As part of Black History Month, Caroline Dubois has told Sky Sports News about her sporting idols and their influence on her boxing career.
The 22-year-old is no stranger to pressure, having already become the Youth Olympic champion and claimed four European Youth Championships.
Her professional career has started on a similarly successful footing. In her opening eight fights, she’s racked up five wins by knockout and three by decision, with the most recent victory earning her the IBO lightweight belt.
With this year’s Black History Month theme of ‘Saluting our Sisters’, we asked the British boxer which sportswomen inspired her rise and she told us about four Black sportswomen she idolised in Claressa Shields, Coco Gauff, Simone Biles and Laila Ali.
‘I needed to have someone like Shields when I was a kid’
Dubois’ first role model is fellow boxer Claressa Shields. The 28-year-old is the only fighter in the sport’s history – male or female – to hold all four major world titles simultaneously in two weight classes.
She is widely regarded as the world’s top pound-for-pound female boxer and is 14-0 with two knockouts as a pro.
“I didn’t have many female boxers that I looked up to growing up,” Dubois said. “Luckily, I remember watching her at the Olympics.”
Shields won gold medals in the women’s middleweight division at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, making her the first American boxer to win consecutive Olympic medals.
“I became a No 1 fan; everything she has represented to me. I remember going up into squads and being the only Black girl there. I felt very insecure about how I looked and who I was,” Dubois said.
“Shields, she was so big, strong, and good. I saw her shows, and she never lost. I really needed to have someone like Shields when I was a kid.”
‘Shields proved that looking the way I did was normal’
“I remember when I was nine, I started boxing and got mistaken for a boy,” Dubois said.
Repton Amateur Boxing Club was the gym she attended, and as it was a boys-only club, she had to go by the name Colin.
“I’d walk into the gym, and they’d say, ‘Oh, that boy is over there.’ And at the time, it didn’t matter to me.
“But as I got older, I realised all the other female boxers had long hair. They didn’t have such big muscles. They looked more feminine.
“And then I saw clips of Shields. I swear she wore the same shorts I used to wear, and her hair was all crazy, exactly how I looked after training.
“When I saw that, it was exactly what I needed to see. It was normal.”
‘Blown away’ by Shields’ Instagram message
The current lightweight champion will always remember her first interaction with Shields.
“I remember lying in bed the first time I spoke to her,” she said.
“I was scrolling through Instagram as you do, and then a message pings through. I’m like, ‘Who is this person?’ I click on it, and it’s Claressa!
“I screamed. My sister was on the bunk bed below me, and I was like, ‘Oh my God, you won’t believe who just messaged me.’ Then she sent me a picture, and I was blown away by it.
“I spoke to her and it was good. The respect is there; now she’s watching my journey, so it’s a privilege.”
Shields will go down as the greatest female boxer
The conversation turned to where Dubois put Shields in her list of greatest of all time. Unsurprisingly, it’s at the top.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that to be able to say how good you are is a statement on its own. And I think she’s like Muhammad Ali,” she explained.
“He used to call himself the greatest. And everyone used to laugh at him and then he proved it. And now, even though he’s gone, we all know his name. I think the same is going to happen.”
Shields already holds the record for becoming a two and three-weight world champion in the fewest professional fights.
“When she retires from boxing, and it’s all said and done, many people will say Claressa Shields was the greatest female boxer ever.”
What Gauff is doing at such a young age is amazing
The next role model on the list is 19-year-old Coco Gauff, who won the US Open in September.
Dubois said: “I’m a massive fan of all sports. When I was a kid, I used to do so many different sports. Lately, I’ve started to get into tennis. I remember being in Sheffield for boxing camp; for some reason, tennis was always on.
“And that’s when I first heard about Coco. She was all over the newspapers and the internet. This young kid has just dethroned the Williams sisters, which was a big thing.”
Gauff became the first American teenager to win the US Open at Flushing Meadows since Serena Williams in 1999.
