| 12.6°C Dublin

contender 'El Paso's Sweetheart' facing into her moment of destiny as Katie Taylor awaits

Sacrifices are all finally paying off for popular Han

Close

Katie Taylor poses with Jennifer Han and promoter Eddie Hearn with her belts after the press conference at the Queens Hotel, New Station Street, Leeds yesterday. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Katie Taylor poses with Jennifer Han and promoter Eddie Hearn with her belts after the press conference at the Queens Hotel, New Station Street, Leeds yesterday. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Katie Taylor poses with Jennifer Han and promoter Eddie Hearn with her belts after the press conference at the Queens Hotel, New Station Street, Leeds yesterday. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Two years after almost quitting boxing, Korean-American Jennifer Han faces her moment of destiny in Leeds on Saturday night against Katie Taylor. She challenges the unbeaten Bray fighter for her five world lightweight championship belts.

Regardless of the outcome the challenger is a 16/1 shot – the 38-year-old has made life-changing sacrifices to fulfil her dream and collect the biggest pay cheque of her career.

But those dollars will have been earned. When Han returned to the gym run by her trainer Louie Burke in Las Cruces, New Mexico last May after the birth of her second son three months earlier, she weighed 210 pounds (95kg).

“There is nothing easy about boxing. Losing that weight was definitely an obstacle. I got quite large when I was pregnant. Since having the baby, I have lost 75lbs. It has been a struggle, but I did it and I feel great and I am ready to fight.”

Han became disillusioned with boxing when, despite winning the IBF featherweight crown in 2015 and defending the belt on four occasions in her native El Paso, she continued to be ignored by the big-time promoters and the TV networks.

“When I was pregnant with my first son, Ryan Moses in 2019, I was ready to retire. I wasn’t getting any of the big fights or my title defences weren’t being put on TV. I was a little disappointed. I felt I wasn’t getting what I deserved so I was ready to hang up my gloves.

“During the pregnancy I got quite big. I only went to boxing to lose weight. But my coach said I was sparring better than ever, and I should fight again. So, I had a fight in February of last year and I then decided to move up to lightweight.

“I was supposed to fight on the undercard of the Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano fight in May of last year. But then Covid happened and Americans weren’t allowed to travel to Europe and baby number two came. My life couldn’t stop. I got back into shape again and I feel amazing. This is definitely my time. All the pieces are coming together and I’m so excited.”

Still, it was heart-breaking to leave her two sons behind with her husband Ryan McShane in El Paso and travel to Leeds last weekend.

“You hit me right in the heart (with that question). It has been difficult for my husband. He has been doing a good job of taking care of the boys and he calls me, and I speak to them every day.

“I miss them terribly. I am doing this for them, and they will understand. I will be home soon.”

Her family has a rich tradition in martial arts. Her Korean-born father, Bae, emigrated to the United States in 1976 and is a master in karate, while her brother Abraham is an active fighter with a professional record of 26 wins and six losses.

“My dad is a martial art master and I grew up doing martial arts with my siblings. We trained and competed together. When I was about 12, I transitioned to kickboxing. It was a lot of fun, but I had difficulty getting competition.

“I was offered a boxing match when I was 16. I was a little unsure at first because you can’t kick in boxing. But after that first match, I fell in love with boxing and I have been doing it ever since.”

Sunday World Newsletter

Sign up for the latest news and updates

This field is required This field is required

Within two years of her fight debut she was selected to represent the United States at the inaugural women’s world boxing championships in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where she reached the quarter-finals of the featherweight division.

A five-time national amateur champion, she dreamed of competing in the Olympics but ultimately opted to turn professional in 2008.

“I waited for it to happen in 2004 and 2008 and my other issue was that at the time I boxed as a featherweight which wasn’t an Olympic weight.

“I had really hoped and worked hard to be an Olympic boxer, but that opportunity didn’t come. Instead my path has brought me here and I have no regrets.

“I have a lot of respect for Katie. I know she is a very experienced and dedicated fighter and I am very, very excited to get this opportunity to compete against her.”

Aside from raising her two sons, Han works as an instructor in the family business – a martial arts school.

“I wish I could be a full-time professional boxer. But I love the martial arts and the work I do because of the impact it has on our students in terms of changing their lives for the better.

“Even if I was earning enough as a professional boxer I would still be involved in the martial arts.”

Known as ‘El Paso’s Sweetheart’, Han’s popularity in her native city was underlined recently when the ‘El Paso Times’ newspaper ran a poll to determine the city’s athletic Mount Rushmore – to pick the four greatest sports figures in its history. She finished second in the voting.

If she to cause the upset of the year and beat Taylor, she would get an El Paso statue all to herself.

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices


Privacy