Australia's Skye Nicolson posing in a New York Rangers jersey outside MSG.
# next gen
From 'sh****ng it' meeting Katie Taylor as a 14-year-old to fighting on her Madison Square Garden undercard
Australia’s Skye Nicolson, whose boxing brothers died tragically before she was born, is hellbent on carrying their legacy to new heights.

THAT SKYE NICOLSON will get a taste of Madison Square Garden in only her third professional fight this evening is quite the boon, but it should also be taken as a premonition.

At 26, the Aussie Olympian is nine years younger than tonight’s chief protagonist, Katie Taylor, but when you join the dots between their past meetings, a pattern emerges which would suggest that Nicolson is herself well on track to grace the sport’s biggest stages.

Taylor, as has been evidenced by the sheer magnitude of tonight’s headline bout with Amanda Serrano, has laid the blueprint for the next generation to drive the women’s sport onto a new level. Nicolson, already signed to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing and a highly regarded management group in STN Sports (co-founded by former Matchroom matchmaker Paul Ready), is one of the prospects best qualified to take the wheel.

If she is to keep it, she will need to not only impress but to entertain as she progresses through the pro ranks. First and foremost, though, she will have to keep winning, beginning tonight on the biggest platform of her fledgling pro career to date.

skye-nicolson Gary Carr / INPHO Skye Nicolson at Tuesday's open workout in New York. Gary Carr / INPHO / INPHO

“I try not to put too much pressure on any performance being any more important than another performance,” Nicolson tells The42. “It was the same with the Olympic Games and being one fight away from having a medal or not having a medal in Tokyo. It was the same with even qualifying for the Olympic Games and being one fight away from either being on the team or not on the team.

“I understand that this is a huge card and an amazing opportunity and I love that.

“I’m soaking it all up and definitely taking in the whole experience,” adds Nicolson, who has been sporting a New York Rangers hockey jersey during various obligations around The Garden and received a warm reception at Friday’s weigh-in.

There is one added significance to tonight’s third pro bout versus Shanecqua Paisley Davis, however: Nicolson has been a massive admirer of Katie Taylor’s since childhood. She has even attended a couple of the Bray woman’s recent fights in the UK as a fan since relocating from Australia to write the early chapters of her own professional-boxing storybook.

Nicolson, who is trained by Eddie Lam in the IBOX Gym in Bromley, London (she is an IBOX, STN and Matchroom stablemate of Ireland’s Caoimhín Agyarko), has family dotted across Britain but it was relatives in Ireland who helped to cement her admiration for Taylor during her formative boxing years.

“I met Katie in Ireland when I was 14 years old — it would have been 2009, maybe? I had been boxing for two years. She lived not too far away from my cousins in Skerries. They had organised for me to meet her which was really exciting, obviously, as a 14-year-old!

They had actually arranged for me to train in her gym [in Bray], to do a session with her. I was absolutely shitting it because I was so scared that they were going to make me spar her. I was just freaking out because I was this little 14-year-old shy girl and Katie was already, like, a multiple-time world champion.

“But it just so happened that, the night we had arranged to meet, she had a sports awards evening in Dublin. So we got to the gym and no one was there. We were like, ‘What’s going on?’ …But I was actually thinking, ‘Thank God,’ Nicolson laughs, reducing her voice to a whisper. ‘Thank God, thank God. Let’s just go home. I don’t want this smoke!’

“My cousin, Eoin Taaffe, made some calls and stuff and Katie’s team were like, ‘Aw, I’m sorry, she had this awards night tonight, blah blah blah — but come here and she’s going to come out and meet Sky.’

So, Katie actually took time out of her awards ceremony — where she was probably winning Sportswoman of the Year and God knows what else — and came out to meet me, this little 14-year-old girl from the other side of the world who just idolised her.

“That, for me, was a really special moment that I’ll never forget. And it’s something that her behaviour has always taught me: stay humble, stay yourself, and have time for that next generation.

“That was my first encounter with Katie”, Nicolson continues, “and I didn’t meet her again until the 2016 Women’s World Championships when I was 21. We both won bronze in separate weight divisions and we were both lining up for the podium.

