Eilish Tierney will become Suffolk's first professional female boxer when she steps into the ring at the iconic York Hall this weekend. Mark Heath spoke to her...

One of the enduring appeals of sport is its tendency to pen beautiful, unlikely, stranger-than-fiction stories.

We have a few currently being crafted in Suffolk right now. Ipswich Town's fairytale resurgence from third tier mediocrity to the brink of the Premier League, flying in the face of those who say you need megabucks to compete.

There's Fabio Wardley's journey from unknown white collar boxer to British and Commonwealth heavyweight champion too. He's about to headline the O2 Arena, and there are plenty more chapters to come in his story.

East Anglian Daily Times: Eilish Tierney, left, in action during a white collar fightEilish Tierney, left, in action during a white collar fight (Image: Brett King)
Add Eilish Tierney to that list. Her book is only just being opened, but there's every chance her tale will be just as remarkable - if not more - than the two mentioned above.

The 25-year-old will become Suffolk's first-ever professional female boxer when she steps through the ropes at the iconic York Hall this Saturday night, starting her journey as a featherweight in the paid ranks.

Like Wardley, her gym-mate at Martlesham's Suffolk Punch Boxing Club, she comes from a white collar background. And, like Wardley, she believes she can make a serious splash in the sport.

"It all started in lockdown, really," the former Thomas Mills High School student explained. 

"I was 15 stone when I started boxing and I needed a bit of an outlet, I needed to change how I was living.

“Boxing was recommended to me and five stone later I had my first white collar charity fight after a 12 week camp. I lost a bit more weight, lost the fight - but I really enjoyed it.

“So I just kept going and 11 fights later, three years later, and I’m a pro boxer.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Eilish Tierney started boxing to lose weight - now she's about to make historyEilish Tierney started boxing to lose weight - now she's about to make history (Image: Ross Halls)
She continued: “I had three amateur bouts last season down at Ipswich Boxing Club and that was a massive help to my career –I wouldn’t be where I am without the people who helped me down there.

“Amateurs are a bit different to white collar – the not knowing who you’re fighting, the engine, the skill. I met some lovely people along the way and got into the ring with some amazing people.

“So I’m hopefully going to up it now, take it to the pros and see how far I can go.”

Of course, very few folks who try their hand in the white collar ring - usually the scene of wild haymakers and less-than-stellar technique - will ever get close to turning professional in one of the world's most demanding sports.

So, when did Tierney realise she had potential?

"That’s a good question!" she laughed. "I’m still learning, I’m very much a baby in terms of boxing.

“There are people out there that have done it for years, but I’m switched on, I’m driven, I listen well and I work really hard – and I think that just beats talent any day.

“So I turn up, I put my shift in and hopefully I’m going to get the outcome I need.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Former world champion Ebanie Bridges is among the top tier boxers with whom Tierney has been sparring Former world champion Ebanie Bridges is among the top tier boxers with whom Tierney has been sparring (Image: PA Images)
She's taken her journey into the paid ranks very seriously. Like Wardley, she's sought out elite-level sparring to help fast-track her pugilistic education.

Tierney's stepped in with current and former world champions including Nina Hughes and Ebanie Bridges, plus tested herself against the likes of fellow upcoming pro Roni Dean down the A11 in Norfolk.

 "You start fast!" she said of her steep leaning curve. "It’s very much from the get go – but the learning I’ve had from the amazing women I’ve stepped in with has been great.

“Nina Hughes, Ebanie, Roni, I got some rounds in with Harli Whitwell in Cambridge, Maisy Rose (Courtney) – all these people are up and coming and it’s crazy to learn from such a vast array of empowering women.

“To do eight to twelve rounds with world champions…I’m only 11 fights in, they shouldn’t know who I am, I shouldn’t be doing it, but I turn up, we do it and it’s just an amazing learning curve.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Eilish Tierney lands a right hand on an opponentEilish Tierney lands a right hand on an opponent (Image: Brett King)
She continued: "I enjoy learning and trying new things, and a lot of boxing is being patient, learning and not just getting sucked into a scrap.

“Boxing is a sport, there’s a discipline to it and I’m still learning. But to have these amazing women around me, and then want me back for more rounds when they’re world champions…

"I’m just me, from Suffolk, I don’t have an amazing amateur background or anything like some of them do.

“But for them to put the time and effort in with me is amazing.”

Someone else she can certainly learn from is the aforementioned Wardley, who's walked the same path that Tierney is about to embark upon.

"Fabio is crazy, he’s just levels above," Tierney enthused. "There are no words for his knockout power, his boxing IQ – but he’s also one of the most approachable giants I’ve ever met.

“He’s lovely and he’s helped me out a lot because there’s a lot of uncertainty in boxing, of doubting yourself and questioning if you’re doing the right thing, if you’re around the right people, and he’s always been there and is always at the end of the phone if I need him.

East Anglian Daily Times: Tierney says gym-mate Fabio Wardley has been a huge help on her jourmey Tierney says gym-mate Fabio Wardley has been a huge help on her jourmey (Image: Matthew Pover/Matchroom Boxing)
“He’s opened the door for not only me but whoever else wants to take that dive off the white collar platform or the amateur platform and see how far they can take it.

“Because no-one believed in him – and now he’s headlining the O2, which is amazing.”

Wardley (17-0, 16KO) looks destined for the very top of the sport. But, if Tierney has her way, she'll get there first.

"I’ll be world champion," she predicted. "I’ve said this to my coach and I’ve said this to Fabio – I will be world champion before he is!

“Mark my words and prove me wrong. In the female game especially, there is a little less competition.

“The girls in my weight division, that’s crazy competition – but I’m not going to say no.

“I’m here for a reason, I’m not here just to fight at York Hall.

“I’m here to headline the O2, Fab can be on my undercard!”

Tierney, from Wickham Market, takes her first step towards that goal this weekend.

East Anglian Daily Times: Eilish Tierney says she'll be a world championEilish Tierney says she'll be a world champion (Image: Ross Halls)
“I feel amazing, probably the best shape I’ve ever been in," she stressed. "I’m ready to put those 8oz gloves on and show everyone why they should be there to watch me.

“Fabio’s great and he’s the heavyweight, but I’m the first female and I feel like I need to put a show on and make a statement and I’m just ready for it. I’ve worked too hard not to.”

And, just as Wardley has inspired a new generation of boxers in Ipswich and beyond, Tierney now hopes to do the same for girls across Suffolk.

She said: “It’s very important to me, especially considering where I was when I started the journey with the weight loss and being as big as I was. I was never a massive fan of PE in school!

"But to turn up and hopefully open the door for more women, like Fab did for me – if I can give something back and open the door for more girls to come through, then that’s incredible.”