“I can’t imagine how tough it was – not just the actual playing, but the pressure to perform on such a massive stage. What she’s doing is amazing,” Dubois added.
We don’t see many Black people coming through tennis
Dubois was asked about Black role models in tennis. She said: “Tennis is a space where, although we’ve got the Williams sisters, who are amazing, we don’t see many Black people coming through.
“It’s very hard to be the person to break the mould, step outside it, and do something that’s never been done before.
“For many young kids coming through now, specifically Black kids coming through, they know you can get into tennis.”
Biles is the GOAT of gymnastics
Simone Biles is the most decorated gymnast in history. She won the individual all-around title at the World Championships for the sixth time earlier this month and now has 34 medals across the World Championships and Olympics.
It is no surprise that she is one of Dubois’ favourite athletes and the pair met briefly at an Olympic Games.
Dubois said: “I remember when I first saw her it was very surreal. I was walking to the food court. I see this little short girl pass me, and I’m like, ‘Who is that?’ Then I wave at her and smile; she looks at me and smiles back.”
“Gymnastics was one of the first sports I did and had a lot of fun in. Even now, I watch gymnastics coming up to the Olympics.
“Biles has been at the forefront. She’s been the GOAT of the gymnastics realm. What she’s been doing hasn’t been done before.”
My respect goes out to young gymnasts achieving greatness
She also had much to say on Biles’ journey to success from a young age, mentioning that the 26-year-old already has four signature moves named after her.
“It was very impressive. With gymnastics, the sport is a little different. They are a lot younger when they go onto the elite stage. I’ve realised that a lot of pressure goes into it,” she admitted.
“When you’re so young, and it is a very individual sport, you step on that beam alone. It’s a very precise sport that you have to get it right.
“But when you’re coming in as the reigning champion, it puts a lot of pressure on you to go and nail the expectations. And that in itself can go back to what I said before: sometimes, when you do win, you’re just relieved that you were able to achieve victory.
“My respect goes out to anyone who can do that at a young age.”
We should applaud athletes opening up on problems they’re facing
Dubois has also highlighted her admiration for how Biles has prioritised her mental wellbeing, having recently returned to competition following a two-year break.
In 2021, Biles suffered from a phenomenon known as the ‘twisties’ during the Tokyo Olympics, which forced her to pull out of multiple events.
During her break, she announced she would be working on her mental health, and in that time gave evidence to Congress over the abuse she suffered from disgraced doctor Larry Nassar.
“I remember when she came out and said she didn’t want to compete because of the pressure, and it’s like I said, what you see on the screen is only screen work,” Dubois said.
“And for her to come out and be open about what she’s going through is very hard. You see a lot of athletes and boxers get in the ring dealing with problems.
“And no one tells anyone until it’s too late, so for her to be doing it so early, that should be something we applaud.”
No other female boxer did it like Ali was doing it
The last sportswoman Dubois wants to celebrate is Laila Ali, daughter of Muhammed Ali. She feels Laila Ali’s glittering career from 1999 to 2007 paved the way for Dubois to come through.
Dubois spoke of how she was inspired by Ali fighting in a sport that had rarely entertained the idea of a woman putting on the gloves.
“When I started boxing, Ali was on the scene, and no other female boxer was doing what she was doing. There was no Olympics. There was nothing – there were only the pros because of Ali.
“When I started, I said I want to be like her and turn pro and become a champion.”
Ali had great physical and mental strength
Dubois admitted she could not perceive the pressures that Ali had to face in an environment that was very different to what we see today.
She said: “I couldn’t imagine being able to start boxing when she did. Female boxing was taken more as a sideshow, as a joke.
“She was training hard to take it seriously, even though people laughed and said it was a joke.”
When Ali agreed to fight Joe Frazier’s daughter, Jacqui Frazier, it became the first main-event, pay-per-view match between two women.
“It is amazing to have the strength to do that, Dubois added.
“Step in the ring, fight, give it her all, make her money, and get her respect. It speaks about her mental strength as well as her physical.”