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Dublin: 11°C Tuesday 20 April 2021

We have a fight: Katie Taylor weighs in to rapturous reception at Madison Square Garden

Taylor was four pounds heavier than her opponent, but still safely under the lightweight limit.

Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon square off for the final time ahead of Saturday's undisputed world championship clash.
Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon square off for the final time ahead of Saturday's undisputed world championship clash.
Image: Tom Hogan/INPHO

Gavan Casey reports from Madison Square Garden

KATIE TAYLOR AND Delfine Persoon have each comfortably made weight for Saturday night’s undisputed lightweight world championship clash at Madison Square Garden, New York.

Persoon [43-1, 18KOs] was first to the scales and weighed in almost four and a half pounds under the lightweight limit, looking lean at 130.6. It’s not atypical for the Belgian to come in well under the 135-pound maximum: in her previous two fights, WBC champion Persoon has stepped off at 129.75 and 131 respectively.

WBA, IBF and WBO champion Taylor [13-0, 6KOs] emerged to a thunderous reception, the 4,000 or so British fans and a sprinkling of our own drowning out the strumming of Wonderwall.

The Bray woman seemed almost slightly taken aback, raising her hands to the crowd in appreciation of the wall of noise which met her as she hopped to the stage.

Taylor came in at 134.6, a full four pounds heavier than Persoon but still safely under the limit.

We have a fight for all the marbles: Taylor’s belts, Persoon’s WBC strap and the prestigious Ring Magazine title, which recognises the most dominant fighter in a division, will make their way back to either Bray or West Flanders after Saturday night’s 10-round contest.

Taylor-Persoon will be third-last on the Anthony Joshua-headlined Matchroom bill, with the fighters expected to step through the ropes live on Sky Sports Box Office at around 1:30am Irish time, or 8:30pm local time on Saturday night.

The 32-year-old Bray woman will become Ireland’s first undisputed champion of the modern era, and the first Irish fighter to hold all major baubles, should she have her hand raised on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Katie Taylor Katie Taylor salutes the crowd which gave her a huge reception at MSG. Source: Tom Hogan/INPHO

Persoon, too, is bidding for history for her native Belgium, whose boxing heritage pales in comparison to Ireland’s. The long-reigning WBC queen, 34, again bowed in a show of respect for Taylor during their post-staredown handshake, doing the same during their first encounter at Wednesday’s press conference in the basement Theater at MSG.

Taylor, whose stock continues to grow in the US, will hope to once more steal the show as she has done on previous Stateside appearances, most notably in her December victory over Eva Wahlstrom at the same venue.

While Taylor and Persoon met the media alongside their fellow undercard fighters on Wednesday, Thursday saw headliner Anthony Joshua [21-0, 20KOs] and his stand-in challenger, Andy Ruiz Jr [32-1, 21KOs], take the mic at the iconic Beacon Theatre on Broadway.

Both charmed in their own ways but to only polite applause, the rather awkward dynamic of two nice guys — one of whom is basically guaranteed to retain his world titles — creating an almost sympathetic atmosphere. Rather awkwardly, Joshua even invited Ruiz to hold his belts. Even more awakwardly, Ruiz obliged as though he was a Transition Year student on work experience.

It was a friendly affair but one void of star quality apart from Joshua himself, and that’s written with the greatest respect to the comedian Rob Beckett who was an interested observer halfway up the gallery.

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Friday’s weigh-in was thankfully a more lively affair, albeit there were still few fireworks between two big men who simply can bring themselves to dislike each other.

Instead it was the infusion of thousands of Brits, most of whom were only off the plane, which elevated the occasion to a raucous pitch. Ruiz makes no bones about the fact that he’s not the most aesthetically pleasing physical specimen, and took on the chin the chorus of ‘You Fat Bastard’ which rained down upon him from the stands above as stepped on the scales.

Anthony Joshua v Andy Ruiz - Weigh In - Madison Square Garden Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr at Friday's weigh-in. Source: Nick Potts

The amicable Mexican-American was nine pounds heavier than he was for his impressive victory over Alexander Dimitrenko less than two months ago, coming in at 268.

Ruiz got the fight by Instagram messaging promoter Eddie Hearn following original opponent Jarrell Miller’s series of failed drug tests, vowing to do better than any other would-be replacement. In that context, his weight gain in the intervening six or so weeks is at least curious.

If Joshua was any more laid back this week, he’d topple over and cause a minor seismic event. But while the IBF, WBA and WBO champion is fully expected to thoroughly see off whatever challenge Ruiz does pose, he hasn’t taken his foot off the gas in the gym.

247 pounds for the Watford heavy is in or around his median weight, and three pounds lighter than he was for his signature victory to date over Vladimir Klitschko.

Rob Beckett was present again on Friday evening, by the way, but he was beaten out in the selfie stakes by a fellow showbiz big hitter in podcast host (and former two-weight world champion) Carl Frampton.

‘The Jackal’ roared Taylor on from his stage-side seat but is in New York primarily to support his gym-mate Tommy Coyle, whose fairytale Indian summer continues apace with a fight against former world champion Chris Algieri on Saturday night.

In a hidden highlight from a thoroughly enjoyable and well-produced event — accentuated by the gospel choir and mariachi band which greeted its headliners — Frampton whistled and shouted up at his and Coyle’s shared trainer, Jamie Moore, just as Coyle was about to face off with Algieri.

“Jamie!” he hissed. “Tell him put on his shoes!”

No stranger to being the shorter combatant, the Belfast boxing icon saw to it that his friend grew an extra couple of inches for the cameras as Coyle went forehead to nose with the lankier Algieri.

The American was wearing trainers himself and was forced to contend with his fair share of deafening ‘Who Are Yas’ despite calling New York home.

Tomorrow, of course, the real fun begins.

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