m just waiting for it. People have under-estimated me. Over the last few years I’ve grown a lot as a fighter, I’m becoming better and better. It’s to my advantage that they’re not afraid of fighting me, but they’re going to regret it in the ring.
“I’m very, very strong. I used to be a swimmer, so going 10 rounds is not a problem for me, I get stronger the more rounds I go. My technique has become better, I’m starting to be more explosive. I have a lot of strengths and I never, ever give up. I have a good mentality and I’m a hard worker.
“One of my favourite phrases is ‘fighting spirit’, which I have even tattooed on my arm. It’s something I really stand for – that fighting spirit, never giving up and fighting for what I want. In the ring I don’t give up, I just keep on going forward.”