Wednesday 16 August 2017

Taylor has no margin for error in latest step towards title shot

Eyes of the boxing world on Katie as she takes next step towards what Matchroom believe can be a fast world title challenge next year

Katie Taylor in confident mood at yesterday’s weigh-in. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Katie Taylor in confident mood at yesterday’s weigh-in. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

This feels like Katie Taylor's sun dance, a hop, skip and jump into the kind of screenplay she always craved.

Tonight in the Manchester Arena, she boxes to an audience unimaginable across the oddly solitary decade she was stockpiling amateur titles in echoey, half-empty halls from cities with unpronounceable names.

Apart from the 21,000 craning their necks on Trinity Way, TV cameras will service the paying customers of Sky and Showtime as Matchroom's muscular marketing arms take Taylor in a warm embrace.

Pointedly they are ramping her bout with Swiss-Brazilian, Viviane Obenauf, up close to main support status on the Anthony Joshua world title bill, albeit it's a fight the bookies cannot see Taylor losing, their odds (1/200 in some quarters) suggesting that - short of taking a flame-thrower to the ring - Obenauf's first contest outside of Switzerland will prove a losing one.

Taylor is, undeniably, familiar with that kind of pre-fight narrative. The broad, uneducated vibe during her years of amateur dominance implied that she was just side-stepping mannequins.

Only the introduction of women's boxing to the London Olympics finally disabused people of that notion.

Like Taylor, Joshua was a gold medallist at those Games and is now, arguably, the most marketable boxer on the planet. The IBF world heavyweight champion says he is "honoured" to have the Bray boxer on tonight's bill and, in demeanour, Katie certainly seems emboldened, even liberated.

It's as if she's found a part of herself again, having swept away the sediment of regrets carried home from Rio.

Aggression

On the evidence of that third round stoppage of Poland's Karina Kopinska two weeks ago, she has certainly rediscovered her aggression in the ring, something quite glaringly missing in amateur defeats to Yana Alekseevna, Estelle Mosseley and Mira Potkonen this past year.

Yet Kopinska went to that ring in London with a record of just seven victories in 24 contests. However, she was there, largely, as a facilitator, not a threat.

Obenauf will be, as Taylor herself put it, "a step-up", with her record of nine victories from ten fights.

And she has not been slow to beat the obligatory drums of hype, warning the Irish girl that "she has not yet seen how pro boxing really is - the hits are hard".

Katie has, visibly, been making necessary adjustments to her style under coach Ross Enamait, and initial impressions suggest she has found the move to the pro ranks uncomplicated. Yet Obenauf's warning about a more damaging weight of punching at this level should not be entirely disregarded as mere pre-fight noise.

The very mechanics of punching in the pro game carries a different emphasis, the primary aim being to hurt as distinct from score.

It is doubtful Taylor will ever encounter a technically superior lightweight in the professional ranks, but she will come upon explosive hitters.

With smaller gloves in use and fights stretching over longer distances, Enamait's challenge is to recalibrate the actual pace of Katie's boxing and buttress a defence that can, sometimes, look a little recklessly open.

Matchroom clearly believe that, in Taylor, they have someone who can rewrite the marketing terms for women's boxing.

Showtime have already indicated an interest in covering her fights in the US as well as those of double Olympic gold medallist, Claressa Shields.

But the truth is that Taylor does not have room for error here. Fights like the Obenauf fight are just steps on the stairs to a higher calibre of opponent. It is, thus, all but unthinkable that she might lose.

Katie herself, evidently, is not entertaining such a prospect, welcoming tonight's step-up from Kopinska level by stating flatly: "I don't want to be going in and just killing these girls."

Results permitting, the hope is that Taylor could be boxing for a world title towards the latter end of next year, perhaps against reigning WBC, IBF, WIBA and WIBF lightweight champion Delfine Persoon of Belgium.

She has clearly found a fresh energy working with Enamait and, more pertinently, with the promotional grunt of Matchroom after years of abject frustration dealing with what she has referred to as the "failed promises" of the Irish Athletic Boxing Association.

Taylor was, arguably, the most marketable athlete in Ireland after her gold medal win in London, yet the IABA failed abysmally to exploit the popularity of her and fellow medal winners John Joe Nevin, Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes post-London.

On the contrary, Katie did not fight again until collecting her fifth consecutive European Union gold medal the following summer, an experience she found quite underwhelming. "It was just a fight in a little tent in front of 100 people," she subsequently recalled.

Perhaps on some level she, thus, regrets not following the path Joshua took immediately after London into the professional ranks where now, at the age of 27, he has acquired fame and wealth on the back of a 17-fight unbeaten run.

Like Taylor, Joshua eschews the trash-talking tradition of the trade and has been engaging in courteous and civil interaction with tonight's opponent, Eric Molina.

In this, the table-throwing Dereck Chisora - who also fights on tonight's undercard - seems a living synthesis of everything repugnant to boxers like Joshua and Taylor.

The plan is for Katie to fight on a St Patrick's weekend card at Madison Square Garden but, all going well tonight, Matchroom may be keen to secure her another fight before then.

They aim to fast-track her into world title contention and, logically, she should have at least half a dozen wins on her belt before challenging the likes of Persoon who has lost just one of 37 contests.

There might also be an appetite to match her against one of the bigger UFC names like Holly Holm or Rhonda Rousey in recognition of the fact that, as it stands, the international market for women's boxing is less than compelling.

For now, however, the equation for Katie is brutally simple. She will be expected to deal with Obenauf comfortably tonight, all the better if she does so by stoppage.

By elevating her to such prominence on an attractive bill (she is expected in the ring between 8.30pm and 9.0), Matchroom are effectively testing the waters here.

They believe that, if there is a market for women's boxing, there is no better tuning fork for that market than Katie.

Viviane Obenauf has never been stopped and insists: "I do not go to participate. I can fight and of course with 100pc thoughts to win."

She has never been in the ring with someone of this calibre. Katie to win. And inside the distance.

Live Sky Box Office from 5.30

Irish Independent

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