WHEN Hannah Rankin steps into the ring to defend her WBA and IBO super welterweight titles on Friday evening, she will be making history.

For the first time a female fighter is headlining Scotland’s biggest arena, Glasgow’s OVO Hydro.

The significance of such an event cannot be overstated; not for Rankin herself, not for women’s boxing nor for female sport as a whole in this country.

Women’s boxing, we should not forget, was illegal until 25 years ago. Not just frowned upon or disapproved of, it was illegal.

Despite being included alongside men’s boxing as a demonstration sport at the Olympic Games in 1904, only the male version was adopted into the Olympic programme while women’s boxing was outlawed across the globe for almost all of the 20th century.

Indeed, it was not until 2012 in London that female fighters were permitted to grace the Olympic Games once again and two years later, that women’s boxing made its Commonwealth Games debut.

So, unsurprisingly, for all the history of Scottish male fighters establishing themselves as greats of the sport – from Ken Buchanan to Jim Watt to Ricky Burns and Josh Taylor – Scottish female boxers were virtually unheard of.

Indeed, only a few years ago, Rankin was unknown other than to boxing aficionados.

She made her pro debut in 2017 but, back then, her story centred around the fact she was a classical musician who was dipping her toe into the boxing world. Who was this bassoonist who had only begun boxing in an attempt to get fit?

Global success, and becoming a history-maker in the process, seemed an unlikely prospect.

Five years on, the Luss native has written herself into the record books by not only becoming Scotland’s first female world champion – she won her first world title in 2019 – but by becoming a multi-belt world champion, which has elevated her reputation even higher.

I remember interviewing Rankin in the early days of her career and it was impossible to know what to expect of her in the longer term.

She was inexperienced and had little of the brash confidence that is so pervasive in the men’s sport.

Five years on, she is a different beast; she is not scared to talk about her ambitions and is, quite rightly, far more confident in her abilities.

Ahead of Friday’s bout against Mexico’s Alejandra Ayala, Rankin possesses an 11-5 win-loss record, with those losses almost entirely down to the fact she is willing to take on everyone and anyone, whatever their reputation.

So desperate was she to test herself against the best, she called out Claressa Shields, the Olympic gold medallist who is generally accepted to be one of the best female boxers ever.

Rankin was defeated by the American but she performed admirably and the loss did little to harm her reputation.

Her first world title win was impressive in that she was the first Scottish woman to claim such a title but it was her second, when she added the WBA belt to her accolades, that cemented her status at the top.

For someone who has been thrust into the spotlight over a relatively short space of time, Rankin is not only mindful of the role she can play in developing women’s boxing, she wholeheartedly embraces it.

She zealously agrees with the aphorism “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it” and so knows the value in young girls witnessing a female Scottish boxer reaching the top for the first time. 

More than a few young girls will have ventured into a boxing ring as a direct result of Rankin’s success.

It is no coincidence that Rankin’s rise and her imminent headlining of the Hydro in front of thousands of fans coincides with women’s boxing exploding globally.

Last weekend, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano headlined Madison Square Garden in New York, the first time female fighters had done that in its 140 years.

The pair did not disappoint, with Taylor narrowly emerging victorious in what has been branded one of the fights of the year.

It is not, however, merely the high profile and the appreciation of the ability of these few select fighters which is the most significant development. The more important advancement is that women’s boxing is now taken seriously.

There is an acceptance that women’s boxing is no longer inferior to men’s which, for a sport that has only been legal for 20-odd years, is remarkable.

The pervading opinion of the 20th century, and much of the 21st, was that women shouldn’t fight; that it was undignified, that they didn’t have the physical or technical capabilities and that they weren’t “cut out” for such a brutal sport. But this view has been, almost anyway, banished.

When Rankin fights on Friday, it will mark a truly historic moment for the sport in this country.

A decade ago, women’s boxing was almost non-existent in Scotland; now, a female fighter is headlining our biggest indoor venue.

Whatever Rankin does over the remainder of her career – and she is far from finished – is, in some ways, unimportant to her ultimate legacy. 

She has already, single-handedly, done more for her sport in the space of a few years than most do over decades. 

And there is no better person than the fearless, articulate, dedicated and gutsy 31-year-old to lead women’s boxing in this country.