Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson/INPHO Katie Taylor warms up in her dressing room ahead of her undisputed world-title clash with Delfine Persoon.
met her match

Taylor finds more than she was looking for but disputed title win was no underhanded robbery

Taylor has become the most disputed undisputed champion in boxing, but her victory was not evidence of ‘corruption’.

A NIGHT FOR the ages at Madison Square Garden reminded us again that the boxing ring, so often the theatre of the expected, remains an undisputed refuge for magic when two huge men collide at centre-stage.

A fight for the ages between two women of indisputable might copper-fastened the sport’s place in the dark ages in the minds of many, the wrong woman taking home all the gold, the right woman heading home to her day job as, well, a copper.

It seems strange given the nutty ‘lack-of-coverage’ debate which preceded it that Katie Taylor’s crowning moment will be a hot-button topic in the Irish media this week not for the magnitude of her achievement in becoming the country’s first undisputed world champion of the modern era, but for the impending debate as to whether or not we should dispute it.

For why should we, the Irish people, perennial sufferers of sporting injustice, not equally wail into the abyss when the shoe is on the other foot?

Delfine Persoon reacts as Katie Taylor is declared the winner Matchroom Boxing / Ed Mulholland/INPHO Delfine Persoon protests the decision. Matchroom Boxing / Ed Mulholland/INPHO / Ed Mulholland/INPHO

There will be column inches dedicated to the hypocrisy in our once more lauding Taylor as the greatest Irish person to have ever lived while Delfine Persoon returns to the beat in Belgium minus the WBC belt she held for five years, and minus the four other belts many contend should have sat safely in her overhead locker on the long flight home from New York.

Very few of them actually cover or even follow boxing but the Venn diagram of those who will this week tell us police officer Persoon was the victim of a scandalous heist, and those who have previously written off Taylor’s professional pursuit on the basis that some of her opponents have day jobs, will probably be a full circle.

Persoon is within her rights to protest, for sure.

And she intends for her appeal to be heard while not expecting it to be adhered to.

“What we will do now is of course make a complaint,” she told the Belgian publication Sudpresse. “But without much hope because the weight of the Belgian boxing does not weigh heavy in the instances.

“Now, all the better if we manage to move the lines a little in this area. But with my coach we will also quietly analyse this fight sequence by sequence, to have all the arguments to present an unassailable file.

I said before I left for New York that if I did not win by KO, the judges would never give me the victory, and that’s exactly what happened.

If the shoe had been on the other foot, would Ireland have raged on Taylor’s behalf? We would have gone nuclear.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean we would have been right; it doesn’t necessarily mean Persoon or anyone else is right to believe she had victory snatched from her by some nefarious force.

Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon Matchroom Boxing / Ed Mulholland/INPHO Delfine Persoon lands a right uppercut. Matchroom Boxing / Ed Mulholland/INPHO / Ed Mulholland/INPHO

Be it through sheer incompetence or, on occasion, something shadier, many professional boxing judges now show a borderline comical disregard for doing their jobs properly. The terms ‘robbery’ and ‘corruption’ are as a result passed around like a spare bag of chips, the go-to comfort food for those who watched an underdog flip the supposed script on a heavy favourite only to have their fairytale curtailed by the pesky adjudicators.

And because boxing is so sodden with actual robberies, we can begin to build the latest scandal in our heads, or with our thumbs, before it even comes to fruition.

There have been recent fights, like both Gennady Golovkin-Canelo Alvarez middleweight showdowns, where we have turned on our TVs or walked through the turnstiles with a fearful apprehension as opposed to a feverish anticipation. And our foreboding was proven justified — definitely the first time, anyway.

Gennady Golovkin was robbed blind that night. It’s that type of unabashed bollocksology which rightly drives prospective fans away from the sport.

Delfine Persoon was not the victim of some underhanded miscarriage of justice on Saturday night, and to put her battle with Taylor in the same tainted bracket is in itself unjust.

Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon Matchroom Boxing / Ed Mulholland/INPHO Katie Taylor lands a jab. Matchroom Boxing / Ed Mulholland/INPHO / Ed Mulholland/INPHO

Adding to the West Flanders woman’s sense of injustice was the incident which saw her moved to a separate New York hotel after one night spent under the same roof as Taylor; her trainer and partner Filiep Tampere accused Taylor of ‘total disrespect’ in her demand that he and his fighter find new accommodation. Taylor and her own team denied on separate occasions that she had anything to do with it or even had any knowledge of it.

Her manager Brian Peters put it down to a misunderstanding, describing it as ‘industry standard policy’ for fighters to stay in separate hotels.

The Belgian camp again cried foul when she had to give extra blood tests hours before the fight at the behest of the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC); Persoon has asthma for which she uses an inhaler. She doesn’t require a prescription and when used in regulation, the inhaler is not prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The doctor in New York, however, reportedly required further proof that Persoon did not have hepatitis B, the reactivation of which can be linked to certain asthma treatments.

Meirhaeghe Maarten, a doctor for Belgian pro cycling team Lotto Soudal who also works with Persoon, described it as “completely unnecessary,” adding: “Delfine is completely in accordance with the rules of WADA, but apparently they have their own rules here, which are not transparent at all. And for Katie Taylor they are not nearly meticulous as for Delfine — she does not have to take new tests. I can’t get rid of the impression that the medical committee plays with the organisation – without talking about a conspiracy, does it?”

Then came what Team Persoon and plenty of onlookers allege to have been the greatest conspiracy of all — what happened in the ring.

Only it wasn’t one.

Fights are scored on a round-by-round basis, not on a general hunch or a vibe; not by whoever finishes stronger or is less tired; not by whoever’s face holds up the better or by whoever’s hair is the least ruffled come final bell.

And the majority of the rounds in Taylor and Persoon’s compelling contest were about as close as conceivably possible.

Scoring it from within the arena on Saturday night, I had it a draw at 95-95. Watching it back on Sunday morning, I saw a couple of rounds differently but wound up with the same final tally.

It’s only one man’s perception of events from two different perspectives, and if you disagree with it, that’s absolutely fine. Loads do. Plenty don’t.

Here’s the thing: you could make a case for Taylor winning at least four of the first five rounds, or you could make a case for her winning only one or two of them. You could make the case for her winning rounds six, eight and nine in the latter half of the fight, or one of them, or two of them, or none of them.

Every round from 1 to 10 is worth the same and, in all, there were enough contentious rounds there to make the case that Taylor just about did enough, even if most didn’t see it that way. I personally had her doing enough only to avoid defeat.

On the flipside, you could argue in Persoon’s favour for probably every single round bar the sixth.

The Belgian’s was the stronger case for victory. It just wasn’t the only case.

Theirs was a great fight but also a grey one, not black and white. It happens.

Persoon wagged her finger and exited the ring understandably distraught whereas Taylor rightly cut a relieved figure. That conspicuous exhalation wasn’t some admission of guilt, just a natural and exhausted reaction to her emerging victorious from a gruelling nail-biter.

Katie Taylor is announced as the winner Tom Hogan / INPHO Katie Taylor celebrates her undisputed title victory. Tom Hogan / INPHO / INPHO

The verdict evoked guttural cheers which tested the sturdiness of The Garden’s roof. There was a sprinkling of boos, too, and not only from the handful of Belgians in the arena.

One of the judges disagreed with the overall verdict reached by the three of them: Don Trella had it 95-95 even. If one of Allen Nace or John Poturaj had seen a single round more for Persoon, they would have had arrived at the same conclusion. The fight would have entered the history books as a draw. That’s how close they had it.

‘Typical Eddie Hearn’, the sceptics will cry, for the margins at play here are slender to the point that they might seem almost…convenient?

Taylor was, of course, the Hearn fighter, the house fighter, the shining star; the promotional A-side and the marketing upside.

But whatever influence you may allege Hearn or any other promoter to exert over judges, the Englishman’s impish charm must have worn thin at Madison Square Garden on Saturday: at the time when one of his other fighters, Tommy Coyle, was stopped by ‘away’ opponent Chris Algieri earlier in the evening, Coyle was down by three rounds on two cards and seven on the other; in the fight before Taylor’s, one of Hearn’s most hotly touted prospects, former British Olympian Josh Kelly, was held to a surprising and momentum-killing draw on what was supposed to be his unveiling to America; in the main event, the face of Hearn’s entire transatlantic boxing enterprise, Anthony Joshua, was trailing on two of the three cards during his own Stateside bow before ‘Mexican Rocky’ Andy Ruiz floored him twice more and lowered the curtain in the seventh.

