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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 17 February, 2020

'I keep signing a new contract with her and one fight later, the contract looks sh**'

Eddie Hearn doesn’t promote Katie Taylor in the interest of political correctness.

Katie Taylor shares a joke with trainer Ross Enamait.
Katie Taylor shares a joke with trainer Ross Enamait.
Image: Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson/INPHO

WHEN KATIE TAYLOR chanced her arm in the autumn of 2016 and fired a message to promoter Eddie Hearn asking that he sign her to a professional contract, he almost said no.

He agreed to a meeting out of courtesy, but per his own admission didn’t know the first thing about women’s boxing.

Soon afterwards, Hearn met with Taylor and her soon-to-be-manager, Brian Peters, in his Essex office, and he realised that didn’t matter.

The person sitting opposite him was a born fighter. The rest was semantics.

Three years, four world titles and countless ‘firsts’ later, Taylor is the headline act of a Manchester Arena show on which she will seek to become a two-division world champion. Her image, and that of her opponent, WBO light-welterweight titleholder Christina Linardatou, overlook a full undercard of heads on the official fight posters dotted around the city, and while Mancunian darling Anthony Crolla’s farewell fight will take centre-stage after the official headliner tonight, the event has been sold by Sky Sports and DAZN as a Katie Taylor bill.

It might all seem normal now, but it was unforeseeable as recently as three years ago when Hearn took a punt on the Irish icon and wound up kick-starting a culture shift within the sport of boxing.

katie-taylor-press-conference-dublin Katie Taylor and Eddie Hearn at a Dublin press conference in 2016 to announce her turning professional. Source: Niall Carson

“To be honest, my interest always stems from the commercial interest,” Hearn says. “Years ago, Sky — not just Sky, but anyone — they had no interest in women’s boxing. Then, all of a sudden, women’s sport in general starting becoming a more important part of the output of sport broadcasters. And so did women’s boxing.

“People talk about, ‘Who’s the best women’s boxer?’ And you’ve got Claressa Shields — who I love, by the way, and she’s the ‘GWOAT’ [Greatest Woman of All Time] and all of this sort of stuff, but let’s make one thing clear: Katie Taylor is the trailblazer. Claressa Shields only won an Olympic gold medal because Katie Taylor was responsible for getting women’s boxing in the Olympics in the first place!”, he laughs. “But they’re all great: Claressa, Cecilia [Braekhus], Katie, even [Amanda] Serrano, [Delfine] Persoon. The top-end stuff is really, really good to watch.

“Like, someone said, ‘Oh, Katie’s got to box off the back foot [vs Linardatou], and she will, but she always gets involved. Tell me one bad Katie Taylor fight — even from her debut. Like, maybe the Cindy Serrano fight, because she (Serrano) literally just ran off for 10 rounds, you know what I mean? But, like, even then… She’s never in a dull fight. Never. And Saturday will be really exciting.

“And, you know, we’re going to have 9,000 in there on Saturday. I know it’s Crolla’s last fight, but trust me, there’s a lot of people coming to watch Katie Taylor from Ireland, from England — just boxing fans in general.

“You’re not going to see that much of her over here anymore, because the bigger fights for the bigger money will be in the States.”

o2-arena-boxing Hearn watches on as Taylor gears up for a fight. Source: Nick Potts

Speaking of, Hearn believes Taylor — already the highest-earning female boxer on the planet by a considerable margin — will push the envelope further for the women’s game by earning its first-ever million-dollar payday over the course of the next 12 months, with a superfight against one of Serrano, Persoon or undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus likely to see her break new ground on the financial front provided she can dethrone Linardatou later tonight.

She’s already in the top 1% of boxers in the world, male or female, in how much she pockets per fight. Up until fairly recently, her deal with Hearn was formalised by only a handshake following their original meeting, but as the figures began to rise significantly, it was deemed best that they get something down on paper.

But soon, they found themselves needing more paper.

“It is amazing when you look at it now. We have the same conversation with AJ (Anthony Joshua) — what I was paying her when she first turned pro. And AJ always ribs me about this as well, what I was paying him when he first turned pro. The game has changed so much. The purses have trebled in the last 18 months for everybody.

What I keep doing with Katie is I keep signing a new contract with her and one fight later, the contract looks shit. So we have to do another one, because I feel bad.

