A fight card best known as the one missing Canelo Alvarez has been transformed into the one featuring Cecilia Braekhus.
Norway's Braekhus (32-0, nine knockouts) will become the first female champion ever shown during an entire bout by HBO Saturday when the sport's only unified champion defends her welterweight titles against Kali Reis at StubHub Center.
"I've been in this game for a long time. I've sold out venues. I needed to do something to take me one step up," said Braekhus, 36. "Everything I need to do now has to be big, and what is bigger than coming to America?
"This is where every fighter wants to be on stage, the biggest window to the boxing world."
Braekhus was originally scheduled to fight on the pay-per-view portion of the Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin rematch, but then Alvarez submitted two positive tests for the banned performance-enhancing substance Clenbuterol, and was suspended for six months by the Nevada Athletic Commission.
Unbeaten middleweight champion Golovkin chose to keep a Cinco de Mayo date, selecting Glendale's Vanes Martirosyan as his Saturday main-event opponent on HBO. Then, former four-division champion Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez fell out of his co-main event, providing the opening for a women's fight on the network.
"Somehow the pieces have all fallen together … I've learned that when you think about opportunity, just say yes and be prepared," Braekhus said after leaving Norway, where she drew 10,000 fans to her main events. Remaining in Norway "would be comfortable, but comfortable doesn't make legends."
Braekhus' HBO accomplishment follows the massive interest that Ronda Rousey drew to women's fighting in the UFC, where champions Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes have headlined pay-per-view cards and straw-weight champion Rose Namajunas is attracting further interest.
Cyborg, who's said she wants to box Braekhus, is expected to attend Saturday's card along with Rousey, according to promoter Tom Loeffler.
"It's just about exposure. The UFC once said no woman would fight in the octagon, but with the right exposure, Ronda Rousey became the biggest star," Loeffler said. "Cecilia has the marketability, the technical ability in the ring and the charisma to be popular in America."
Two-time Olympic champion and current super-middleweight champion Claressa Shields of the U.S. has headlined a Showtime card and has expressed interest in fighting Braekhus, who said she'd oblige. Promising Southland fighter Mikaela Mayer is also a potential future opponent for Braekhus.
Braekhus' trainer, former unbeaten boxer and "Million Dollar Baby" co-star Lucia Rijker, 50, said there's no reason to bemoan why women's boxing hasn't drawn more attention.
"Media is very powerful … things happen the way they happen. But it's about the journey. Boxing in America has been a hit, and now there's a whole new generation coming after two Olympics, with natural competition occurring," Rijker said. "Now Cecilia gets on HBO, and there are many behind her."
Reis (13-6-1, four KOs) is one of those, and she's planning to use her skill and natural size advantage to produce a competitive bout that will draw a crowd beyond the interest in Braekhus' dominance.
"There's mutual respect, but once the bell rings, it's on," Reis said. "We both have a responsibility, but the reason I was chosen for this fight was just for that reason … she could've been cherry pickin' to make herself look really good, but she picked me for a reason. The best is going to be brought out of the both of us."