The Boxer

BBC Scotland/iPlayer


“HERE are all the passwords to my online banking, just in case.”

It is not the traditional cheerio most bid to their loved ones as they leave for work, but then Kristen Fraser did not have a conventional kind of job.

Well, she did and she didn’t. By day, the subject of this BBC Scotland documentary managed people and projects in the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen. By night she went into a boxing ring and prepared to pummel an opponent into submission.

As in all the best boxing tales, Fraser had a backstory. She started boxing at 18, and when the Commonwealth Games came to Glasgow her record was such that she should have been a shoo-in for selection to represent her country. But the Scottish Boxing Association instead chose 16 men and no women. England sent three women, including Nicola Adams, the Olympic and world champion.

Not being selected was “the biggest slap in the face I’ve ever experienced”, said Fraser. So she decided to turn pro, the first woman boxer in Scotland to do so, and set about achieving her next goal: becoming a world champion.

As motivation goes, woman athlete snubbed by male sporting authorities was okay, but it was not exactly up there with Rocky taking on the might of the Soviet Union (in the shape of Dolph Lundgren), to avenge his friend’s death. Or Apollo Creed’s son surfacing 30 years later to do the same for dear old dad.

No one would expect real life to match the movies for thrills. Sporting documentaries, though, have become a brutally competitive field. There will never be another When We Were Kings, but a quick glance at Netflix shows some are at least aiming to hit that weight, be it in boxing or basketball (have you seen The Last Dance?).

In The Boxer, it seemed at times as though the filmmakers were trying to make a virtue out of how ordinary Fraser was, a risky gambit. If she was so unremarkable, so nice woman next door, why bother spending an hour getting to know her?

She had certainly had her battles to fight, as a woman, and a gay woman, in a male-dominated sport and society. She touched on those, and her faith, but never lingered for long.

Maybe there was no more to it. If there was we did not hear much about it. Where did all that necessary aggression come from? Why did she say “Boxers aren’t nice people”? What about her childhood, growing up, coming out? What did it feel like to be punched in the face for the first time?

There seemed to be no-one on the other side of the camera asking questions, meaning all we were left with, other than Fraser’s assertions, were the views of her wife, Kirsty, and her coach, Davie.

Come to think of it, why no word from the boxing authorities on why she had not been selected for Glasgow?

In the absence of a deep dig we were left with lots of scenes of Fraser training, at work, home, and so on. The glimpse behind the scenes at the bouts were intermittently engaging. “May the best girl win,” said one referee, showing there is some ways to go in making the world of boxing “woke”.

The hour came alive, though, when we saw Fraser fighting, and when it emerged she and Kirsty were having a baby. This was more like it – a great story, boxer felled by love for a baby, and the scenes at home with the three of them were wonderful, telling us in a glance here and a gesture there how much this had changed everything.

With the clock running down it seemed as if the tale was going to stop there. There was one last attempt at injecting drama when Fraser injured her knee (cue yet more gym scenes), but Davie was working hard trying to line up a world title fight.

Then came the ultimate below the belt blow: Covid-19 arrived, and the world, sporting and otherwise, was shut down. It was less a big bang ending than a slow fizzle, but Fraser promised she would keep going. “I was made to be a world champion. That’s who I am,” she said. Even though the hour had revealed not that much about her other than what she chose to disclose, I believed her.