Cecilia Braekhus named winner of inaugural Christy Martin Women's Fighter of the Year award

Undisputed welterweight world champion Cecilia Braekhus, the No. 1 pound-for-pound female boxer in the world, has been selected as the 2017 female fighter of the year by the Boxing Writers Association of America, the organization announced Friday.

The BWAA, which has existed for 92 years, has honored a fighter of the year for decades, but the award always has been given to men. Last month, the organization announced that a committee of women's boxing experts would begin picking a female fighter of the year.

Braekhus will receive the Christy Martin Women's Fighter of the Year award -- named for the trailblazing women's boxer -- at the 2018 awards banquet, which will take place at a location and on a date to be determined this spring.

Braekhus (32-0, 9 KOs), 36 -- a native of Colombia and a major star in her adopted home country of Norway -- has held major world titles since 2009, became the undisputed champion when she unified the four major belts in 2014, and has made 21 overall defenses.

She made three defenses in 2017, a near-shutout decision against Klara Svensson in February, a similarly one-sided decision against Erica Anabella Farias in June and a sixth-round knockout of Mikaela Lauren in October.

Other nominees for the award included Jessica Chavez, Naoko Fujioka, Mariana Juarez, Amanda Serrano, Claressa Shields and Katie Taylor.

"I'm very excited about this," said Braekhus, who turned pro in 2007 and was a driving force in getting Norway to lift its ban on professional boxing in 2014. "This is important to me because it's part of boxing history and it's very big for me because of the young girls that may think about boxing in their future.

"I think also of all the girls whose name should be on this that are a huge part of this, the girls who went to the gym and trained hard twice a day only because they loved the sport of boxing. They gave everything and didn't get anything back: money, fame or anything. They did it because they loved it and wanted to compete and represent their country. It's been a long road for women's boxing, so it's great for the BWAA to recognize a female fighter of the year. I'm very proud to be the first, but there a lot of women that came before me that made this possible."

Thomas Gerbasi, the women's boxing writer for Ring magazine and the chairman of the BWAA selection committee, helped picked Braekhus.

"We were looking at performances throughout 2017, but not just the performances and the wins, but the level of competition each of the women faced," the longtime boxing writer said. "When you look at that it's hard to look at anyone other than Cecilia. Everyone who was nominated was worthy. If you ask 20 people about the seven nominees, you might get several different answers.

"When we looked at Cecilia, she fought two former world champions and fought one current world champion in Erica Farias, who was moving up in weight, making it a super fight between two of the pound-for-pound best. Cecilia did all of this with a target on her back, because she had five world titles to defend."

Martin, who became a women's boxing star in the 1990s and ushered in the modern era of female boxing, said she was pleased that Braekhus is the first winner of the award named after her.

"First, to have an award named after you is really flattering," Martin said. "I felt I gave a lot to the sport, so I'm very grateful for this. I'm really happy that it's Cecilia. This is someone who has put in a great body of work. She's had great support behind her in her country, and she's the perfect and logical choice."

Braekhus, who has never met Martin, asked that she present the award to her at the dinner, and Martin accepted the invitation.

"I'm honored Cecilia would ask for me to present her and meet her," Martin said. "She's a great choice, she's deserving and I'm happy it's Cecilia -- and she still has plenty of her career left."