Friday 23 August 2019

Katie Taylor - The making of a global superstar

WBA World Lightweight Champion Katie Taylor
WBA World Lightweight Champion Katie Taylor

Eamon Carr

"GROUND-BREAKING stuff," is how manager Brian Peters describes the news that Katie Taylor's next fight will headline live on Sky Sports on December 15.

"If someone had mentioned this just over a year ago, you'd think it was crazy," adds the Dunshaughlin-based agent.

Those who witnessed Katie's anguish when she lost her opening bout at the Rio Olympics in August last year might agree.

The woman, who'd been the poster girl for women's boxing when she won gold in London 2012, went on a quiet family holiday to Portugal to reflect on her career and consider her future.

On her return, Katie and her mother Bridget approached Brian Peters, the boxing promoter who'd guided Bernard Dunne to a world title.

Although he hadn't been involved in promotion for a number of years, Peters helped Katie identify the best route to success. Together, they approached Eddie Hearn of Matchroom and a vital piece of the jigsaw fell in to place.

Katie Taylor celebrates victory after the WBA Lightweight World Championship contest against Anahi Sanchez at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff
Katie Taylor celebrates victory after the WBA Lightweight World Championship contest against Anahi Sanchez at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff

Hearn admitted: "We don't need to sign more boxers."

But, witnessing Katie's passion for boxing, he thought: "I need this girl in boxing. She has an obsession."

There was a problem. And it was a big one.

Hearn knew there was no existing market for women's professional boxing in Britain but as he told me last year: "If you're going to grow a sport, you need role models. And you're never going to get someone better than Katie Taylor."

Katie Taylor celebrates her win.
Katie Taylor celebrates her win.

Hearn is a master of marketing hard sell. Weeks before Katie's first pro fight last November, he said: "I've no idea if it's going to work. But, if I've got the product, I can sell it. And I believe I've got the product."

Eddie has been back in town this week. And his progress report couldn't be better.

After just seven fights, Katie has her glittering prize, a world title belt. But for both her and her promoter the fight against Anahi Sanchez is just a stop on the road to greater things.

"To unify the division would be the dream for me," says Katie. "There are a lot of great champions out there so it's very exciting."

Eddie reminds us: "When you look at the stars of British and Irish sport now, in terms of boxing, you'd certainly have to put Katie in the top 10 of household names, maybe Top 5, already. That's men and women."

On the undercard of Anthony Joshua's televised heavyweight title defence, Katie announced herself to pro-box fans in 160 countries around the world with a relentless two-fisted ten round onslaught which showcased both her boxing skills and a ferocious appetite for destruction.

Katie at her press conference in Dublin on Monday.
Katie at her press conference in Dublin on Monday.

Putting things in context, the promoter recalls some of the difficulties they'd faced since last year.

"When it started out it was like, ‘Women's boxing? I don't know'," he says, acknowledging the scepticism of hardcore fights fans.

"They're not saying that anymore. It's more about the performance. Katie hasn't had any dull performances. Wembley was a huge first impression. Then she boxed in Manchester Arena, the O2 Arena, Wembley Stadium, the Principality Stadium and the Barclay Centre in Brooklyn. I keep saying, and I mean it, I don't look  at it as women's boxing or men's boxing. If it's a good fight, it's a good fight. Now people are starting to look at it like that."

Before Saturday, Katie had stopped four of her six opponents.

Although Sanchez was in trouble in the second round, the Argentina fighter battled back with fierce determination and gave the Irish woman her first experience of a truly brutal professional fight.

"It was definitely the most gruelling fight I've ever been in," Katie agrees. "I got hit a lot in the fight and there were  a lot of head clashes. I had to dig deep. But I sacrificed so much, nobody was going to take that moment away from me."

Professional boxing is about fighting. Spectators pay to see a tough fight.

Tough and uncompromising as it was, Taylor's title-winning fight showcased Katie's ferocity and was good for business.

"I said to Brian, we should come out of the shadows now and maybe headline our own show," says Eddie. "I texted Adam Smith (Sky's Head of Boxing) and said we were thinking of headlining Katie on her own show, maybe London in December and he replied: "I was hoping you'd say that. Great idea."

No one is more aware of the harsh realities of the market place than a promoter.

Having successfully guided Katie to this point, Hearn is already assessing strategies for the future.

"We need a good opponent in December," he says.

It needs to be a real fight. People need to walk away saying, ‘Wow, what a great fight. That was incredible'. We've got momentum. But that can change quickly."

Manager Brian Peters is of the same opinion.

"There has to be an element of danger around it," he says. "There's got to be a risk."

While the plan is to have Katie fight a title unification bout in Dublin in March or April, possibly after a fight earlier in the new year, Peters admits: "The big thing here is to crack America. She'll probably feature in America early in the new year. We've a couple of things cooking in America. As you can see this has moved on pretty quickly."

Her promotional team can plan for the future but it's up to Katie to deliver in the ring under the harsh lights.

"Now that she's got the belt it's going to be easier to map out the opponents," says Eddie. "There are good fights out there that will be good to watch and won't be one-sided. The great thing about Katie is that she wants to be in real fights. The best thing is, she's good enough to beat them all."

A trailblazer as an amateur, Katie finds herself in the vanguard of developments in the pro game too.

"We signed Katie and then Golden Boy signed Marlen Esparza, Top Rank signed Mikaela Mayer and BT (and Frank Warren) signed Nicola Adams," says Hearn.

"In women's boxing you've got novelty acts and then you've got Katie Taylor. Not everyone I've mentioned is a novelty act. Clarissa Shields I like. Savannah Marshall can fight as well. Some aren't good enough and some are. Katie is excellent to watch. When you're showcasing her, you've got a great product. That's the difference."

That meeting in the Matchroom office last year was a match made in fight night heaven.

"We had the same vision," says Katie. "Eddie put out his ideas and straight away I knew it was the right decision and that it would be very exciting. But it has exceeded my expectations so far."

As she flies back to her training camp in the States, Eddie Hearn says: "Everything's in play. We have to come to Dublin in 2018. No doubt about that. America as well. And we're not ruling out other countries. It's all about spreading the gospel."

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