Author Thomas Wolfe wrote more than 75 years ago that you can’t go home again.

And for years, Cecilia Braekhus, the world’s only undisputed boxing champion, couldn’t.

Oh, she could go back to her hometown of Bergen, Norway, all right, but she couldn’t train there or fight there, or anywhere else in that Scandanavian country, as long as the sport was banned there.

But the 32-year ban is long gone and Braekhus has returned. On Friday, for the first time in her sparkling career, the “First Lady of Norway” will put on a show in the city where she grew up, where she had to sneak out the window of her family’s fourth-floor home and down the fire escape every night as a kid to escape to the gym.

Braekhus, 35, was born in Colombia but adopted by Norwegian parents at age 2, and has lived in Norway’s second-largest city since. She became a boxer in spite of the ban, which went into effect the year she was born, 1981. She spent the first decade of her career training and fighting outside of Norway, mostly in Denmark and Germany. She was Norway’s greatest absentee boxer.

The ban was finally lifted in 2013.

On Oct. 1, 2016, three years later, the immensely popular Braekhus fought in Norway for the first time. Before a sold-out crowd at Oslo’s Spectrum, she knocked out Anne Sophie Mathis of France. Four months later, she defeated Klara Svensson of Sweden, also at the Spectrum and also sold out.

On Friday, Braekhus will face Erica Farias of Argentina in a 10-round title fight, with all five of “The First Lady’s” belts on the line. Braekhus (30-0, 8 KOs) considers Farias (24-1, 10 KOs) the toughest opponent of her career.

She’s one of the best fighters out there,” Braekhus told USA TODAY by phone last week. “She’s also a WBC champion and she has a lot of tough fights behind her as European champion and world champion. She’s one of the toughest female fighters today, pound-for-pound. This could very well be my toughest fight to date.”

Farias, 32, known as “La Pantera” (The Panther) is the WBC super lightweight champion but is moving up in weight to fight Braekhus, who has said this was the only matchup deserving of her hometown debut.

“This is the biggest fight of my career. I have so much respect for Cecilia and all that she has accomplished in women’s boxing,” Farias said. “She has truly been an inspiration to me. I’ve trained very hard in Argentina for this fight and plan on being victorious on Friday night.”

Tough opponent or not, Braekhus is thrilled to be fighting on her home turf, where more than 15,000 are expected to turn out at the legendary Bergenhus Fortress, for the outdoor show.

“It’s amazing. This is like a real homecoming,” she said. “This is where I grew up, my family is there, my friends, everybody I spent my youth with is there, my first training gym, and Bergen is also extremely (loyal) to their sports persons so I have had so much support from Bergen throughout my whole career. And everywhere I was in the world, it doesn’t matter, I had this city behind me. So it’s very special now to come home and get the card there.”

Of course, Braekhus has had to secure a lot of tickets for her family and friends, but that’s a small price to pay for being at home.

“Definitely. That is very special that (my fans) can walk, or take a quick bus ride to see my fights,” she said. “They don’t have to fly out or take a trip, and that’s something we joke about.”

Braekhus spent her training camp in a coastal resort town in Spain, where she worked with Johnathan Banks, who also coaches Wladimir Klitschko. Rather than being a distraction, she said, the beauty of the area helped her focus on the task at hand.

“Why wouldn’t you want to be in a beautiful place, as long as you can keep your concentration and focus, why not make everything around you nice and warm,” she asked. “The water here is blue, it’s unbelievably beautiful. Unfortunately I haven’t seen it too much because I’ve been in the gym so much. But it gives me a lot of energy, but sometimes on the weekend we take a walk on the promenade and down to the beach.

“I think it’s very important to get the fresh sea air. In the winter in Norway it’s very cold and dark and it’s not good for your body and training regimen.”

Now, however, Norway is the place to be. “Our show is outside and it should be a very nice summer evening in Bergen,” Braekhus said. “(At least) We hope for that.”

Asked how she felt about some of the young fighters opting for three-minute rounds instead of the standard two for women, which has become a point of contention recently, Braekhus said, “I haven’t thought so much about it. My biggest concern now is the girls getting on television and getting their (bouts) televised. And that promoters are using their resources and promoting them the right way. That’s more what I think about boxing, the television time, promoting and getting the best to fight each other.”

Braekhus would like to see women’s boxing moving at a brisker pace, particularly in the U.S.

“I have to be honest I think it’s going a little bit slow in America,” she explained. “Because in the rest of the world it’s far in front. They have main events, they get on television and get promoted.

“But America will always be the boxing mecca. When female boxing in America gets big, then you will see it happen globally. Now it seems to be moving, with Claressa Shields getting main events on Showtime. I’m very, very happy to see that.”

Braekhus would love to come to the U.S. to fight again. She fought here once in 2008, but she travels to the states once or twice a year. She was here for the Boxing Writers awards dinner in March and attended the Gennady Golovkin-Daniel Jacobs fight at Madison Square Garden on March 18.

“I really enjoy it when I’m there. People are great there, so nice and it’s always something special to fight in America,” she said.

“When? I hope next year.”

Source: Bob Velin| USA Today