When Shannon Courtenay returns to the ring, she will return to the stage from the lowest point of her career.
The 29-year-old is preparing for what she calls her “comeback” against a Gemma Ruegg on the Josh Warrington v Luis Alberto Lopez undercard after more than a year out of action.
Her absence from the square circle was caused by the fight accident which left her with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligaments and a dislocated right knee.
She was then slated to appear on the undercard for Chris Eubank Jr’s fight with Conor Benn, only for the October event to fall through after the latter failed drug tests.
It was on March 26 at the First Direct Arena in Leeds, where Josh Warrington beat Kiko Martinez and where Courtenay commented, that she feared she might never box again.
Almost nine months later, in the same place, she will do just that.
Convinced she’s not only significantly stronger physically, the ex-WBA bantamweight champion also believes she’s mentally transformed.
Courtenay told talkSPORT: “I remember thinking, ‘I’m never going to box again – it’s over for me – I don’t know how to accept this’.
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“After the first operation, when it didn’t improve and I was in more pain, I actually thought I could never box again.
“I was living on crutches. I thought I would never run again, let alone box. I look like I was attacked by a shark, I have so many scars on my leg, but the second operation was a success, thank God.
“The first operation did not go 100% as planned. I struggled with the ruptured ACL and lost my world title because of it, as I could only go in a straight line. I was living in pain, but the WBA told me I had to fight.
“I had to learn to walk again – it was so bad – with help. I was put on a machine and I learned to walk again. It was not easy for me.
“My feet were out of place. I spent months and months in so much pain, but I’m a stubborn little cow and refused to take medicine.
“During the first eight, nine months [I was injured] I refused to watch boxing. It hurt so much.
“I [usually] sit there at night and go to YouTube to watch old fights – I love boxing – but I wouldn’t watch anything. I was depressed by it all.
“When there was a big women’s fight, I loved getting a fresh look at the sport, but it was a frustrating time for me.”
It was April’s fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, revered as the finest staging between two women, that troubled her.
Most recently, Claressa Shields, widely recognized as the greatest female fighter of all time, defeated Savannah Marshall.
And while on vacation where she often trained twice a day and at a time when she had regained her faith in her body and her enthusiasm for boxing, Courtenay relished every round.
She added: “I was in Dubai for it but I set my alarm clock and woke up in the middle of the night to watch it on my phone, because I knew it was going to be a huge fight.
“The next day, by the pool, people stopped me. “Did you see the fight? Everyone was talking about it – it was definitely a talking point. It was amazing.
“I won a world title during the lockdown, with no crowds, which gutted me. The first time I defended it, I do it with about one leg. “I’m going to lose this fight because I can’t really move.” It was devastating.
“I have a new mindset; I am much happier; I am finally myself in front of the camera. I enjoy boxing a lot more, because I’m happy. I had started to hate it because I was so miserable.
“All I care about is getting my world title back. Where I have a different mindset, I’m able to absorb more of what my coaches are saying.
“I have a better understanding of what I’m doing and why. Before, I went through the gestures because I wanted to get out of the gym. I have [still] has so much to learn.
“I hadn’t retired but I see it as a comeback because I’m coming back as a different person.”
Courtenay credits her appearance on the reality TV show Celebrity SAS: Who Dares Wins as the catalyst for changing her outlook.
A friendship with Calum Best – like Courtenay, the child of a parent troubled by alcoholism – cemented, and another developed with Ferne McCann, helped her address so much of what she had retained from an early difficult life.
Her willingness, as she describes it, to be “vulnerable” also increased her profile and popularity when she was already established among the most marketable female fighters.
Should she return to victory on her comeback, Courtneay has also been promised another shot at the WBA title which she won against Ebanie Bridges in April 2021.
She then lost the strap on the scales, while injured, ahead of what would have been her first defense against Jamie Mitchell in October.
Reflecting on her appearance on Celebrity SAS, Courtenay said: “Mentally it’s one of the hardest things I’ve done.
“To let you be vulnerable – I went on TV in front of millions of people, let my guard down and showed the real me. People realized I’m a little nervous, and what you saw before was a bit of a facade.
“I concealed that I hated myself and was unhappy in life. I used to wear massive sunglasses to hide my face because I was so unhappy.
“Saying these things out loud and talking about my childhood – how I didn’t have the best start in life – really allowed me to be vulnerable, to break down barriers and to rebuild myself. That’s what I did.
“I made some fantastic friends – people who aren’t in the boxing world – who helped me see myself in a different light. Ferne became one of my closest friends.
“Calum lost his father because he was also an alcoholic, so we were able to bond a lot about that, which helped me a lot.
“After this fight, I want to start working with different charities for children who have been affected by the loss of a parent to addiction. It has helped me a lot.”
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