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Casey on Boxing: Good morning from New York

Gavan Casey touches down in the Big Apple ahead of a mega-fight in the Garden.

Gavan Casey’s boxing newsletter is –usually — written exclusively for members of The42, but is being made available in full to all readers today to kick off our week of Taylor-Serrano coverage.

Get €5 off an annual The42 membership by using the promo code ‘BTL’ this week. 

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WALKING INTO A private Covid-testing clinic on Monday afternoon was positively dystopian, but thankfully it produced the required negative.

I needed a clear test within 24 hours of my flight in order to get into the States, as well as my vax cert which had been gathering dust in the bowels of my email inbox for months.

When I finally stumbled upon the clinic — it was upstairs above an under-construction ballroom — I genuinely suspected that it had long since been abandoned. After a wander around the premises that felt borderline intrusive, I eventually found the only tester in the building, bored off his bonce and rolling around on an office chair down the back of three empty testing booths.

There was a split second when we spotted each other where I was thinking, ‘What is this poor f***er doing here?’, and even through his mask I could see that he was thinking the exact same thing about me.

After a few ‘Stop, biy, I knows’, we got to talking about my destination. “Everyone is going to New York this week!” he said. “It must be for the fight.”

katie-taylor-and-amanda-serrano Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano face off at the Empire State Building yesterday. Source: Matchroom Boxing/Ed Mulholland/INPHO

That stands to reason when you take into consideration that of the nearly 20,000 people set to attend Saturday’s era-defining showdown between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden, 4,500 will have journeyed over from Ireland and the UK.

A fight between the Irish undisputed lightweight champion and the Puerto Rican-born, Brooklyn-raised seven-weight titlist has always justifiably been mooted as the biggest women’s prizefight ever but Taylor and Serrano have moved the needle further than even they could have anticipated: this is now just a huge fight by any metric.

The pageantry of Tuesday’s joint interview on NBC’s Today, America’s most watched morning television programme, and an Empire State Building face-off has already added to the sense of occasion brewing in New York. This will really be accentuated on Saturday evening, hours before first bell, when the city’s most famous skyscraper will apparently be lit in Irish and Puerto Rican colours to mark the occasion. At last, some recognition for the age-old rivalry between our two peoples.

But aside from the ticket sales which were understood to have surpassed 14,000 as far back as three weeks ago, what really rammed home the magnitude of this fight to me before I left for NYC yesterday was the number of media applications received by promoters Matchroom.

Over 260 journalists, video-reporters and photographers from all over the world applied for accreditation for Taylor-Serrano. For context, that’s the same number as applied for for Anthony Joshua’s 2017 Wembley Stadium set-to with Wladimir Klitschko, and as of a fortnight ago, it was about 40 more than had applied for the biggest fight of the year so far, Canelo Alvarez versus Dmitry Bivol (albeit there was a far shorter window to apply for their 7 May light-heavyweight clash).

I’m in the privileged position of being one of the journalists who will be sitting in MSG in a work capacity on Saturday and, as much as I’d like to think knowledge should be a prerequisite in order to occupy one of those sought-after media seats, I really haven’t a bull’s notion what’s going to happen in that ring.

The early consensus on the ground here is that Serrano should have enough to pull it off. As I tried to outline in a 28 January newsletter about the five-year process to make the fight (you can read it here), it would be one of the great long-game heists if she does, even if ‘The Real Deal’ has since become the betting favourite.

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Strolling past The Garden yesterday evening, seeing Taylor and Serrano’s fight poster looking out over Pennsylvania Plaza, I couldn’t help but hope to God that I’ve gotten this fight badly wrong. I will report on it absolutely objectively but, like most of the rest of you, I’m an Irish sports fan and it would be a truly great Irish sporting victory if Taylor could take her titles home with her.

One of the great things about a fight week, though, is that your tentative thoughts on a fight can be shaped — or even warped — purely by conversations shared with coaches, managers, fighters, other journalists; whoever is knocking about the events, the cafes, or Jimmy’s Corner off Times Square.

It could take only one person to spot a niggle at today’s fighter workout, or word spreading of a hotel shit-fit, for the pre-fight narrative to flip entirely.

I’m meeting one of the great boxing writers, Donald McRae, for coffee this afternoon. I’m not sure, yet, which way he’s leaning on the fight. ‘Don’, as I absolutely do not know him, is writing a piece for The Guardian on Taylor’s cultural standing in Ireland. Don’t be surprised if your newsletter tomorrow morning is suddenly more bullish.

(I would also recommend listening to Mr McRae on episode 9 of Gavin Cooney’s Behind The Lines podcast — it’s exceptional).

In the meantime, have a great Wednesday, everyone, and thanks as always for your support.

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