Sunday 18 August 2019

Katie braced for 'all-out war' as she closes in on Irish boxing history

Katie Taylor speaking with the media ahead of her bout in Madison Square Garden. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Katie Taylor speaking with the media ahead of her bout in Madison Square Garden. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

John L Sullivan, the famous Irish-American fighter who is recognised as the first heavyweight champion of the world, wowed Irish emigrants when he fought in Madison Square Garden in 1883.

Now, 136 years later, another Irish boxing legend is on the cusp of creating history in the mecca of boxing.

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At the weigh-in alongside Delfine Persoon. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
At the weigh-in alongside Delfine Persoon. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

When Katie Taylor steps through the ropes in the early hours of tomorrow morning, the hand of history will be on her shoulders. She is bidding to become the first Irish boxer to become an undisputed world champion, holding the WBA, IBF, WBO and WBC belts simultaneously, as well as a new belt presented by 'Ring' magazine to mark the achievement.

Flyweight Rinty Monaghan was Ireland's last undisputed world champion prior to the four-belt era while Jimmy McLarnin was the undisputed welterweight champion during the 1930s. Arguably Ireland's greatest professional fighter, the County Down boxer had his farewell fight in 1936 in Madison Square Garden.

Katie Taylor has been a boxing trail-blazer all her life. The debate will rumble on for years over whether her 2012 Olympic gold surpasses anything she achieves in professional fighting.

None of this matters to Taylor whose focus has been on becoming the undisputed lightweight world champion ever since she turned professional.

Don't be surprised that if she beats Delfine Persoon, her next goal will be to claim the four super-lightweight belts, two of which are currently held by one of her former opponents, Jessica McCaskill.

One suspects that Persoon and her trainer/manager Filiep Tampere have closely studied a video of the clash between Taylor and McCaskill in London's York Hall in December 2017.

It was the only time in her 13 professional fights that Taylor looked uncomfortable.

She was docked a point in the seventh round for holding and though she still won on a unanimous points decision, the problems McCaskill's all-action, aggressive style caused Taylor weren't reflected on the judges' scorecards.

Persoon is more experienced and better prepared than McCaskill and her game-plan will revolve around not allowing Taylor to settle into her customary patterns. As Taylor herself said, 'this could turn into all-out war'.

The Belgian hasn't survived for a decade in the pro game, and built a 43-1 record, without learning some of dark arts.

Taylor is still a novice in this regard, though in her last two fights in particular it was noticeable how more aggressive and intimidating she has become in the ring.

Persoon, though, will be relentless, but she is a slow starter and Taylor must maximise this window of opportunity in the first three rounds to stamp her authority on the fight.

The Belgian normally uses her strength to keep opponents at a distance. That won't be easy against Taylor but her height advantage could inhibit Taylor from getting close enough to do damage with her body shots. Crucially, she won't be intimidated by Taylor and though this is only her second fight outside Belgium, the occasion is unlikely to get to her.

Taylor will have the vocal backing of the expected sell-out attendance of 18,000 and it is foolhardy to ignore how much some judges can be influenced by the crowd.

Tampere said he has been preparing for this fight for two years but Taylor has had this fight in the back of her mind for even longer.

The Belgian had been the WBC lightweight champion for two years when Taylor signed professional terms with Matchroom Boxing in 2016.

She always knew that the odds were she would have to beat Persoon to become the undisputed world champion.

Taylor's impact on women's professional boxing has been profound. She recently received a text from her last opponent, Rose Volante, to thank her for the opportunity to challenge the Bray woman.

Even though she was stopped by Taylor last March in Philadelphia the fight had changed her life - she was able to purchase a house for her parents in her native Brazil with the purse.

Money doesn't matter to either fighter in this contest and it's a measure of how highly rated Persoon is that the Taylor camp have inserted a clause in the contract that if the Belgian wins she must offer the Irish fighter a rematch.

The odds, though, still favour Taylor doing the business on points first time around and joining Claressa Shields and Cecilia Braekhus as the only undisputed world female champions.

Katie Taylor v Delfine Persoon,
Live, tomorrow, 1.30am (approximately),
Sky Sports Box Office

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