Tina O’Dell is the middle child of 5 and grew up in Birmingham. Tina began her career in the ring as a kick boxer, claiming English Titles, British Titles and coming second by a point in a World Title tournament only after breaking all of the toes her feet. Competing around 110 times over 6 years, representing team GB and the England team Tina’s outstanding career as a young kickboxer has often been overlooked. After becoming slightly ‘bored’ with winning in the Kick Boxing World and slightly heavier with excess baby weight Tina changed up to boxing in 2003.
Being one, if not the first, female boxers from Birmingham (Tina gives mention to Wolverhampton’s Linzzie Scragg also) she initially found it difficult to find a club that trained female boxers. In her interview with FFOH Tina put it to us that ‘No one took females on’, that ‘the facilities were not in place’ and that overall it was difficult near impossible to start training seriously as woman who wanted to box. Carrying across her experience from the kick boxing world Tina goes on to say that entering the world of boxing as woman proved far more difficult, that there was and still is very little encouragement, support and basic needs in place for women who want to box. Tina wanted to emphasise that this undercurrent of reluctance to take on women amongst some gyms and trainers had to change if the sport was to survive amongst its female fans. MMA and Kickboxing both appear to be ahead of Boxing in terms of bringing equality to the sexes and are likely to steal away more and more female fighters who can find the equipment they need and support in place already within these sports. Female MMA stars such as Rowdy Ronda Rousy and Gina Carano can be seen on the big screen and starring in Hollywood A list movies, they have become familiar faces and household names amongst combat sport fans. It is difficult to find the same recognition given to female boxers, aside from perhaps Clint Eastwood’s doff of the hat to women in boxing with the 2004 film ‘Million Dollar Baby’. The reality women in boxing are facing today is champions such as Tina O’Dell telling FFOH that even today she hears people saying ‘they shouldn’t be doing it’. As Tina says ‘it is what it is – it’ll grow eventually’ and we at FFOH hope her prediction proves accurate. Placing limits upon the degree to which a person can sweat and sacrifice, train and succeed simply because they do not fit into your own neatly packaged world view is stunted and incredibly arrogant.
The competitions need to be arranged, the playing field needs to be levelled, beginners are having to fight Team GB prospects just to get ring time. It came across in the interview that Tina believed quite strongly that the boxing space needed populating with female athletes. However, this would not happen unless boxing itself came up to speed with its sister sports such as Kickboxing and Mixed Martial Arts. It comes down to respect, binning archaic serotypes and knowledge. Knowing what training is and what boxing entails and giving dues where they are owed to men and women alike for what they do and what they go through.
Entering Birmingham City and beginning her journey in boxing Tina was going into her gym mentally warmed up, prepared for the general air of distaste and hostile atmosphere directed towards women who were daring to box. As Tina describes having to train with her shutters up and blinkers on you begin to appreciate the mental strength that Tina possesses. Training ‘3 times a day 6 days a week’ in an environment where she faced ridicule before praise, where no matter how well she did, no matter who she beat or what she won she was still just a woman is in our opinion Samson like. To not let the ongoing behind the back mutterings drain every ounce of determination from you, to ignore coaches who wouldn’t speak to you after 2 years at a gym is a testament to who she is – a woman who wants to fight and wants to win. The record speaks for itself. Tina lost her first fight against Zoe Rafferty on a split decision, many would have questioned the change they’d made and perhaps thrown in the towel particularly given the world she was now in. She never lost another fight.
Tina entered 4 ABA Championships winning 3, in her own words boring herself out of her 4th victory after facing a below par opponent. On the day Tina was ‘planning to retire anyway’.
Tina now teaches and has set up her own gym. She has taken Rachel Murray Snr to a ABA National Title and Francis Knutt to a schoolgirl ABA championship title. She offers training sessions to children who have been given Antisocial Behaviour Orders in the Bromford area of Birmingham.