Wednesday 22 May 2019

Katie's best likely yet to come with her holy grail now in reach

Katie Taylor in action against Rose Volante in Philadelphia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Katie Taylor in action against Rose Volante in Philadelphia. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Seán McGoldrick

Aer Lingus flight EI 114 from Philadelphia touched down at Dublin Airport at 6am yesterday morning. There were no TV cameras, marching bands or even a junior Government Minister to greet the passengers, though they included Ireland's most-decorated boxer, Katie Taylor.

Fresh from becoming the first Irish professional to hold three World belts simultaneously, Katie is back in Ireland for a week's break before embarking on a 10-week training camp ahead of the fight which will define her professional career - a clash against long-time WBC lightweight champion Delfine Persoon from Belgium.

The newly crowned WBA, IBF and WBO female lightweight world champion arrives at Dublin Airport. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
The newly crowned WBA, IBF and WBO female lightweight world champion arrives at Dublin Airport. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Such is her humble nature, Katie would never complain about the somewhat ambivalent attitude in Ireland towards her career in professional boxing. What matters to her is that she is respected by her peers in the sport.

Triumphant

Still, if a male Irish boxer had won a third world belt you would expect a fuss would have been made over his triumphant return.

Taylor, however, seems destined to fit into that peculiar species of Irish sports stars who are more respected abroad for their achievements.

There are mitigating factors. It is extraordinary to think that she has never had a meaningful fight in Ireland as an amateur or a professional - save possibly her debut as a 15-year-old in the first officially sanctioned women's amateur boxing show in Ireland, in 2001.

She never had a chance to build a fan base in Ireland and only a handful of supporters ever travel to her fights from Ireland to the United States.

But the young Irish diaspora in New York, Boston and Philadelphia do throng the venues.

It hasn't helped either that none of Taylor's fights are shown on terrestrial television. Such exposure would give non-boxing fans an opportunity to become emotionally attached to her career.

But this is not a new phenomenon. During her amateur career her exploits at European and World level largely went unheralded until women's boxing was included in the programme for the London Olympics.

For Katie, this lack of recognition is essentially a sideshow which doesn't concern her.

From the moment she turned professional, her focus has been on becoming a unified World champion, a status currently only enjoyed by two fighters - Ukraine's Oleksandr Usyk (cruiserweight) and Norway's Cecilia Braekhus (welterweight).

The winner of the women's middleweight showdown between Clarissa Shields and Christina Hammer in Atlantic City on April 13 will join them.

And provided there are no last-minute hitches for Taylor or Persoon, one of them will become the fourth undisputed active World champion on June 1 in Madison Square Garden.

For once Katie's often-quoted comment that 'this will be my toughest fight' is absolutely correct.

This is the one fight which, with the possible exception of Taylor's debut in London in 2016, cannot be assumed she will win.

Barring a rogue punch or an injury Taylor was always the probable winner in her other contests.

Unlike the majority of professional boxers, her pursuit of excellence inside the ring is relentless.

Indeed, her two most accomplished performances have come in her two most recent fights which suggests that the bigger the challenge, the better she is.

This is the singular quality which sets her apart from her peers. But Persoon has been around the block so many times - albeit mostly in small-town shows - that she has the know-how to trouble the Bray pugilist.

Persoon, who came to boxing via judo and turned professional at 24, has won all but one of her 44 professional bouts and that loss came in the early stages of her career, in 2010.

She has boxed 286 championship rounds to Taylor's 94 and although some of her opponents had questionable pedigree, her consistency suggests that Katie has finally found an opponent who could prove troublesome.

It is the kind of challenge that Taylor will relish.

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