Jessica McCaskill entered the ring outside in Tulsa the underdog, in the fight, in life, with the 36-0 Cecilia Braekhus getting a lion's share of love by the hypers who were hoping, under their breath, that Braekhus would win.
That construct would set up a higher profile scrap with the winner of the following weekends' Katie Taylor-Delfine Persoon rematch.
I was curious, what was McCaskill's level of confidence that she would be messing up some best laid plans. Did McCaskill KNOW she'd beat Braekhus?
“Going in, I was very confident, when I added up everything coming together, I thought it would work in my favor,” said the 9-1 Chicago resident. “Yeah, I felt it would happen the entire time.”
Coach/manager Rick Ramos owns a gym, so she was able to be in a controlled environment, and got solid sparring work. Hearing media or fans talk like it was a given that Braekhus would leave Tulsa 37-0 didn't get under her skin. “We've always been the underdog,” she said. “That didn't take me by surprise.”
The grit and willpower McCaskill was forced to own, after a bumpy early child-hood, were in evidence in that main event on the Matchroom card. McCaskill last Saturday threw more (499 to 269, according to CompuBox) than Braekhus.
It must be reiterated, credit should be given to judges Gerald Ritter (97-94) and David Sutherland (97-93) for scoring it how they saw it, for the underdog, instead of the more heralded athlete.
Now, McCaskill is a “more heralded athlete.” She's closer to the level of Taylor, because of the impactful status of her upset of Braekhus.
She will watch Taylor-Persoon 2 today and she'll tell you that she'd like the Irish athlete to win. She has seen Taylor up close, over ten rounds, in December 2017, where Katie snagged a UD10 victory.
“I want Katie to win today,” said McCaskill, considering this Taylor (15-0) lightweight defense against the 44-2 fighter from Belgium. “Katie is one of the biggest fights for me outside of a Cecilia rematch. We just have to go to the drawing board and figure it out. I hope to fight before the end of the year, but we have to see how Katie gets out of this fight. If she’s cut or anything like that it will take longer with suspensions but I’d love to fight before the end of the year. I am already back in the gym so I am staying ready.”
You get the sense that even if Braekhus had her hand raised in Tulsa, McCaskill would be the type to absorb the blow, and bounce back. In Oklahoma, she waited for Michael Buffer to end the drama, and when he said “new,” she was now the undisputed welterweight champ, emotion flooded her system. She held it together quite well in the minutes directly after he life changed so considerably, cracking wise to Todd Grisham and Sergio Mora about streaking. Then, it dawned on her, how far she'd traveled. Her coach Ramos, she said, had told her she could win, and reminded her that if there was a point when she doubted herself, she should remember the strength of will she summoned in fourth grade, when the aunt who adopted her, and her two brothers negotiated a stint of homelessness.
During the ten two minute rounds, McCaskill stayed focused and didn't fast forward, start thinking about something that would be out of control, that being how the judges might be scoring the action. Instead, she looked at the Norwegian vet and dissected what was in front of her, and how she could best use her skill set to best effect.
“In the first minute of the fight, I wanted to see what she was going to do, would she jab and move, or come forward,” said the boxer who has used that homeless stint, living in southern Illinois, as fuel. “Cecilia was presenting her self to me, all the way through, so I just pushed the pace.”
I admitted, if I was someone who didn't come to the fight having done some homework, I would not have known that McCaskill isn't some young gun who used a better stamina reservoir stemming from an “age edge.” The Illinois fighter turns 36 on September 8, in fact. Braekhus, a welterweight titlist since 2009, turns 39 on September 28. She laughed when we spoke about how a youthful visage can result in assumptions. “I guess it's good genetics, and good defense!”
In the days after she had her hand raised, McCaskill said how she felt about the win changed up some. People saw her near tear-y when talking to Grisham and Mora. “Am I still at the same level of high? There's no comparing to the high on fight night, the actual night of. There's the hustle and bustle, you've been there for a week. But then I packed up, I was trying to fit all my stuff into a duffel bag, and I went home, and crashed,” McCaskill said.
“It's still an amazing feeling, people are still contacting me, calling me, my phone was going insane, people were contacting me on social media. There's a lot of love. It's a different kind of high. I told someone the night of, I felt unbalanced. I'd look up, I'd be on my phone, it was 3 AM, time was escaping me. But I've been enjoying the moment. Now I'm trying to get back to normal.”
Starting Monday, probably, she will go back to the “regular” grind. That means getting up at 3:30 AM, to do a workout. This past week, she was back to her day job, so she'd get up at 4:45 AM, to be in for 6 AM. She's been at the Chicago futures brokerage R.J. O'Brien for about four years, and does her thing in the regulatory reporting department.
Basically, she helps make sure that all the figures match up, make sense, and are filed and processed and declared in a manner that follows industry regulations to a T. One could excuse her, if, at her desk, she gets a faraway look in her eyes.
If you called her a “dreamer,” that wouldn't be wrong, but there should be no divisiveness about that tag. McCaskill is maybe better labeled a “dreamer-doer.”
You don't dare interject with anything resembling a hint of dubiousness when she articulates her desired scenario of how a McCaskill v Taylor rematch would look.
“Something like Wembley Stadium where there are 100,000 fans, if that’s even possible in the times that we are in right now, then of course that is something we wouldn’t pass up,” McCaskill said. That attendance level would surpass what Anthony Joshua drew for his September 2018 Wembley outing against Alexander Povetkin, about 80,000.
“Our preference is to have the fight in the states since the first fight was in the U.K. This one should probably in the U.S. If it was in Chicago, it would be insanity. It would be massive.”