Cecilia Braekhus, the best female fighter you've probably never heard of

Cecilia Braekhus is the undisputed women's welterweight champion of the world. Photo provided by Lina Baker/360 Promotions

HBO's run in boxing that began on Jan. 22, 1973 -- with George Foreman's two-round destruction of Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title of the world in Kingston, Jamaica -- will conclude on the night of Dec. 8 at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, and it will be the undisputed female welterweight champion of the world, Norway's Cecilia Braekhus, in the main event.

"The First Lady of Boxing" vs. Aleksandra Magdziak Lopes will be the 1,119th and last scheduled bout on HBO.

"This is definitely one of the biggest honors I have gotten," said Braekhus at the Churchill Boxing Gym in Santa Monica, where she trained. But she is quick to point out that performing on big stages is nothing new to her.

"I am used to being in big fights. I had the first fight in Norway since 1981, when the ban was lifted, and we sold all 10,000 tickets there, and I was headlining that show," explained Braekhus, who back on May 5 was the first woman to appear in a televised boxing match on HBO.

She also notes that she performed in front of sizable audiences in Denmark and Germany, and her most recent fight took place in Russia back in July on the Oleksandr Usyk-Murat Gassiev undercard.

"So I've had a lot of fights that are on the big stage," said Braekhus, who is a bona-fide box-office attraction in her homeland.

"I hear a lot of talking in America, you guys -- and I don't want to be rude -- but you are a little bit behind," said Braekhus. "I have been a pay-per-view fighter for almost seven years in Europe. So I'm a pay-per-view fighter, and I have lived and dealt with the stress and demands of being a pay-per-view fighter for seven years."

What's really remarkable is that Braekhus (34-0, 9 KOs) has accomplished this while growing up in a country where professional boxing had been banned for three decades. It was a journey that began in South America.

"I was born in Colombia," explained Braekhus, who was born in 1981 in Cartagena, a port city on the Caribbean coast of the country. "My mother passed away at an early age, and I was given to an aunt, who was too old to take care of me, unfortunately. So I then went to this orphanage, and I don't remember that much."

Interestingly, she recalled that the orphanage was a happy place.

"There were a lot of children and kids there playing around, and suddenly two people from Norway came to take me away," she recalled.

At two and a half years old, Cecilia was adopted by Marthin and Jorun Braekhus, who whisked her away to Bergen, the "City of Seven Mountains."

"It was the first time I saw snow, because I came in the winter, and that was, of course, something that was very big for me," said Braekhus, who had her brother from Bogota join her a few years later in Norway.

Growing up there was, according to her, a "peaceful, happy environment," where plenty of time was spent playing in the mountains, and skiing was a favored activity.

"I pretty much hit the lottery," admitted Braekhus, who says that, despite her South American heritage, she never faced any racial discrimination in this foreign country that quickly became her home. She assimilated to the Scandinavian culture, and now she speaks Norwegian, along with German and English.

"And unfortunately, I lost my Spanish," said Braekhus.

"I saw a poster to try kickboxing, which is what I actually started off with and so I went down there and I tried it and it's hard to explain. It's like when you meet a guy and you just fall in love with him and it's just the love of your life. It was just love at first sight." Cecilia Braekhus

So how does one who grew up in a region with no professional prizefighting actually begin the journey into the sport?

"It just happened," said Braekhus. "Norway is skiing and futbol, those are big sports in Norway, and I loved that. I also did handball and a lot of sports, and we were very active."

While there was a ban on pro boxing (which began in January 1982), there was still an amateur scene and gyms around the country that catered to various combat sports.

Then one day, Braekhus says a poster got her into the sport.

"I saw a poster to try kickboxing, which is what I actually started off with, and so I went down there and I tried it, and it's hard to explain," said Braekhus. "It's like when you meet a guy and you just fall in love with him, and it's just the love of your life. It was just love at first sight."

And in the beginning, it was a forbidden love.

"My parents didn't want me to do kickboxing at the start because they thought girls shouldn't do it," Braekhus recalled. "Now, they're my biggest fans."

But back then, for her just to train was a challenge.

"I actually had to crawl out the window and come down from the fire stairs and then go out to the gym," said Braekhus. "I needed to sneak out to the gym. I did that for one year, actually."

Taking up the sport at age 13, she had her first kickboxing competition a few years later.