It was probably the most disastrous night of Eddie Hearn’s entire career, and bear in mind this is a man whose bare arse was unveiled to the world during an egregious ‘pantsing’ incident last October.

Does this look like the face of someone in control?

Image from iOS (9) Eddie Hearn looking like a guy whose Debs date has ran off with his best friend.

Katie Taylor simply got a contentious nod, and barely. It could have gone the other way. It could easily have been a draw. In any case, Taylor will be the most disputed undisputed world champion in boxing for the foreseeable future.

Which brings us to a verdict upon which we can all agree: Persoon is more than worthy of a rematch and they simply must do it again.

The WBC, who could feel as though they owe one to their long-reigning former champion, might even wind up mandating a sequel. They commissioned some sort of commemorative pink bracelet for Saturday’s victor so God only knows what else they’re capable of.

But if they don’t demand one, Katie Taylor will.

In her hotel in the early hours of Sunday morning, there was a smile which escaped through the bumps, bruises and stitches — “we both had to get stitches, I think, from the head clashes”, Taylor would say pointedly when asked about the wound on her forehead — but privately she’ll be seething.

With her overall performance partially, but predominantly the fact that she left the door open for a debate at all. (Away from the judging controversy, Persoon will feel similarly aggrieved that she didn’t pour it on slightly sooner; another minute at her disposal, and there would likely have been nothing to debate).

Katie Taylor celebrates at the final bell Tom Hogan / INPHO Katie Taylor raises her arm in preeminent celebration. Tom Hogan / INPHO / INPHO

Taylor and her team will have questions as to how Persoon — day job and all (albeit with a full camp behind her; she was given extra time by her employers to prepare for the fight) — seemed to have plenty more rounds left in the tank at the death while Taylor herself physically wilted.

The Irishwoman might have made things easier for herself only for her immense sense of pride to work to her detriment. As she acknowledged from behind her five belts back at HQ: “I probably just stood there with her a bit too much, but that’s the way it goes; that’s my personality, that’s my nature; I do love a good tear-up.”

Her team have “other plans” on the immediate horizon which they say won’t necessarily change for Persoon, but the festering question mark will doubtless put Taylor on their case to make it happen before long.

If the theme to her professional career has been redemption to this juncture, it’s about to take on a vindication story arc which can only be closed off by Taylor and Persoon resuming what became overnight a rivalry fierce and fascinating in equal measure.

Casual interest in her ‘road to undisputed’ suffered for the fact that the journey became procession-like through no fault of her own. Diehards continued to marvel at Taylor’s ring brilliance in the wee hours but plenty became content to wait for a result in the morning, sleeping soundly in the knowledge that they’d wake up to find that Katie Taylor had won again, ‘and sure isn’t she brilliant’.

Persoon came within a whisker of derailing the entire thing, and in her mighty effort certainly eroded the sense of invincibility and inevitability that Taylor had recultivated in the paid ranks.

Katie Taylor makes her entrance Tom Hogan / INPHO Taylor arrives at Madison Square Garden. Tom Hogan / INPHO / INPHO

Minutes before their captivating contest, Taylor arrived to a noise which blew even her away, U2′s ‘Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ bellowed out by the 12,000 or so people who had taken their seats at that point.

It was a memorable moment spoiled only fractionally by the assumption that Taylor herself almost certainly didn’t choose the song. She later confirmed as much with a laugh, crediting manager Brian Peters who added with a wry smile: “We won’t have to play that tune again!”

They might. But in a female fight for the ages with Delfine Persoon, Taylor found more than undisputed title success: she met her match, and the impending friction between them could spark a little bit of magic.

“Winning that way — okay, officially she is the winner, but if I would watch the match again in her case I wouldn’t want to go on living like that either,” Persoon has said since. “[I would] rather lose it unjustly than win unjustly.”

Chances are, there’ll be many more eyes on them when they eventually meet in the middle once more.

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