“When we sign the contract, we think, ‘This is mega-money’, and then she goes to Philadelphia or Boston, DAZN love her and you start to realise… And here is where we talk about equality of purses: What is the difference between Katie Taylor and another world champion — a male world champion in America? She is the same draw or a bigger draw but you can bet your life the male champion is earning more money. And that is where we talk about equality of purses. You’re playing catch-up.

It (pay equality) will happen and it is happening. But she’s the standout. There’s nobody making money in women’s boxing like Katie Taylor. She is the queen. And she deserves it because she is responsible for all of it.

One of the most marked developments over the course of Taylor’s short professional career has been the general acceptance of women’s boxing as part of the overall picture; it has, as Hearn has put it on countless occasions, gradually become just ‘boxing’ in the eyes of the paying masses; it’s now more unusual for a pro boxing bill not to include at least one female fight, and members of the knuckle-dragging ‘get-back-in-the-kitchen’ brigade have by and large retreated to their mothers’ basements.

Where once the replies to Taylor-related tweets by Hearn or the Matchroom Boxing account were a hellscape of misogyny, most of the negative hot-takes these days are along the lines of, ‘She needs to rematch Persoon.’ And while it’s still a criticism, it’s also a sign of progress: people care who she fights. They are, to varying degrees, invested.

“You still get the moronic stuff”, notes Hearn, “but that’s just social media. There was a picture someone put out yesterday of Katie and Terri Harper, and someone said, ‘Oh, they’re discussing what they’re going to cook for their husbands’ dinner tonight’.

“And I’m quite old-fashioned. My dad is like super old-fashioned. My dad is into women’s boxing. Like, he’s the most old-school guy you could meet.

But you still get these moronic comments. And I just look at it and say, ‘If it was rubbish, or it weren’t enjoyable to watch, or there was no skill, or it wasn’t the same, I wouldn’t really [be interested]. I’m not one for saying, ‘Oh, let’s just broadcast women’s sport because that’s the right thing to do.’ No. Let’s broadcast good entertainment and good, competitive sport. Katie Taylor is always in thrilling fights, so I don’t care if she’s a man, a woman, whatever. It’s what we’re seeing from that sporting occasion and that sporting moment [which is important]. So it’s irrelevant to me.

“And I know you say, ‘It’s about giving women the chance’, and yeah, there is an element of that, but I have to look at it from the other side, because all those people that are now saying, ‘Fight Persoon, fight Serrano, do this, blah blah blah’ — they’re the customer.

So you can’t just put on an event that the customer doesn’t like, that the fans don’t like, or people watching at home don’t like because it’s PC — I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in putting in quality fights and entertainment, and that’s Katie Taylor.

“Like, if you said to me, ‘Give me three people you’d want on a card to make the best card’, she would be in my top three. Men, women, whatever. That’s it.

And she’s earned that right. She hasn’t got there because she’s a woman. She’s not getting these accolades because she’s a woman. She’s doing it because she’s a great fighter, and she’s fighting the best. She’s a trailblazer.

“I mean, she’s not human, really,” Hearn interjects upon himself.

She lives over in Connecticut in this little flat, right? Just gets up in the morning, does her run in the woods and the wilderness, and she’s a beast. She trains like a beast. But she’s a special individual. I’ve never met anyone like her.

“And the great thing is she’s actually quite warm, as well.

Like, I’ve sort of… not struggled to get to know her, but we’ve got a very working relationship, you know? I deliver for her. She scares me a little bit — I don’t want to talk to her too much. But we respect each other hugely. We know what the focus is. When you get her around kids — like, she met my kids. I couldn’t believe how she was with them. I mean, she was amazing.

“And they’re like…” Hearn widens his eyes and his mouth, acting out his children’s starstruckness. “They watched her and thought, ‘Katie Taylor!‘. And they’re the special ones. She took her time with them, she talked to them about the boxing, she asked them questions about sport and what they like doing.

“So there’s a completely normal side of Katie Taylor that people don’t really see. We just see this fearsome warrior that lives in an apartment and trains in the woods. But actually, she’s a great family person. She’s got amazing morals and ethics. I mean, there’s nothing to hide, is there? Like, you know she’s not all of a sudden going to live a bad life or treat people badly or be disrespectful to someone. She’s perfect in every way.”

Tonight, she aims to maintain her perfect record in the professional ring when she fights Christina Linardatou for the WBO World light-welterweight title live on Sky Sports. Taylor is expected to make her walk at around 9pm.

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About the author:

Gavan Casey  / Reports from Manchester

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