"I was pretty good, fast," said Braekhus, who isn't being immodest given that she ended up becoming the 2002 WAKE Euro Champion and the 2003 WAKO National Champion. "So I moved to Oslo, the main capital, to pursue boxing."

Braekhus embarked on an amateur boxing career that spanned 80 bouts. She compiled a record of 75-5 and was able to win the 2005 European Championships and capture the silver medal in the World Championships that same year. After an injury prevented her from competing in the 2006 Women's World Amateur Boxing Championships in India, the decision was made to turn pro.

On Jan. 20, 2007, in Basel, Switzerland, Braekhus decisioned Ksenija Koprek over four rounds in her professional debut. Fast-forward to 2018, and she has a closetful of belts -- WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO -- and she is the undisputed female welterweight champion of the world. This past September, she was presented with the Ring Magazine female pound-for-pound belt, and the Boxing Writers Association of America named her the 2017 Women's Fighter of the Year, the first time this award had been given out by the BWAA.

"The scene for women's boxing right now is really exciting, more exciting than in many years, and as the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer, it's natural for me to be here and see what big fights can be made. I'm getting called out every week, seven to 10 girls every week, and we will see just what we can do about that." Cecilia Braekhus

And she has the distinction of being in the Guinness Book of World Records for the most bouts undefeated as a female boxer and the longest run as four-belt undisputed champion.

"She's up there at the top; she's a remarkable athlete," said David Avila, a boxing writer who covers the women's fight scene. As for her all-time status, he opines that she would be somewhere in the top 10.

With Braekhus -- who is trained by former heavyweight contender Johnathon Banks -- it isn't just her ability, but her marketability, that make her stand out. The statuesque Braekhus caught the attention of promoter Tom Loeffler, best known for engineering the rise of Gennady Golovkin several years ago as he was working with the Klitschko brothers (former heavyweight world titleholders Wladimir and Vitali).

"I took notice when she single-handedly removed the ban of professional boxing in Norway," said Loeffler, who began to help out on her fights from an administrative standpoint with the various sanctioning bodies. Now Loeffler (who heads up 360 Promotions) is Braekhus' full-time promoter.

"I believe in women's boxing, that with the right stars -- just like men's boxing -- you can really create a lot of interest, and Cecilia's got to be one of the most marketable females of all time," stated Loeffler. "She carries herself well, very respectful of the sport, her opponents. She's just someone you'd want to be associated with."

Arriving a couple of months early in preparation for this upcoming bout, Braekhus attended her first NBA game during this trip and was courtside. During this Trailblazers-Clippers game, Braekhus was recognized by Portland's star guard Damian Lillard, a noted boxing fan. Back in Los Angeles, the duo attended a Lakers game, where she met Floyd Mayweather.

"It's just been so much fun," said Braekhus, "Of course, it's big pressure to deliver for all my fights, but it's a pressure I've had for a long time. I enjoy that pressure, and my fights are always entertaining; they're never boring."

And now with her Q-rating rising, she has even made an appearance on TMZ, and the subject was noted MMA combatant Cris Cyborg, who has called her out for a boxing match. Braekhus, says she is absolutely interested.

"We have contact with her manager all the time, and we're talking to them. And of course, she's laying a little bit low because she has two more fights going in her UFC contract. But she's very interested in it. She was actually the one who started all of this on Twitter.

"She really, really, really thinks she can beat me," added Braekhus, who makes it clear that at age 37, she isn't ever stepping into the Octagon.

"Oh no, I'm too old for that," she said, laughing. "I can't see myself starting to wrestle."

But first she must get past Lopes (18-4-3, 1 KO) before planning anything for 2019.

After this upcoming bout, Braekhus isn't sure where she'll go for the rest of 2018.

"I basically live out of a suitcase," she explained of her nomadic existence. A citizen of Norway, where she still keeps an apartment, Braekhus has a P1 Visa (an athlete visa) to stay in the States. But, Braekhus adds, "I feel like L.A. is my second home now. I really enjoy it here. I really like the weather here. It just feels like home."

Who knows, she just might stick around for a bit longer. Not just in Southern California, but in the boxing game.

"The scene for women's boxing right now is really exciting, more exciting than in many years, and as the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer, it's natural for me to be here and see what big fights can be made. I'm getting called out every week, seven to 10 girls every week, and we will see just what we can do about that," said Braekhus.