Chantelle Cameron: ‘I always loved fighting. I used to make all the boys cry’

Chantelle Cameron celebrates victory after defeating Katie Taylor during the IBF, IBO, WBA, WBC and WBO World Super Lightweight Title fight
Chantelle Cameron celebrates victory after defeating Katie Taylor in the IBF, IBO, WBA, WBC and WBO World Super Lightweight Title fight - Getty Images/James Chance

It was on a small patch of grass on the Standens Barn estate in Northampton that Chantelle Cameron discovered her superpower.

“When I was younger I never used to feel any pain … I don’t really feel pain, which is a bit weird, and I just always loved fighting,” says arguably the world’s best pound-for-pound women’s boxer, casting her mind back to a formative scene that could hardly contrast more sharply with beating Katie Taylor in front of 10,000 of her opponent’s own fans in Dublin.

“I’m from a council estate where we had nothing – not even a playground,” recalls Cameron. “It was just hanging out around the streets. We had a bit of grass and made our own little games.

“I used to play with Barbies and do little Polly Pockets but I’d get bored and start play-fighting with all the boys. I used to make the boys cry. Their mums used to come to my house and would be having words with my mum. It just used to always kick off.”

Cameron duly joined the local kick-boxing club at the age of 10 where, once again, she found herself channelling her fighting passion in the company of boys.

“There’s this thrill, this excitement,” she says. “I didn’t mind getting hit back either. I could take a shot, even getting kicked in my head, or kneed in my head, I just took it in my stride. The competition categories would be mixed. I would spar with the boys and never get hurt. I’d go to school and go to the kick-boxing gym for three hours every night.”

When did she realise that she was good? “When I was winning competitions,” says Cameron, smiling as she recalls an event where she was surrounded not just by the winners’ trophy but the boys she had defeated. “That probably wasn’t one of the pictures where they [the boys] went showing everyone at school. Mum and Dad didn’t like me doing it to begin with, but they saw I was winning medals and staying out of trouble. It kept me disciplined.”

And, as well as not feeling pain, how did it feel to inflict punishment? “You are in there to hurt somebody,” she says, matter-of-factly. “That doesn’t mean I want to go around hurting everyone and causing damage. A fight’s a fight. They want to hurt me, so I’d rather hurt them than they hurt me.”

Cameron became national Amateur Boxing Association champion in 2010 and was told she would need to focus on boxing to have a chance of being selected for the Olympics and other international competitions.

She was better with her fists than her feet anyway and her purely boxing journey will reach a further peak this weekend with a rematch at the 3Arena in Dublin against Taylor for the undisputed world super lightweight title.

Cameron remains unbeaten professionally while Taylor, an Olympic gold medallist and two-weight world champion, will be trying to avenge her only defeat when what was billed as the “Homecoming” was gatecrashed in May.

Chantelle Cameron in action during her fight against Katie Taylor
Chantelle Cameron defeated Katie Taylor in May. The pair will fight again in Dublin this weekend - Reuters/Jason Cairnduff

It is an intriguing prospect which serves also as a timely reminder to the men that there is still nothing more captivating in boxing than a genuine meeting of the best against the best.

Cameron describes the atmosphere in the first fight as “quite breathtaking” but it is easy also to sense a frustration that, even as the winner, she must again travel to Ireland for the rematch. She would eventually love the chance to fight on a similar stage in Northampton, perhaps at the Franklin’s Gardens, home of the Northampton Saints rugby team.

‘I’ve done it the hard way and I’m very proud of that’

“I’ve fought in halls, leisure centres, function rooms, stadiums,” she says. “I started small and have gone big. I’ve done it the hard way and I’m very proud of that. Nothing has been given to me and I wouldn’t change it. If things are given to you, especially in boxing, you become complacent. You get a bit ungrateful … and you become entitled. I’ve smashed through hurdles and barriers. I’m on top of the world and I have to keep it that way.”

Aged 32, Cameron hopes that she will “go down as one of the best that’s ever done this”, but is also acutely aware of a potential wider legacy. There is a debate about whether women’s championship bouts should follow the men’s format of 12 three-minute rounds or remain at 10 two-minute rounds.

“I’d love to push myself to do what the men are doing,” she says. “There are a lot more punches thrown in two-minute rounds – it’s busier – but three-minute rounds you can’t argue about the pay. Women have to be paid equal to the men because we are doing the same. Also it makes it more exciting because there would be more stoppages.

“Three-minute rounds … you’re going to break your opponent down, you’re going to get to them, and I think it will be easier for judges to score. Three-minute rounds would suit my style more.”

‘I let my fists do the talking’

As well as that obvious boxing legacy, Cameron also hopes that the way she conducts herself out of the ring can serve as an example. The absence of any disrespectful or abusive remarks towards Taylor certainly feels like a refreshing throwback to rather more honourable times.

“When I retire, I want people to talk about my fights and inspire the next generation to be a good fighter, but also to think you don’t have to sell yourself in certain ways, like have trash talk. You don’t see me online bad-mouthing other fighters, being nasty and bitter.

“People like you as well. They see the real you and don’t think, ‘What an a-------’. You can be yourself. I don’t box for people’s approval. I do it because I enjoy it and I let my fists do the talking.

“There’s no animosity [with Taylor]. I respect her. She’s a great role model but, at the end of the day, I beat her and I have got to beat her again. It’s a selfish sport.”

Beyond that and, as Cameron thinks back again to growing up on a Northampton estate, there is a message for any other young girls with big aspirations.

“If you’ve got a dream, you have to persevere because it’s not going to be easy,” she says. “But don’t let anyone ever tell you you can’t do something. Never give up. You’ve just got to remember what you set out for, and keep going because one day you’ll achieve it.”