Thursday 20 September 2018

A world title won't change Taylor's life, but a 'crossover' fight with Holly Holm just might

Bray boxer's brave decision to turn professional should earn her a coveted title belt tonight but it may be some time before she becomes more than an undercard fighter, writes Vincent Hogan

Katie Taylor must keep the momentum up by claiming a first professional world title belt this evening. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Katie Taylor must keep the momentum up by claiming a first professional world title belt this evening. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Given the Hollywood figures, reputedly, generated by that pageant of vulgarity in Las Vegas two months back, it might be tempting to imagine Katie Taylor on the edge of life-changing money tonight in Cardiff.

We always suspected that McGregor-Mayweather would amount to little more than an adult-themed Disney fantasy, yet if a raw professional debutant could be enriched to the GDP of a small country, what price an authentic world title fight?

Taylor's purse for tonight's WBA bout won't be made public, but the high arc of most knowledgeable conjecture tends to settle in the €50,000 range. Her professional career has, thus far, been astutely promoted by Matchroom with six relatively unthreatening fights in 11 months pitching her into this evening's contest against Argentina's Anahi Esther Sanchez.

Katie is answering every question asked, yet still has some distance to travel to escape the status of an undercard fighter.

Cchampion Holly Holm. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images
Cchampion Holly Holm. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

The idea of Taylor topping her own bill in Dublin will, inevitably, be re-floated if - as expected - she wins tonight, but Eddie Hearn has already indicated that her next contest is more likely to be in America where the women's fight game has been gaining significant new traction through the likes of double Olympic champion Claressa Shields.

Already this year, Chicago lightweight - Jessica McCaskill - became the first female boxer in Illinois history to headline a fight card and the world number three has been vocal in her desire to box Taylor, currently ranked number nine.

Yet, nobody doubts that the real money fight, the potential lottery win for Taylor, has nothing to do with a world title.

Hearn admits that a 'crossover' bout with UFC star Holly Holm would be impossible to turn down "if the money's there". Before moving to MMA, Holm won multiple bantamweight boxing titles and was a two-time 'Ring' magazine fighter of the year. A Taylor-Holm contest would, undoubtedly, have its market and, for Hearn, the market is always the bottom line.

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In aligning Katie with the Anthony Joshua ticket, he has given the Bray fighter a glamorous stage, albeit her fight with Nina Meinke was on so early at Wembley in April, there were scarcely 500 in attendance as she climbed between the ropes.

For now, Taylor undoubtedly needs Matchroom more than they need her and victory tonight won't change that (Katie is a penal 1/33 in some books to beat Sanchez).

All of which italicises the courage it took for her to turn professional at a time when retirement must have carried compelling appeal.

Because Taylor's marketability in Ireland flew in isolation of amateur boxing's faintly furtive existence here. Outside an Olympic cycle, her prolific success in the ring was a story told almost anecdotally, given mainstream media's absence from most championships and the unpalatable fact that glory usually came her way in some far-away, conspicuously-empty hall.

Sponsors drawn to her innate likeability and grace actually had little interest in the arithmetic of what she did. They liked how Katie looked, how she conducted herself, her innate humility and grace. After winning gold in London, the profile of commercial support coming Taylor's way - KPMG, Toyota, Aramark - spoke of a community whose names you'd never see on hoardings in the National Stadium.

In May of last year, it was reported that her company - KT Sports Limited - had accumulated profits of €1.2 million in the 12 months to the end of June 2015.

The least significant part of Katie's income would have been the Sport Ireland grant, upon which the best male boxers in the country depended upon entirely to remain solvent.

Post-London, Taylor essentially outgrew the sport then. Even if the corporate world's only understanding of what it was she did might have been communicated through 'Late Late Show' appearances and sporadic newspaper interviews, it recognised a blue-chip advertising resource.

That resource remained largely viable despite Katie's harrowing experience in Rio and stark evidence that, after more than a decade of complete dominance in the sport, her star was in virtual freefall. She looked wretchedly careworn in Brazil the day of her third defeat within the space of four months, leading many to believe that she'd finally fallen out of love with boxing.

Yet, that was a desperately trying time emotionally, given the claustrophobic media attention on the breakdown of her relationship with coach and father, Pete, and the sense of a deeply private story being played out for public consumption under virtual klieg lights.

It may have been precisely this unwelcome scrutiny that made the idea of relocating to the US with a low-profile American trainer so appealing to Taylor at a time when Bray probably had become, for her, the equivalent of a goldfish bowl.

Little was known in these parts of Ross Enamait, the faintly taciturn figure under whose care she has been learning the professional ropes in the nondescript Connecticut town of Vernon. Yet, Taylor certainly seems to have found some kind of emotional serenity with her new life, albeit admitting that the early days there were often lonely and personally challenging.

Enamait's influence has focused on making her a more explosive fighter, given that most professionals come in swinging windmills as distinct from so many amateur opponents who were inclined to face Taylor with gloves up like riot shields.

And, at times, Katie has looked refreshed by the energy around unbeaten IBF title-holder Joshua, and the pay-per-view audience her connection with the heavyweight champion of the world allows her access to.

That said, ostensibly, a world title fight should represent a special destination in the life of a boxer but, for Katie Taylor, tonight is simply a stepping stone she can ill-afford to waste. At 31, she is five years older than a champion who has lost on the two occasions she's fought outside her native Argentina.

So quite what Sanchez's figures represent is hard to quantify given BoxRec ranks two fellow Argentinians higher than her and the broad assumption that Katie, still a first-year professional, will prove the far more accomplished of the fighters this evening.

There had been speculation that Katie might have fought on the undercard of that Vegas circus in August and her admiration for Conor McGregor is certainly well articulated.

Yet, in personality, she remains the very antithesis of the Crumlin fighter. While the more vulgar McGregor becomes, the less he seems to represent, Taylor's nobility has - if anything - grown through the last, intensely difficult two years.

Still, quite how relevant any of that is to the general public remains open to debate given this week's announcement identifying Katie as "Ireland's most admired sports personality" with McGregor coming second.

If there is to be a big Dublin fight for Taylor, the most marketable might be a unification bout with WBC lightweight champion, Delfine Persoon, assuming the Belgian successfully defends her crown against Myriam Dellal next month.

Yet all bar one of Persoon's 39 fights have been in Belgium and it would probably require an extremely hefty purse for her to forsake that advantage now.

In the meantime, Taylor must keep the momentum up by claiming a first professional world title belt this evening.

"Wage war on the impossible" is the motto on her personalised sportswear and, to some degree, that's probably how this journey must still feel for someone who once overcame such a furious din of piety and breast-beating simply to earn the right as a woman to box.

That fight for emancipation seems to belong to another lifetime now, but the character that stood to Katie Taylor then remains radiant today. It might not be earning her the fortune that some imagine, but it should be too much in Cardiff tonight for a girl called Anahi Esther Sanchez.

Beyond that? Holm's is the name that keeps carrying the loudest echo.

Irish Independent

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