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Dublin: 3°C Sunday 28 February 2021

'I want girls to grow up and do even better than I have in my career - that’s what true legacy looks like'

Katie Taylor on her free-to-air fight this Saturday, her cultural significance in professional boxing, and the debate over female fighters’ earnings.

Undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor.
Undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

KATIE TAYLOR GREW up during an era in which big-time professional boxing on her side of the Atlantic consisted of a Venn diagram of scraps between Steve Collins, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank which were broadcast on subscription TV as Sky began to cut their teeth in the fight business.

She didn’t see those iconic rivalries settled in the ring at the time because, to her recollection, there was no Sky Sports in the family home in Bray until some time afterwards.

But 25-odd years on, she is living her own legend, cultivating it on the same platform: her blood-curdling wars with Belgian nemesis Delfine Persoon were worthy of their Box Office stages at Madison Square Garden and Matchroom’s Covid-time Fight Camp respectively and worth the 20-bob pay-per-view fee on their own merit for those who had it to spare.

And there have been off-Broadway milestones, too, not least Taylor’s two ‘headline’ appearances to date: against Jessica McCaskill in 2017, the first ever female bout to top a bill on Sky Sports; and the momentous occasion that was Manchester last November, when the home crowd moved the Irishwoman to tears such was the deafening acclaim with which they received her as she attempted to conduct a post-fight interview following a hard-earned victory over Christina Linardatou in the poster-topper.

Her transformative impact on women’s professional boxing has been swift, unparalleled and undeniable. But one wouldn’t need to dust off the aforementioned landmarks to find caveats: the electrifying Persoon bouts were each succeeded by headlining heavyweight action; her curtain-raiser against McCaskill unusually took place midweek at which time its only competition might well have been some kind of angling championship; and while she was officially sold as ‘the main event’ in Manchester this time last year, it was ostensibly a card designed to bid farewell to Mancunian darling Anthony Crolla, who fought last on the night — and for the last time ever — after Taylor took her leave with the belt which made her a two-weight world champion.

Her next fight in five days’ time will be markedly and marketably different. No caveats. Saturday night. Primetime on Sky Sports. The star attraction on a night in which the fights involving men are designed only to tee up three consecutive female world-title fights, the last of which will be Taylor’s undisputed lightweight title defence against Miriam Gutierrez of Spain.

And it will be free-to-air for anybody who has a decent internet connection, whether or not they have Sky Sports or even a television: Taylor-Guttierez and its accompanying support bouts will stream live on Facebook, YouTube and the Sky Sports website as well and beam live on Sky Sports Mix and Sky Sports Main Event.

Taylor herself tends to let neither the magnitude of her personal achievements nor her cultural significance within professional boxing sink in, even when invited to. “When you’re actually speaking about it, I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that is great!’” she laughs. “Right now, I’m just focusing on my own performance and the fight itself [versus Gutierrez]. I guess it’ll be only when I retire, when I’m actually looking back on these things, I’ll think, ‘Oh, gosh — that really was legacy-building; that really was fantastic.’”

But she is at least willing to embrace the significance of Saturday night being so freely accessible to eyes everywhere, a bonus that dovetails perfectly with one of her primary objectives.

“I am so privileged to be in this position and what a great opportunity it is on Saturday to actually showcase my talents to people who may never have had Sky Sports before,” says the undisputed 135-pound champion.

“For young kids to actually be able to watch this fight for free is absolutely fantastic. And what a great opportunity it is for myself personally and for every other fighter on the card: it’s an extra platform to inspire these young girls and young boys.

“I suppose I want girls to grow up and do even better than I have in my career and that’s what true legacy looks like.

I want those young girls to grow up and be multiple-times world champion and multiple-time Olympic champions, and to be considered the best ever. I just want fighters of the next generation to dream big dreams, I suppose.

“When I was growing up, there wasn’t any Olympics around, there wasn’t female boxers on professional cards.

