Wednesday 19 June 2019

Pioneer Taylor is landing knockout punches against sporting prejudice

Katie Taylor poses with her IBF, WBO and WBA belts at yesterday’s press conference in New York. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Katie Taylor poses with her IBF, WBO and WBA belts at yesterday’s press conference in New York. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge

Steve Bunce

Katie Taylor will climb through the Madison Square Garden ropes on Saturday night to alter the short history of error, hype, nastiness, prejudice and neglected skills in the world of women's boxing.

Taylor is the brutally honest heroine of her own ring success; at times invincible and at other times, in moments of captured reflection, she can look as vulnerable as a lost and damaged child.

A documentary about her life, including the private sorrows nobody has needed to ask her about, is harrowing at times to watch. It is equally brilliant when she is winning.

In Rio de Janeiro, at the end of a bad Olympics and a horrible fighting year - she lost three times in four months - she stood in an isolated corridor, beyond tears, just staring back at the questions.

Her bandaged hands wiped sweat, not tears, from her eyes and behind her vacant stare the fighting girl was trying to find answers to the dead Olympic dream. She could not speak, she would never forget that feeling or want to feel it again. She was that night a truly broken boxer, stuck in a land of obscene realities.

She had fallen from invincible, lost three times, her beloved family was fractured and she was unable to find words. A few minutes later she did cry as she hugged her mother and sobbed. That is the dark moment Katie Taylor is fighting against.

On Saturday she fights Delfine Persoon, a Belgian police inspector who trains the riot squad in her country and holds the WBC lightweight title.

Persoon was a judo star, switched to boxing when she realised she was too angry for tennis, and has been in the police force 12 years. She might also be the most honest fighter out there.

"I can't beat Taylor over three rounds, the amateur distance, but over 10 I can win - over 10 rounds it is a 50-50 fight," Persoon told me.

She is not entering the ring carrying any type of flag, bearing any type of burden - Taylor is the anointed one and her shoulders are heavy. Luckily they are also broad.

Persoon, the crime veteran, is concerned that she is not robbed if the fight goes to the judges, and the inspector has a decent nose for sniffing out a potential problem.

Taylor will lug her three World Championship belts through the crowd at the venue, accept their roars with a smile, then start fighting. When she does that there should never be talk of how far the women's game is from the men's version.

Taylor, make no mistake, stepped over the solid barrier of hate, denial, reluctance and old-fashioned sexism a long time ago and after one Olympic gold, five World amateur titles, six European titles and 13 fights unbeaten as a professional she has nothing to prove.

She reminds me more of Janet Guthrie than the few legitimate female pioneers that boxing has allowed. Guthrie drove the Indy 500, the first woman ever, and changed female sport in the 1970s. She also, just like Taylor, seemed blessed by the saints of patience when faced with the old horrors of prejudice.

Taylor follows a mixed list of female bruisers and wannabe bruisers in the elusive quest for acceptance, knows she waves that flag with each win and each time she spots a small girl in a crowd waving back at her. (© Independent News Service)

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