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Taylor moving the dial in USA whether critics like it or not

Katie Taylor is on the verge of a major breakthrough for women’s pro boxing.

Get used to it...
Get used to it...
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Gavan Casey reports from Philadelphia

WHEN YOU ASK Katie Taylor about women’s boxing’s detractors, it can go one of two ways.

If criticism has been particularly prevalent as it was following her three-round blow-out of IBF mandatory challenger Kimberly Connor in July of last year, she’ll sound off in her own way. The annoyance, of course, is evident more in her intonation than the substance of what she actually says, most of which is magnanimous enough.

But last Wednesday, Taylor dismissed that same criticism in far fewer words.

She made the point that she pays attention only to people who actually cover boxing, and not those looking to fill space in Irish newspapers. She made a rather more telling point, too, that these criticisms don’t hold much credence across the Atlantic Ocean, on the other side of which she is legitimately moving the dial.

And never was that more accentuated than it was at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia on Thursday.

Katie Taylor and Rose Volante Katie Taylor and Rose Volante square off in Philly. Source: Jeff Fusco/INPHO

Moments after Taylor tipped the scales ahead of her world-title unification bout with Rose Volante, she approached the team belonging to US broadcasters DAZN, manager Brian Peters in tow, for an obligatory pre-fight chat. She cut the figure of someone who’d been through this rigmarole before — which she has.

I find Taylor to be more than generous with her time, generally speaking, but on weigh-in days there is always a trepidation on behalf of the writer. You find yourself caught between trying to justify your employers’ — or your own — investment of your being there in the first place. You’re acutely aware that Taylor had a press conference literally yesterday, and she probably hasn’t eaten much if at all since, and she doesn’t like interviews anyway so she’s probably not all that keen for a yap.

You’ll always get from Taylor the fist-bump, the smile, the sense of appreciation that you’re there from Ireland to cover her fight. But you’re never sure whether or not to ask for a quick natter. Obviously, whether you’re sure or not, you ask.

No sooner than I did ask — and I’d picked up a decent anecdote regarding Volante’s words for Taylor during the fighters’ staredown in any case — a woman leant across the barrier and asked Taylor: ‘Katie, would you mind if we get a picture?’

Taylor was instantaneous in her acceptance, already in position for the picture before the woman in question took a backward step and poised her phone.

And then in came Sugar Ray Leonard for his picture with the champ.

It was watching Taylor and this literal deity of boxing embrace arm-in-arm which made this writer re-examine what she had said during that actual interview last week:

I am getting the credit from people over here [in America], people who are knowledgeable about the sport. The people who follow the sport, the actual boxing journalists — they realise how big some of these fights are. They recognise the credentials of some of these opponents.
That’s all that matters, really. The real boxing purists know exactly what’s happening, and I don’t really take much notice of anyone else.

There can be few more knowledgeable than Leonard who, from the mouth of literally any boxing fan, and in the eyes of all, is one of the five greatest ever to lace up the mitts.

And funnily enough, this was his second time to ask for — and receive — a picture with the Irish sporting icon, the first being a few months back in Boston.

They have a phrase in America: ‘Real recognise real’.

And while Taylor is not the type to truly denigrate the naysayers of the women’s game — even if she’d probably like to — a quick pic with Sugar Ray must go a long way toward forcing the talking heads’ notions to the bowels of her subconscious.

Katie Taylor and Rose Volante Major fights lie in wait for Katie Taylor if she can see past Rose Volante on Friday night. Source: Jeff Fusco/INPHO

It would be wrong to overdo it: I’d love to tell you that when I asked my taxi driver if he knew who was fighting at Liacouras Center on Friday night, he leant back and said to me: ‘Well everybody knows Katie Taylor’. He did not. More of an MMA fan, he said, costing me some serious colour.

But I’ll balance that with the following: as I stood atop the photographers’ platform to phone-record Taylor and Volante’s weigh-in, an American gentleman from a local publication turned to me and said: “Dude, that Irish girl is going to fuck her up.”

What makes you say that? I asked.

“Bro”, he goes, “I was in Boston for her fight against that Spanish girl who has the sister [Cindy Serrano, Puerto Rican], and that girl is no joke, but this girl from Ireland made her life a fucking misery for 10 rounds.”

It might be the Spanish girl’s sister, Amanda Serrano, also from Puerto Rico by way of Brooklyn, who eventually silences Taylor’s detractors. She’s a seven-weight world champion. Albeit, five of those titles have been vacant, and the title fights in question have been sanctioned by the Puerto Rico-based WBO who refuse to publish women’s rankings, and whose belt — the lightweight version of which is currently held by Taylor’s opponent on Friday, Rose Volante — is a Lidl Ladyball-coloured pink.

