If 2020 was dreamland for Rachel Ball then the start of 2021 comes pretty close to being a nightmare. Ball was getting set to fight for the WBA Bantamweight World Title, against Shannon Courtenay, when disaster struck: the 30 year-old testing positive for coronavirus on January 7th writes Oliver McManus.
Whilst, at that point, the contest remained over four months away it quickly transpired that the long-term impacts of COVID would be difficult to shake. Rachel began our conversation by just outlining the circumstances that forced her to withdraw from that contest.
“I remember it so vividly because of the impact it’s had on me but when I woke up (on January 7th) I’d just felt like I’d over trained because I was really sore. I was having a rest day, anyway, but I was out with the dog in the evening and started to have a bad cough and that continued into the night and the morning after. On the 8th my test came back positive but I still wasn’t feeling too bad – I thought I’d be able to bounce back from it – but it was when I tried to start exercising from home that it wiped me off my feet.
“Even after just a small amount of exercise it was the headaches and fatigue that really got me worried. That continued for a while and the headaches are the most debilitating thing because it’s hard to explain, but they can just be so bad and leave me feeling unable to move from the sofa. Unfortunately it’s exacerbated by exercise so the one thing I would love to be doing is the one thing that’s making me feel worse.”
Ball remained cautiously optimistic of a return on a Matchroom show in July but was candid enough to say if she wasn’t back in the gym with eight weeks to go then she’d have to look for a date later in the year.
“It was hard to pull out of the fight and I was expecting a lot of negativity, if I’m honest, but myself and Gav (Burrows, Rachel’s coach) know we’re a long way off being able to get in the ring so it’s what we had to do. I’m getting better at knowing what I can and can’t do whilst it’s still lingering in the background: I’m trying to do everything I can to get into a position where we can start looking towards getting back in the ring.”
Stepping into Ball’s shoes on April 10th will be Ebanie Bridges who now contests that WBA Bantamweight title against Courtenay live on Sky Sports. Ball said she had “made peace” with the fact she won’t be fighting on the night and is looking forward to watching the pair go at it.
“It will be a little bittersweet but I am really, really looking forward to it. I want people to be talking about it and getting excited about the fight because then they can be excited when I’m back fighting the winner. I’ve thought about who wins an awful lot because we know upsets happen – as was the case when I beat Shannon – and obviously people don’t know much about Ebanie. She could pull off the shock and we’ll all enjoy watching it or she won’t live up to that fighter we see on her social media and it’ll be a bit disappointing.”
The goal for Rachel stays the same regardless of who wins that contest: become WBA champion and plant her flag in an increasingly competitive field of female fighters in the United Kingdom.
Ball remained optimistic as she looked to the future and refused to let her ongoing recovery from the long-term impacts of COVID dent that love for life.
“I’ve never taken any area of life for granted, especially not in boxing, and that’s not something that’s going to change after this. I’m sure I’ll probably be chucked in the deep end when I return but that’s okay, I can swim, I’m a good swimmer and I look forward to it. I’ve got to wait a little while longer before I can get my hands on the title but I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait.”