“And now, another seven years on, I’m fighting on her undercard at Madison Square Garden. It’s a really cool timeline that takes in her journey and the journey of someone who looked up to her who’s on a really similar trajectory.”

kiko-martinez-v-josh-warrington-press-conference-the-banking-hall PA Skye Nicolson fights for the third time as a professional on the undercard of Taylor-Serrano. PA

Nicolson, as well as having family on the North Dublin coast, is of dual Australian and British citizenship. Her mother is English and her father is Scottish. Pat and Allan met and got married in the UK before moving to OZ with their two eldest sons, Allan Jr and Jamie, in the ’70s.

A keen soccer player since growing up in the UK, Jamie, the second-eldest, broke his foot aged 12 and was told he could never kick a ball in anger again. Holed up indoors in a cast, his parents bought him the Rocky movies on video. Thus began the Nicolson clan’s now storied association with the sport of boxing.

In the ’80s, Pat and Allan Sr established the Albert Boxing Club in their adopted home of Yatala, Queensland. They also welcomed another son, Gavin, who soon followed Allan Jr and Jamie into the ring.

Skye was born 11 years later, in 1995. She never met Gavin or Jamie.

A year before her arrival, both brothers were killed in a car accident on the Pacific Highway in Helensvale, Gold Coast. They had been on their way to boxing training.

While Gavin, 10, had only relatively recently ventured into boxing, Jamie, 22, was already considered one of the finest Australian fighters of his generation. He won bronze as a featherweight at the 1989 World Championships in Moscow at the age of 17, and hopped on the podium again at the Commonwealths in Auckland a year later. He went on to represent his country at the 1992 Olympics.

Jamie turned professional after those Barcelona Games. At the time of his and Gavin’s tragic deaths, he held a 7-1(3KOs) record and had recently received a contract for a minor fight in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta which could have proved a springboard for his professional career.

025486a Aussie boxing great Jamie Nicolson.

“When Jamie started boxing after watching Rocky, he was so bad,” Skye laughs. “I think he lost 12 or 13 of his first 15 fights and it got to the point where Dad was like, ‘Jamie, if you lose your next one, you have to stop boxing.’ And he went on to be arguably the best amateur boxer ever to come out of Australia.”

Nicolson smiles as she explains how she believes she was sent to the world in 1995, a year after her brothers’ fatal accident, to “mend the broken hearts of the family.”

Her father and eldest brother, Allans Sr and Jr, remained steeped in the sport in Queensland and, “literally from newborn”, Skye’s weekends were mostly spent at amateur boxing tournaments. “Once I was like two or three, I was singing the national anthem in the ring every week at boxing shows,” she laughs.

Without a female boxing role model, however, Nicolson never gave participation in the sport a second thought — until she was 12. She began training with Allan Jr and his class of similarly aged male novices, initially not with the intent to compete but merely to get fit and cultivate some self-belief before starting high school.

She was, however, used as an auxiliary sparring partner for the lads, and when they started chirping about getting their blue books and attending their first weigh-in as proper boxers, Nicolson thought: why not?

“I was putting in the same work and I was as good as these guys…if not better!

“And that was it. I went and had my first weigh-in on the same weekend as those boys and I’ve never looked back. I’m still boxing 15 years later… They’re not, but I am!” she laughs.

Since she was small, Skye’s parents and her eldest brother have done an evidently amazing job of keeping alive the memories of Gavin and Jamie, not only for Skye but for the family’s youngest, Tony, himself a former Australian Schoolboys champion.

Skye partly sees her own glittering career as an extension of those that were taken from her brothers — particularly Jamie, in whose footsteps she has now followed into the professional ranks.

It was 2014, when Nicolson was 18, before she first watched footage of Jamie boxing. She found the immediately obvious similarities between his and her slick, southpaw styles almost frightening. Two years later, she emulated his World Championship bronze from 1989. They never had the chance to meet, but they’ve always been close in their own way.

“I don’t actually ever remember there being a first conversation about Jamie and Gavin,” Nicolson says. “I just grew up as if they were my brothers as well.

“When I was younger, I obviously knew they were in Heaven. I knew them as my two angel brothers in Heaven. But their lives were celebrated every day in our own lives. Growing up, all I heard about was the amazing things they did, the amazing lives they lived.

It’s a strange one: I almost grew up knowing them the same way that everyone else did, and I could almost remember them even though I never met them. In some ways, I’m very grateful that I didn’t have to go through what the rest of my family went through in losing them. But I almost feel like I did anyway.

“I’ve felt from a young age that my brothers are looking out for me, but especially in my boxing journey. But I guess it took time to realise how similar Jamie’s and my paths were.