But Serrano is a significant threat to any fighter operating within the realm of lightweight, and she spurs something in Taylor that few others do.

taylorserrano Rivals Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano are due to face off later this year.

Serrano has said repeatedly that she intends to put an end to the Taylor hype train. She says she has the power to knock Taylor out. She has declined on several occasions to be interviewed by this publication, at the same time.

In an October interview with The42, Taylor said of Serrano:

She’s good enough that she shouldn’t need to fight for all those vacant titles. She’s good enough to go after some of those big names, and I don’t know why she hasn’t done that. I think she’s mentally fragile at times — that’s what her biggest problem is, really. I don’t think she wants the big fights. Maybe she’s afraid to lose.
That’s just my thoughts on it. I don’t know if that’s the way it is. But a fight between us is one people have been talking about for the last year or so, and the fight has to happen. I’m definitely open to it, and she has claimed that she’s open to it. Whether she actually wants the fight or not, I’m not too sure.

It could be argued that Taylor was breaking from character in making such an assessment. Equally, it could be argued that she had assumed character for the purpose of this prospective fight. The truth, as it tends to in these cases, probably lies somewhere in between, but Taylor is well able to trade verbal barbs when needs be.

Here’s another truth, though: provided all goes to plan before then, Taylor-Serrano will headline at the Theater in Madison Square Garden in September, and it’ll be the biggest women’s boxing match of all time, bar none.

Absolutely, that points to a void in quality in the women’s game throughout history. But equally, it points to a changing sport: three years ago, the idea that two women could headline pretty much anywhere, live on TV, would have been dismissed off-hand. That’s the Taylor effect Stateside in a nutshell.

Now, proceed with caution. I personally don’t think Serrano will take that fight, even though she has signed with Taylor’s promoter, Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom, with a precise view to making it.

It wasn’t lip service when Taylor described her as ‘mentally fragile’. Veteran Serrano, as super a fighter as she is, titles or no titles, clearly can’t bear the thought of losing to a relative newcomer to the pro ranks: for years she’s fought tirelessly for recognition, and to be soundly beaten by a three-year pro is likely too much for her to bear. We’ll see on that front.

Boxing 2019 - Amanda Serrano Defeats Eva Voraberger by 1st Round KO Amanda Serrano should lie in wait for Katie Taylor down the line... Source: Joel Plummer

But even before then, Taylor will partake in a women’s fight that changes the game, probably as the co-main event to Anthony Joshua in New York on 1 June.

Delfine Persoon, the WBC lightweight champion, is no joke. She dispatched of a fine opponent in Melissa St Vil last weekend with minimal fuss. She fought in front of what could be best described as acoustic atmosphere in her native land — and honestly, God knows how bad her management team are when she’s not a star even at home — but she walked through the game St Vil with the swagger of a long-reigning champion.

She issued a statement to Taylor in her TKO6 — ‘I’ve held up my end of the bargain’.

Now, it’s over to Taylor to get the job done against Volante in what is the last of her roadblock fights.

Yes, Volante is unbeaten and yes, ‘unification clash’ has got a ring to it, but this is another opponent Taylor should deal with. It’s the last of those hold-up fights — the bridge between ‘just another fight’ and the truly significant fights in and around her division.

Persoon offers a legitimate challenge, as does Serrano, as does undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus — the latter being first million-dollar fight for Taylor, or any female boxer — beyond that.

Taylor Wahlstrom Boxing Taylor has women's superfights on her horizon. Source: AP/PA Images

But it’s a testament to her impact on the sport, and perhaps the boxing fan or journalist’s understanding of what it takes to build a career, that the questions asked in columns or by talking heads in Ireland aren’t asked in the States.

Here, there is a collective cognisance that she’s onto something.

And while Taylor will never say it, that’s where manager Brian Peters’ remarks regarding billion-dollar US broadcasters DAZN ring true:

Now, as nice as Katie is, I don’t think DAZN and these guys are giving her that money because she’s a nice person. I think they’re giving it to her because she’s a star. She moves the dial. That’s why.

By the end of 2019 or the start of 2020, I’d be interested to hear the thoughts of those who claim Taylor’s professional career, and the sport within she operates, aren’t worth much.

It’s a big ‘if’ but victories pending, a series of fights with Persoon, Serrano and Braekhus would be unprecedented — in both the male or female ranks. They’ll be wildly celebrated in the States.

Perhaps then, it’ll hit home.

Bernard Jackman joins Murray Kinsella and Ryan Bailey on The42 Rugby Weekly as Ireland bid to spoil Wales’ Grand Slam party in Cardiff, and the U20s target their own piece of history.


Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:

‘There were times when I didn’t even ask how much I was getting for the fights – I’d just find out afterwards’

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