Friday 30 September 2016

'I think Katie is the greatest Irish athlete of all time'

Bernard O'Neill and Dave Hooper

Published 29/06/2015 | 02:30

Ireland boxing gold medallists Michael O’Reilly and Katie Taylor pictured in the Athletes Village in Baku yesterday
Ireland boxing gold medallists Michael O’Reilly and Katie Taylor pictured in the Athletes Village in Baku yesterday
Ireland’s Katie Taylor trades punches with French fighter Estelle Mossely in her final in Baku

Pete Taylor, Katie's Taylor's coach and dad, believes his daughter is the greatest Irish athlete of all time and the one to beat on the road to the Rio 2016 Olympics.

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Taylor junior, who turns 29 on Thursday, claimed her 18th major title on Saturday on a unanimous decision over French lightweight Estelle Mossely in the 60kg final at the inaugural European Games in Baku, Azerbaijan.

The win, her third straight decision over Mossely, was the 160th of a 167-bout career which began with victory over Belfast's Alanna Murphy in the first officially sanctioned bout at Dublin's National Stadium in 2001.

Taylor split the judges in her favour in the first, but once she started moving up through the gears and finding the target with combinations there was only going to be one winner, with Taylor taking the final three rounds on all the judges' cards.

Pete Taylor embraces his daughter
Pete Taylor embraces his daughter

The Bray BC orthodox also earned enough ranking points in Baku to ensure she will go into 2016 as No 1 in the world in the lightweight class for an unprecedented 10 years in a row.

The International Boxing Association (AIBA) update their world rankings after every major tournament. Number ones come and go, drop down the table after dips in form, turn pro or throw in the towel and retire.

But when the bells ring in the New Year on January 1 next, Taylor will have occupied pole position in the women's lightweight rankings for an entire decade. No boxer, male or female, has achieved that.

The next target will be the 2016 AIBA World Women's Championships in Kazakhstan in February, which is a qualifier for Rio 2016. Her dad has one eye on the qualifiers in Central Asia.

"I think Katie is the greatest Irish athlete of all time. People get to see these semi-finals and that's made people realise it's not that easy to win these titles," said Taylor senior, who was working Ireland's corner with head coach Billy Walsh, Zaur Antia and Gerry Storey in Baku.

"She's won medals sometimes in obscure places and people only see Katie walking through an airport with the gold medals. I think they have seen now how difficult these are to win.

Michael O'Reilly lands with a left against Azerbaijan's Xaybula Musalov in his final bout on Saturday
Michael O'Reilly lands with a left against Azerbaijan's Xaybula Musalov in his final bout on Saturday

"Yeah, it will be tough, but Katie is going to improve by then," he added in relation to the World Championships, to be held in February next year.

A top-four finish in Kazakhstan will be enough for Taylor to book a ticket for Rio, but female boxers are once again restricted to three weight classes - flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight - at the Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, for the record, the Russian pair Yulia Nemstova (2004) and Sofya Ochigava (2010), North Korea's Kang Kum Hui (2005), Turkey's Gulsum Tatar (2005/'06/'07) and Bulgaria's Denista Eliseeva (2011) are the only women to have beaten Taylor, although the Ochigava and Eliseeva multi-nations results can dismissed as home-town decisions.

Tatar beat Taylor three times, but the Wicklow woman toppled the Turk four times. The Ochigava defeat was avenged three times, including her win over the Russian southpaw in the London 2012 final.

The Irish coaches Zaur Antia, Pete Taylor and Gerry Storey cheer Taylor to victory, before Pete embraces his daughter STEPHEN MCCARTHY/SPORTSFILE
The Irish coaches Zaur Antia, Pete Taylor and Gerry Storey cheer Taylor to victory, before Pete embraces his daughter STEPHEN MCCARTHY/SPORTSFILE

The Olympic champion also beat Eliseeva, one of seven wins over the Bulgarian, en route to gold at the European Games. Because of a hand injury she picked up winning her fifth World title in Korea last November, her only two competitive fights in preparation for Baku were two outings in May.

The three-time AIBA World Female Boxer of the Year believes that gold at Rio 2016 will seal her legacy.

"My main goal now is to defend that Olympic title. I think every competition is getting tougher. Because I'm the champion, they always want to raise their game against you, so I have to continue to improve," she said. "I do get more hungry for medals. It's great to add this (European Games gold) to my list. There are a lot of fighters coming up that want to take my place.

"I think some people at home think I just stroll through these competitions, but every fight is hard-fought and hard-won. I think when you're so consistent, you have to stand up and take notice. I've said before I don't think people recognise the consistency enough.

"I want to go down in the history books as the greatest female boxer of all time," added the AIBA World No 1.

She already is the greatest female boxer of all time. That's unless there's someone else out there we haven't heard of who has, as Taylor has done, won one Olympic, five World, six European, one European Games, and five European Union titles in a row since 2005.

Read more: Walsh looks to endgame after golden brace

Read more: Eamonn Sweeney: Sometimes we take the perpetual excellence of our amateur boxers for granted

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