I definitely took comfort in knowing that everything I was doing in boxing, Jamie had done before. It was almost like this…hug. Almost. Like, ‘We’re okay. We’ve been here and done this. We’re just doing it again.’ Do you know what I mean? It’s really weird and hard to explain in words.

“I feel like it gives me a bit of an advantage, almost. I have him there with me, fighting with me. That’s pretty special.

2018-commonwealth-games-day-ten AAP / PA Images Nicolson celebrates her Commonwealth gold in 2018. AAP / PA Images / PA Images

“I also have a bit of an unfair advantage over him because I’m 26 now and he was cut short at 22. The amazing things he did by 22, I can’t compete with. By the way, he achieved everything he achieved in boxing while also graduating as a schoolteacher. It’s unreal what he had done by 22.”

Nicolson pauses for a moment. “Even with the Commonwealth Games…” she continues. “So, Jamie went to the Commonwealths in 1990 and was unfairly disqualified in the semi-final against a guy called Jon Jo Irwin from [Team] GB who he was beating comfortably. It was purely bad refereeing: the GB opponent was holding Jamie and pulling him backwards, and the referee kept warning Jamie for pushing. Smart by the GB boxer, I guess, because he caught on that this was how the referee was seeing it and he realised it was his only way to win the fight. Jamie got disqualified and finished with the bronze medal — and they don’t actually usually award the bronze medal if you get disqualified but they did in this instance because it was so controversial.

So, when I was at the Commonwealth Games in 2018 and got to the medal rounds, it was exciting but it was like, ‘Okay, you have to go and win the gold — and it’s not just for you. It’s for Jamie as well.’ And honestly, it was like redemption for that bout 28 years beforehand. It was never a sibling rivalry or anything like that. It was never about beating him. It was like sibling teamwork.

Incidentally, Nicolson beat Irish Olympian Michaela Walsh in that Commonwealth final at what was a home tourney for the Aussie in Gold Coast, Queensland. Walsh angrily protested the split decision in the aftermath, describing Nicolson as “the face of the Games” and insisting that the Aussies had been the benefactors of some “really bad decisions” on their own turf.

“I think she’s probably still pissed off,” Nicolson laughs. “Sorry, Michaela!”

2018-commonwealth-games-day-ten Danny Lawson Michaela Walsh jibes Nicolson over her 2018 Commonwealth final victory. Danny Lawson

She and Walsh helped each other to prepare for the 57kg bracket at the Tokyo Games, Australia and Ireland palling up at an international training camp in Miyazaki. Nicolson also sparred with eventual 60kg champ Kellie Harrington as well as the heavily decorated Amy Broadhurst, who was brought over as a training partner for the Irish team and has also spent the last few weeks helping Katie Taylor to prepare for a southpaw in Amanda Serrano.

The Australian featherweight suffered Olympic heartbreak at the quarter-final stage, one bout short of a medal, losing an agonisingly close contest to Britain’s Karriss Artingstall. Victory would have seen Nicolson take home the Aussies’ first Olympic boxing medal since Seoul ’88. When it was put to her in the aftermath that she had still become Australia’s most successful ever female boxer, she replied through tears: “It means nothing to me. I don’t care about that. I care about what I know I’m capable of — and not achieving it, it’s just really heartbreaking.”

kiko-martinez-v-josh-warrington-media-workout-leeds-kirkgate-market PA Nicolson works the pads. PA

Soon afterwards, Nicolson turned professional, linking up with STN and, in turn, Matchroom. She maintains that she still has “a little bit of unfinished business with the Olympics”, but she turned over knowing that she can still compete at Paris 2024 on account of a rule change which has allowed pros join ‘amateurs’ in the Games since Rio 2016.

“I absolutely love the pro scene; the fight buildups, I love fight week,” Nicolson says. “And I love that I’m a beginner again! Like, I’m learning so much in the gym and I feel so invigorated by that. I get so excited when I put something together that we’ve been working on in the gym. When I produce it in sparring and I bring it into a fight, I’m like, ‘Wow, I love that!’ I feel like I needed that change. I was getting quite content and comfortable in the amateurs and didn’t feel like I was improving anymore.

“Women’s pro boxing is absolutely buzzing right now and a part of my journey in it is going to be about growing it further.

“I want to be remembered as one of the best of all time. And that’s not just about winning. Winning is great, I love winning, but I want to be remembered as a champion inside and outside of the ring.

“I want to inspire that next generation just as I was inspired by the likes of Katie Taylor.”

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