Katie Taylor at Friday's weigh-in. Gary Carr/INPHO
taylor v cameron

Taylor ties eras together ahead of redefining night at 3Arena

Showdowns in the mould of Katie Taylor v Chantelle Cameron have been exceptionally rare throughout boxing history.

THE TWO BOXERS’ teams have exuded an earnest confidence all week, but the rest of us really haven’t a clue as to who’s going to have their arm raised when the dust settles on the 3Arena ring tonight.

Even the various other stakeholders involved in Katie Taylor’s challenge of Chantelle Cameron for the undisputed light-welterweight championship are split down the middle. Predictions have typically been preceded by an ‘Oooft’ and delivered with a dozen qualifiers.

The conviction and comfort with which Taylor has carried herself in Dublin all week has swayed plenty of previously undecided voters in her favour.

Cameron, by contrast, has scarcely left her hotel room unless mandated, acutely aware that, for the first time in her career, she is the antagonist in somebody else’s story. The Englishwoman and her team went for a late-night stroll around Sussex Terrace last night, but it was a fast one.

There are people who will point towards Cameron’s failure to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics as evidence of a kind of mental fragility at the very top level; she has since won an undisputed title as a professional, yes, but against a lower level of opposition than Taylor’s and in front of half-empty arenas for the most part.

But these people will equally argue that Cameron is physically strong enough to take Taylor asunder if she can lure the 37-year-old home fighter into a war, as most of her best opponents have managed to.

This contest is fraught for both, and victory for either will redefine how they are viewed from within their sport — and even from outside of it. This is the way it should be.

Taylor-Cameron has been sold all week as the first time ever that two reigning undisputed champions from different weight classes have met in the middle which, like a lot of things said in the promotion of a bout, isn’t strictly true. But tonight will certainly make for the first time that such a clash has happened in the ‘four-belt era’, and showdowns of its kind have been exceptionally rare throughout boxing lore.

By this writer’s estimation, you would have to go back to 1957 and then-welterweight champion Carmen Basilio’s climb to challenge the greatest boxer of all time, Sugar Ray Robinson, as the last pure example of a bout between two unequivocal rulers of their respective divisions.

A couple of honourable mentions in the years since include the great Emile Griffith doing similar against Dick Tiger in 1966, but Griffith had been forced to vacate his welterweight crown before he successfully took on the middleweight monarch of his time. And in 1985, light-heavyweight champion Michael Spinks made one of the greatest jumps of all when he ended Larry Holmes’ run as heavyweight champion. But while Holmes had previously been recognised by Ring Magazine as ‘the’ champion among the big men, he had never bothered with the WBA and he had relinquished the WBC belt prior to his defeat to Spinks, instead endorsing the title of the newly formed IBF.

The long and short of it is that Taylor-Cameron will keep some fine company in their sport’s record books and, as Taylor herself put it on Thursday, their bout carries sufficient gravitas that she and Cameron will become “the centre of the boxing world” at around 10 o’clock tonight.

It still feels odd that such a mantle will also belong to Dublin for the first time in such a long time. Given the reasons for ‘bigtime’ boxing’s absence from the Irish capital since Eddie Hearn’s last visit to these shores in 2014, one might have presumed that fight week and its accompanying public events would have a weighty atmosphere to them. In reality, the vibe has been positively familial as Irish fans and fighters from all generations have turned out to pay homage to a woman who has represented them with dignity since she won her first European Championship gold medal in 2005.

The undercard consists of a blend of talents who either trained alongside Taylor with the national team or grew up idolising her. At Friday’s weigh-in, this culminated in one of the week’s more wholesome moments as Limerick welterweight Paddy Donovan [10-0, 7KOS] and Dublin heavyweight Thomas Carty [5-0, 4KOs] were informed by Matchroom that they had both requested to walk out to The Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’, and that one of them would have to choose another song. Donovan, who argued that he should have been entitled to first dibs as a Limerick man, eventually won a coin toss to keep the tune in-house.

Taylor’s homecoming has also moonlit as similar for a couple of Irish boxing’s most respected road warriors.

When the Brisbane-based Denis Hogan [31-4-1, 7KOs] squares off with Liverpudlian JJ Metcalf on tonight’s show, it will be the first time the 38-year-old Co. Kildare native will have boxed on home soil since his defeat to Ken Egan in the semi-finals of the 2010 Irish Seniors. Hogan’s brilliant career has seen him twice challenge for world titles and recently earn a secondary belt, but his 37th professional bout will make for the first time that a lot of his friends and family from Kilcullen will be able to watch him in person.

Home from America, then, is Deirdre Gogarty, the Irish-boxing pioneer to whom Katie Taylor wrote letters as a child. Gogarty, these days a graphic artist based in Louisiana, was last night honoured in her hometown of Drogheda with an evening in her name. A statue is due to follow. Gogarty, who inspired Taylor to continue boxing as a young girl, has already spent a bit of time with Taylor this week. That she will be ringside to watch Taylor do similar tonight is of great personal significance to both women.

Whether or not she will witness Taylor haul her own legacy even further into the stratosphere depends on who you ask, but the week to this point has been a tonic at least.

It’s been the latest in a long list of reminders, too, that fans of Irish sport should enjoy Taylor for as long as she intends to stick around.

It could be for a while yet but as she put it herself on Thursday with a laugh, “Once I hang up the gloves, you won’t see me coming back out of retirement again… Yous will never see me again, probably!”

Tonight is another step closer to that point either way, but Taylor’s mark on the Irish boxing landscape will forever remain indelible regardless of its outcome.

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