Aiming For Atomweight: The Tina Rupprecht Story
Standing at just 4’10” – the same height as popular former male world champion ‘Baby’ Jake Matlala – ‘Tiny’ Tina Rupprecht has navigated her path through boxing in the manner of a modern-day David vs. Goliath clash. Not only are all of her opponents bigger and taller, but even the promotional side of the game, and the fact that she’s a woman in a typically male-orientated sport, have failed to stop her when throwing huge obstacles in her direction.
Starting in kickboxing at the age of 12, Rupprecht switched to boxing at 14 with her first fight a year later. 30 amateur fights later, she turned professional in 2013 at the age of 21. This, at a time when, we must not forget, women’s boxing was firmly cast in the shadow of the men’s game.
Only two fights materialised in her first two-and-a-half years as a pro. It was proving to be a tricky proposition for the youngster from Augsburg in Germany to kick her career into gear.
“My coach and I decided: let’s go pro,” Rupprecht explained to me. “We both had no idea how the professional boxing business worked (laughs). We learned all on our own. We didn’t have the money to get the opponents and we didn’t have a promoter, so we did everything by ourselves, and it was really hard.”
“This was the time I told my coach that I wanted to stop boxing,” she admitted. “I wanted to finish because I didn’t have fights. He convinced me not to stop and we made it true!”
Just three fights later, she was competing in ten round fights for regional title belts against experienced opposition with good records, and beating them. At 7-0 and possessing an interim WBC 105-pound title, the German took on her biggest challenge, Costa-Rican Yokasta Valle, in 2018. Rupprecht prevailed by unanimous decision.
“I’ve always been fighting very strong opponents. I never choose the easy way. I’m proud of all the strong fighters I have fought with, and Yokasta always has been a good fighter. It was a tough fight and I would do it again; I would beat her again. She thinks she didn’t lose this fight. She thinks she was punked. I don’t think so.”
Their rivalry would simmer as Rupprecht was elevated to WBC minimumweight world champion, whilst Valle would capture the IBF version. Their teams put together a plan for the pair to rematch in 2021, for the WBC, IBF & Ring Magazine world championships. It was signed yet never came to pass.
“That was a really bad story,” the 31-year-old revealed. “The fight was fixed and all contracts were signed and all was finished. I think it was three weeks before the fight, my former manager, he didn’t hear anything from Yokasta’s management. He tried to call them about flights and there was no answer for a few days. Then came an e-mail saying they cancelled the fight. It was really bad as I was at the end of my preparation. I did all the sparring and I was really ready to go. They cancelled three weeks before, so it was not a cool move. Then the fight did not happen later.”
“Maybe the fight will come someday, I don’t know?”
Rupprecht defended her WBC belt on two more occasions whilst Valle has since become a unified world titlist at 105 and 108 pounds, firmly illustrating Rupprecht’s credentials considering Valle’s 17-fight win streak since suffering the setback to Rupprecht.
Despite the disappointment of the Valle clash falling through, and with it the unique opportunity of vying for the inaugural Ring Magazine title contest at minimumweight, the chance to compete for that title did subsequently come to fruition. Rupprecht was matched with elite WBA titleholder, Seniesa Estrada.
Estrada showcased her world-class skills en route to a definitive unanimous decision victory in Fresno, California. In defeat, Rupprecht and her team took all the positives they could from her first pro bout outside Europe. Lessons would be learnt.
“I would do it (again) because everything you get is experience. Nobody can take that off me,” she expressed. “If you lose, it’s part of the sport. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you need this experience and after this maybe new doors open that you can choose. For me now, for example, a new weight class. I’m happy now to go to atomweight because I thought about it before, but it was never an option because I was the titleholder of the WBC (at minimumweight). So of course I don’t switch the weight class and (I) defended the title. Now I’m free and can do whatever I want!”
On January 13th, Rupprecht returns home to Germany to challenge WBC atomweight world champion, Fabiana Bytyqi. The lightest division in boxing might be Rupprecht’s new home for the foreseeable future, if she dethrones the reigning champion and becomes only the fourth WBC champion at 102 pounds in its 16-year history.
“We know each other from social media. I’m happy to fight with her because I’ve always looked at atomweight. She’s very tall (5’4″) for this class and I know her style. I think it’s going to be a very good fight.”
“For me it won’t be a big problem because my normal weight is minimumweight (105 pounds),” she added. “I didn’t have to lose much weight for minimumweight, so I think it’s not a big problem for me to now be 102 pounds.”
Although she’ll have to be careful to avoid temptation, training throughout the entire Christmas period.
“I have to be careful (laughs). No cookies, but it’s okay.”
For someone who turned pro prior to the likes of Katie Taylor & Amanda Serrano, and Claressa Shields & Savannah Marshall selling out major international arenas, Rupprecht is delighted by the accelerated growth of women’s boxing since 2013.
“When I look back at the beginning of my career, there was almost nothing in women’s boxing. Now, there are more and more unification fights, undisputed fights. It’s so cool what’s happening right now. The money is still bad compared to what the men earn for the fights, but I think it’s getting better. Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano have been a good example for that. I hope it goes on this way.”
“You cannot compare it to ten years ago. It’s exploded.”