Even by the standards of women’s boxing, Nina Hughes’ rise to the top has been supercharged.
She became WBA bantamweight champion in November last year by outpointing Jamie Mitchell in Dubai, in just her fifth professional fight.
This is made more remarkable by Hughes being a 41-year-old mother of two who still works a part-time secretarial job to help support her young children.
“It’s crazy,” she tells BBC Sport. “Five fights and I become world champion, it has happened all so quickly.”
Since winning her world title, Hughes has been signed by one of the biggest promotions in the country, Matchroom Boxing, and defends her belt for the first time on Saturday in London against Katie Healey.
Hughes is one of four Britons fighting for world titles at the OVO Arena in Wembley and 12,500-seater arena is by far the biggest venue she has fought in.
But Hughes’ rise is not quite as quick as it might first appear. She has been boxing for more than 15 years. She has been written off plenty of times, not least by herself.
From Grays in Essex, she began boxercise classes at the age of 25 but had no intention of stepping into the ring competitively.
“I was purely enjoying the fitness, but I got talked into it by my coach,” she says. “So I started sparring, then he said ‘you’re ready to box’.
“I didn’t think I was good, the boys kept beating me up!”
However, after moving her training to a women’s gym and realising her capability, Hughes began an amateur career which proved so fruitful it earned her a place in the British squad.
She travelled the world for tournaments alongside fighters including Nicola Adams, who fought in the same weight class.
When it came to selection for London 2012 – the first Olympics in which women’s boxing was included – Adams was selected while Hughes missed out.
Adams famously won gold in London and became a household name.
Meanwhile, Hughes felt she had hit her limit in boxing, with limited opportunities for females to turn professional.
She quit the sport and had two children.
“The decision was right, [Adams] won two golds,” Hughes says.
“It was obviously very gutting because my age went against me even then – if I was younger they would have kept me on for Rio, but I was coming on for 30.
“After training full time it was hard to go back to work, it was a big change. It was heartbreaking. I didn’t think I’d get back into it.”
Despite her setbacks, Hughes’ passion for boxing never dimmed.
She was back in the gym just three weeks after her second child was born, although there were no thoughts of fighting competitively again until the 2020 coronavirus lockdown.
“I did think it was time to retire, but I missed it,” she says.
“They were showing a lot of female fights on TV, and I thought ‘if I don’t try it, I’ll never know’.”
Hughes joined the professional Newlands gym in Wickford – and the rest is boxing history still in the making.
She had her first professional fight in December 2021, before taking three fights in six months through 2022.
This led to the bout with reigning bantamweight champion Mitchell, for which she was the underdog. But Hughes earned a unanimous points victory, after which the American admitted “she was tougher than I thought”.
Hughes never doubted her ability – even if the speed of her rise has surprised even her.
“We were pushing, aiming to be world champion in two years,” she says. “I always knew I would be good enough, but I didn’t think I would get an opportunity.
“She [Mitchell] thought she would walk through me, but that was good for me. I wouldn’t have got a chance otherwise.
“It’s a good feeling [to be champion], really satisfying. With my age they laugh at me, they never give me a chance. Now I’ve got the belt, everyone wants to fight.”
Hughes eyes big fights in the future, should she be able to get past Wolverhampton’s Healey.
“I don’t feel my age, you are only as old as you feel,” she says. “I don’t think I should be discriminated against because I’m 41.
“I’ll know when my body is telling me I have had enough. If I started when I was 12, my body would be a lot more worn.
“I’m making up for lost time, definitely. Boxers often get nurtured through the pro ranks, but I wanted to push on quickly.”
“I think people wrote me off, because they look at my lack of professional experience and age, but it has been a 15-year journey to get here,” she adds.
“It was all a dream, then finally a dream come true. I can’t believe I actually did it.”
A version of this article was published on BBC Sport website on April 6, 2023.