The fact that women’s boxing is in the Olympics to stay is incredible; the fact that there is a female boxing match on every single [professional] boxing card now, which is insane. And the fact that there are three female world-title fights on the one bill this weekend — I never thought I’d see that, growing up. So, that in itself is a great legacy.

katie-taylor-with-katie-otoole-from-tallaght Taylor with Katie O'Toole from Tallaght during her Bray homecoming following her first victory over Delfine Persoon. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Anthony Joshua agrees. On Sunday night, the heavyweight beltholder again turned Taylor cheerleader on Sky Sports, saying:

I can’t even put it into words. She’s special. Sometimes you get a few fighters that come along in this world and they’re special, and they leave a mark. She’ll definitely be one of those people that leave a mark on the boxing industry.

And though Taylor is generally impervious to outside noise, particularly on fight week, some comments naturally slip her guard.

“From such a legacy-building fighter himself, that obviously means so much,” she says.

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“Anthony Joshua has always been such a huge supporter of myself over the last few years, and of women’s boxing itself, so very, very grateful for those comments.

“It’s always obviously great to hear nice things about yourself, isn’t it?” she laughs.

“When it’s coming from someone like Anthony Joshua, that makes it even more special.”

Both 2012 Olympic gold medallists share a promoter in Eddie Hearn, who in an Instagram post earlier this year unveiled a massive mural in his Matchroom Boxing headquarters consisting of a handful of his company’s flagship fighters from past and present. Joshua, the biggest star of them all, is painted front-and-centre from where he is flanked by three fellow British boxing kings, and Irish boxing queen. Incidentally, Taylor was recently invited to give a tour of her own HQ on the soon-to-be rebooted MTV series Cribs, whose researcher can probably still hear Brian Peters’ laugh ringing in their ears.

katie-taylor Taylor with the belts that make up her undisputed title. Source: Matchroom Boxing/Mark Robinson/INPHO

Taylor would at least have her newly bought house in Connecticut to show off, complete with its basement boxing gym. One of her more recent opponents, Brazilian Rose Volante of whom she relieved the WBO lightweight title 18 months ago, was herself able to purchase a home for her mother with the spoils from her first career defeat at Taylor’s hands — and the fact that she was paid significantly less than her conqueror is an indication as to Taylor’s financial standing within the sport currently.

She doesn’t earn ‘Anthony Joshua money’ in the tens of millions per fight but the 34-year-old is, by a significant margin, the highest female earner in combat sports. For further context, all-time great mixed martial artist Amanda Nunes walked away with a reported $450,000 disclosed purse after beating Felicia Spencer to retain her UFC featherweight title in June; two months later, Taylor earned somewhere in the region of three times that for her rematch with Persoon, a fee which included a share of the Sky Sports Box Office pay-per-view revenue in Ireland.

Indeed, using Forbes’ 2020 Top 10 list as the measuring stick, the Bray woman may soon become the highest-earning non-tennis player in all of women’s sport — if she isn’t already. With three big fights next year, she would conceivably knock on the door of the top five overall, albeit her decision not to disclose her fight purses and commercial endorsements likely precludes her from such lists — which is exactly the point.

She is, however, an outlier in her own field, and the debate about pay in professional women’s boxing has been particularly prominent this week, with Irish-American former world champion Heather Hardy lambasting promoter Hearn for an interview during which he stressed the need to increase female fighters’ commercial value in order for them to achieve financial parity with their male equivalents.

Taylor, aware of her unique position, is measured in her contribution to that particular strand of discourse, expressing her appreciation for her own level of income while stressing the need for her contemporaries to reap more reward from their graft and craft. In the end, her message is simple: all in good time.

“The exposure is there now and people are genuinely interested in women’s boxing now,” she says.

“We’ve obviously made great ground over the past few years with the purses and hopefully, that continues as well.

“I would love to see the purses rising, obviously. I’m personally very happy with the purses I receive for the fights each and every time…but I wouldn’t say no to a pay rise, either!

“But I am very, very happy and I feel very privileged to be in the position that I am in, headlining fights and getting the purses that I have been getting.

“I guess [female boxing pay] is very low in comparison to what the men are getting but that’s the way it is, really. I hope that it increases. We’re slowly building ground. It takes time, I think, to build ground with stuff like that.

“We have done great things over the last few years and hopefully, that will keep rising.”

In the meantime, she will fight to ensure that her own Sky-high ascent continues.

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