Thursday 20 June 2019

Katie Taylor's drug testing stand means she calls the shots for everyone

Katie Taylor poses with her belts in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath after returning home from New York as the undisputed World Lightweight Champion. Photo: Sportsfile
Katie Taylor poses with her belts in Dunshaughlin, Co Meath after returning home from New York as the undisputed World Lightweight Champion. Photo: Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

There was a lost ten seconds at the start of the fateful tenth round between Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon in Madison Square Garden last weekend.

The fighters didn't engage immediately after the bell sounded, which all fed into the sense of injustice felt by the Persoon camp afterwards.

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Unquestionably, the 34-year-old part-time fighter and full-time member of the Belgian Federal Force was on top in the last round of an epic fight. And yesterday an official complaint was filed on her behalf with the World Boxing Council, claiming that "The result was not at all correct. Katie Taylor has certainly not won the fight."

Compubox estimated that Persoon outscored Taylor 28-10 in the number of punches landed in that round. Had the fight lasted any longer referee Sparkle Lee may have had to give the Bray fighter a standing count.

Had that happened judges Allen Nace, John Poturaj and Don Trella would have been obliged to score the round 10-8 in Persoon's favour which would have seen the fight declared a majority draw. The debate about the rematch would have been superfluous: Taylor v Persoon II would have been a given.

So maybe the ten lost seconds did count. Either way it was a razor-edged decision. For once, an Irish professional boxer got the rub of the green.

Nobody in the Taylor camp was surprised that the long-time WBC lightweight champion proved such a handful. But they were shocked at Persoon's stamina.

After all, Taylor is arguably the most dedicated trainer in either male or female professional boxing. She has exacting standards, locking herself away in isolation in a nondescript Connecticut town to prepare herself for all her pro fights. Yet she looked gassed at the final bell whereas Persoon was still moving forward relentlessly.

"I was definitely surprised by Persoon's stamina," said Taylor's manager Brian Peters. "It certainly took me by surprise, particularly for someone who has asthma."

Persoon confirmed she uses an inhaler to treat exercise-induced asthma and due to a change in WADA regulations she no longer requires a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to use it. But much to the annoyance of her doctor Maarten Meirhaeghe, who travelled with her to the US, the New York Athletic Commission insisted on her taking a blood test prior to the fight to ensure she didn't have hepatitis B, the reactivation of which can be linked to certain asthma medicines.

"I have been immunised against these diseases because of my job," said Persoon. "There has never been a problem with my medication at any of my other championship fights. We sent them details of the medication three weeks before the fight and they cleared it."

The Belgian fighter had a recent brush with the authorities when she was cleared after missing a drugs test in October 2018. She was visited at home by a tester on the morning of October 28 but had just gone to the bathroom and was unable to urinate.

The tester accompanied Persoon to training and then on to her police station, but eventually left as the boxer had to go on a surveillance mission. She was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Flemish Doping Court, who accepted her explanation for failing to provide a urine sample.

Relations between the Taylor and Persoon camps were strained leading up to the fight. First there was the spat about the hotel accommodation with the Persoon party having to move out of the Renaissance Hotel because there is a clause in Taylor's contract with Matchroom that opponents are accommodated in a different hotel. Even though the Delfine party were moved to a better hotel, Filiep Tampere, her trainer/manager described it as "disrespectful".

Taylor's camp insisted that both fighters undergo urine and blood testing after the fight and the results will be known in early July. The whole episode underlines the level of distrust between the camps.

From now on the rules of engagement will be significantly different when Taylor fights. She is enrolling in the sport's voluntary drug testing programme and it will be stipulated in future fight contracts that her opponents will have to do the same. Under the programme boxers can be randomly tested at any time but it costs an estimated $30,000 annually to enrol in the programme which is beyond the means of most female boxers.

Ultimately the cost of the drug testing is likely to be absorbed by the fight promoter. But it will be interesting to see whether Taylor's touted future opponents, beginning with seven-belt World champion Amanda Serrano, undisputed welterweight champion Cecila Braekhus and Persoon sign up to the programme.

But in professional boxing money talks. It has been estimated that Taylor's last three opponents Persoon, Rose Volante - who purchased a house for her parents from the fight purse - and Eva Wahlstrom earned more from their fights against the Bray boxer than any female world champion in any of the other weight divisions has managed.

Katie Taylor has not just created history by becoming an undisputed world champion, she has changed the rules of the game as well.

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