World bantamweight champion and mum-of-two Nina Hughes has told her fellow forty-somethings never to give up on their dreams.
Hughes, 41, hopes to defend her WBA title for the first time in June against former champion Shannon Courtenay after winning the belt in December in just her fifth professional fight.
It has been a meteoric rise for Billericay’s Hughes. She started out in boxercise classes at the age of 25, turned professional at 39 and now has her sights on becoming undisputed world champion.
She told the PA news agency: “If you feel you’re good enough, don’t give up on your dreams. Everyone said I was too old, but I didn’t feel my age.
“Sparring in the gym, I could compete with everyone and I just believed in myself. I just never gave up, it was my dream.
“When I turned pro I thought I’d give it a go and if I didn’t get anywhere at least I’d have tried. I knew I’d never regret it then because I had tried. I just kept trying. I didn’t want to give up.”
A unanimous points decision in July over previously unbeaten American Jamie Mitchell in Dubai earned Hughes the WBA crown and a long-term deal with promoter Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing.
Hughes hopes success against Courtenay paves the way for a showdown with IBF champion Ebanie Bridges and then a shot at either WBO champion Dina Thorslund or WBC champion Yulihan Luna.
“Realistically I haven’t got long left,” Hughes said. “The aim was to be world champion and I’ve done that, so I’m setting myself more targets, maybe become the undisputed champion.”
Hughes ripped it up in the amateur ranks – she is a four-time ABA national champion – but was overlooked by Team GB for the 2012 London Olympics.
“I missed out on selection to Nicola Adams and was released from the squad because they said I was too old for the next Games in Rio,” she said.
“So I took a break and didn’t actually think I was going to box again. Then I had my first child, put on loads of weight and started training again to lose the weight.
“I set myself a target to just have one more fight, just to lose the weight, and I started really enjoying it again, so I carried on and won another national (amateur) title.
“Then I got pregnant again, but by then I knew I wanted to carry on, so I was back in the gym three weeks after my second baby.”
Hughes said sons Leo, eight, who has accompanied her on ring-walks for two of her professional bouts, and Caelin, six, help keep her grounded and despite world title success, she still works three days a week as a personal assistant.
She added: “I don’t have any spare time. I’m tired a lot! I go to bed at the same time as the kids.
“But I’m still getting better. I’m improving in the gym all the time. The change from amateur to professional, I’m still learning. Every week we’re working on things and I’m still getting better and better.
“It’s not the end of the road yet. There’s still a lot more to come.”