Georgia O’Connor is just 21 and hasn’t fought as a professional yet but already speaks powerfully about living “each day as your last” and chasing dreams.
She was a fantastic amateur boxer but now, ahead of her pro debut, is the unlikely future of women’s boxing because her path to this moment has been a rollercoaster which threatened to derail.
First her experience with Team GB, designed to take her towards Olympic glory, turned sour. More recently a serious blood clot on her lung called more than just her boxing future into question.
O’Connor is certainly not from a boxing hotbed, nor did she have the typical boxer’s childhood – her tiny hamlet in County Durham is full of farm animals, and she lived in France briefly as a child.
“My dad put a pair of gloves on me before I could walk,” she tells Sky Sports.
“He played daft games with me – like peek-a-boo where I had to try and hit him – I think that’s why my reactions are so good now!
“He always wanted me to be able to look after me. He never wanted me to be a superstar, my family aren’t like that. He just wanted me to defend myself because the world isn’t a nice place.”
O’Connor tried martial arts, MMA and boxing as a child: “I was a three-time national taekwondo champion, undefeated in kickboxing, but my heart has always been with boxing”.
She won five national amateur titles, silver and bronze medals at the Youth European championships before a breakthrough year in 2017 which yielded Commonwealth Youth gold then World Youth silver.
O’Connor won her gold medal in the Bahamas: “It was surreal. It was a dream. I’d only ever seen it on the TV, how clear the water is. It was like standing in one of those pictures. A completely different way of life.
“I’m pretty well-travelled but this was fantastic.
“When I need to be serious, I can be very serious.”
She won silver in India: “I loved the culture and seeing the religions. I loved how religiously harmonised it was – the same street would have a mosque, a synagogue, a church. If they can do it, why can’t we? There is a lot we can learn.”
A bomb had only recent dropped on the same location that O’Connor was staying for the Games: “The level of security was the same as in Iraq. It was strange. We had one guard per person, each carrying an AK47. It was like being in an action movie.”
Her amateur credentials made her an intriguing proposition for the 2020 Olympics but things didn’t go to plan when O’Connor moved to Team GB’s Sheffield base.
She says: “I am beyond grateful to have travelled the world and lived the dream. Every boxer dreams of wearing their tracksuit.
“I thought: ‘In 2020 I will be too young, do I want to wait for 2024 for the Olympics?’
“I could gain experience as a professional and inspire others.
“I wasn’t completely happy so I didn’t reach my full potential. It has made me a mature, well-rounded person.”
The Tokyo Games instead went ahead in 2021 with Lauren Price and Karriss Artingstall winning medals while Caroline Dubois also shone.
It must have been tough to watch from home?
“I’m at peace with what happened,” O’Connor says.
It is clear that O’Connor is not your stereotypical boxer.
She is currently doing a law degree and, in her spare time, plays the guitar and sings.
“My idea of fun is reading a book in bed,” she says. “I’ve never drunk alcohol.
“When I’ve made a few quid and inspired a generation, then I can have fun.
“This is the sacrifice that I make.”
Her illness was an altogether more serious issue to persevere through.
“For me to overcome that, to still be there, to be healthy? I thank God every day for the rest of my life,” O’Connor says.
“I realised that I’ve got one life, I want to live it to the fullest and not wait around for opportunities that might not come around, hence the Olympics.
“It’s important to live each day as your last.”
O’Connor has serious bravery and that will serve her well in her new profession.
“I’ve always had a big heart. I see homeless people on the street and I actually care too much, if anything,” she says.
“People might say that’s not good because you need to be heartless to be a boxer.
“But that’s not true. You need a huge heart to fight.”
So, when O’Connor steps into the ring for the first time, what to expect?
“I like to spare my nose, so I try to keep it tactical! I am fast, pretty sharp, a lot of people in the amateurs said I have exceptional footwork. But I like to have a fight, too.
“People should follow me because I’m not big-headed. My main goal is to inspire future generations. To be a woman in sport, it’s amazing to have the opportunity to show that there’s nothing you can’t do.
“It’s important that people say: ‘She can fight, full stop’.
“If one kid watches me and takes action by saying ‘I can do that’ then my life is worth living.”
Sky Sports Boxing schedule
October 16 – Top Rank in San Diego
Emanuel Navarette vs Joet Gonzalez – WBO featherweight title
October 16 – BOXXER in Newcastle
Savannah Marshall vs Lolita Muzeya – WBO middleweight title
Hughie Fury vs Christian Hammer
Chris Eubank Jr vs Wanik Awidjan
October 24 – Top Rank in Atlanta
Shakur Stevenson vs Jamel Herring – WBO super-featherweight title
October 31 – Top Rank in New York
Jose Zepeda vs Josue Vargas
November 6 – Top Rank in Las Vegas
Mikaela Mayer vs Maiva Hamadouche – IBF and WBO super-featherweight titles
November 6 – BOXXER in Liverpool
November 20 – BOXXER in London
Richard Riakporhe vs Olanrewaju Durodola
Caroline Dubois professional debut
December 11 – Top Rank in Las Vegas
Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Richard Commey
December 18 – Top Rank in Glasgow
Josh Taylor vs Jack Catterall – undisputed super-lightweight title