Nicola Adams, who led women’s boxing into the mainstream and became one of the most decorated fighters of all time, announced her retirement yesterday at the age of 37 after medical advice that her eyesight was at risk.
The flyweight world champion, who won gold medals at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympics, announced her shock decision in an open letter to her local newspaper, the Yorkshire Evening Post and then later revealed that she had suffered a torn pupil in her last fight, against Maria Salinas in September.
“I’m immensely honoured to have represented our country – to win double Olympic gold medals and then the WBO championship belt is a dream come true,” Adams wrote in the YEP. “But it’s not without taking its toll on my body and, aside from the expected aches and pains, I’ve been advised that any further impact to my eye would most likely lead to irreparable damage and permanent vision loss.”
She was more specific about the nature of the problem when she spoke later to the BBC, saying it was the injury against Salinas that had made up her mind.
“I didn’t think it would be anything too serious but I had torn the pupil in my eye,” Adams said.
“I got the injury in the first round. I phoned the doctors a couple of days afterwards.
“I could take the chance and keep boxing and hope nothing would happen to my eye or an unlucky punch could mean I lose my sight.”
Adams, who plans to go into action movies, battled to the “Grand Slam” of women’s amateur boxing, having won European, Commonwealth Games and world amateur titles in a stellar career spanning a decade at the very highest level.
Her time in the sport had begun in 1995 when her mother, Dee, left the 12-year-old at a junior boxing class in Leeds while taking an exercise class herself.
Adams, who became known as the “Smiling Assassin”, carried the country’s hopes at the 2012 Olympic Games, and became an icon for the LGBTQ community, quietly becoming a powerful spokesperson at a time of change. Winning a second Olympic gold in Rio was an extraordinary achievement, clearly ranking Adams as one of the greats to emerge in women’s boxing.
In the lead-up to that second triumph, Adams told Telegraph Sport, which was documenting her journey to gold in regular interviews: “It really was a great journey. My mum couldn’t get a babysitter for me and my brother one night when she was doing her workout classes, and they had an after-school boxing class. I was 12. I walked into the gym and it was really old school. I loved it.
“There were kids in the ring doing technique work and kids in the mirrors shadowboxing. I just thought, wow, this must have been what it was like for Muhammad Ali.”
Indeed, Ali had been her hero, and in becoming the first woman to be crowned an Olympic boxing champion, when she defeated Ren Cancan, of China, 16-7 on points with a lightning jab and clever attacks, the Briton even showed her own version of the “Ali Shuffle”.
The British Amateur Boxing Association did not permit women to take part in sanctioned bouts until 1997 – and women’s boxing was not in the Olympics.
After completing an amateur career with every possible major trophy and belt, Adams set her mind on becoming a professional world champion. She was presented with the World Boxing Organisation crown after the incumbent champion failed to defend it against Adams, the mandated challenger.
Adams solidified her championship status by retaining the title by a razor-tight decision at the Royal Albert Hall against Salinas of Mexico.
Promoter Frank Warren said: “Her accomplishments will go down in history and she will always be an icon of British sport.”