Sunday 18 March 2018

Taylor primed to end torrid year on a high

Katie Taylor is ready for action at yesterday’s official weigh-in at the Hilton London Wembley Hotel ahead of her professional debut tonight. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Katie Taylor is ready for action at yesterday’s official weigh-in at the Hilton London Wembley Hotel ahead of her professional debut tonight. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Ciarán Gallagher

A crowd of 3,000-4,000 is expected at Wembley Arena tonight for the professional debut of Katie Taylor as the Bray woman returns to action in the city where she enjoyed her most famous triumph.

It remains to be seen whether the Irish supporters who cheered her on to Olympic glory at London 2012 will turn out among the relatively modest anticipated attendance.

In reality, tonight's bout against Polish journeywoman Karina Kopinska is a quick-fire launch for Ireland's most decorated boxer into the paid game as she bids to revolutionise women's pro boxing in the same way she advanced the case of the amateur game.

Three months on from losing her Olympic crown, the 30-year-old lightweight will box in front of Sky Sports cameras in a bout that has been afforded headline treatment in the promotional build-up.


Such hype is common in boxing, but relatively unusual for debutants - let alone a female boxer - and Eddie Hearn's Matchroom Sports are banking on Taylor rediscovering the Midas touch she possessed prior to 2016 in an effort to build towards bigger fight nights and ultimately transform women's pro boxing into a marketable commodity like male prize-fighting.

Taylor, however, hopes this evening marks a turning point - a full stop, not only to her amateur career, but also to a frustrating year in and out of the ring.

Following three defeats in the space of five months, culminating in her shock Rio defeat to Finland's Mira Potkonen, the 2012 Olympic champion admitted that this is a chance to end what has been a bad year on a high.

"I think so. This is a new chapter for me and I'm just going to try and put the last year behind me. I've got new goals now," said the 30-year-old.

"Hopefully when I finish my career, we won't be speaking about what happened in Rio, what happened this year, we'll be speaking about all the successes I've had."

Of course, "what happened this year" is not solely a reference to her losses in the ring, but it also an acknowledgement of the distractions outside the ropes.

Much attention has been paid to the absence of her father Pete from her corner due to personal reasons, which the family have been reluctant to elaborate on. With Pete missing, the five-time world amateur champion prepared for Rio under the IABA's head coach Zaur Antia.

However, her move to the pro game prompted a link-up with US trainer Ross Enamait, who put Taylor through her paces at his Connecticut base ahead of tonight's bout.

"There was definitely a lot of big transition for sure," said Taylor. "And I think it definitely took its toll on me this year as well with all the (training) changes, but I think the minute I went over to Ross there was an instant connection.

"I felt like I was boxing better than I have in a long, long time over with him and he definitely got the best out of me - although with Zaur as well he's been so good to me over the year. He (Antia) went above and beyond all he could do for me.

"(But) at times this year I was getting up and it was nearly a burden to me, getting up and going training, so I've got that love back for the sport again."

In fighting terms, Taylor's new trainer Enamait is confident of a smooth transition to the paid ranks.

"We're just kind of adjusting a little bit to the tools of the trade," explained the trainer, referencing the abandonment of head gear and more aggressive approach.

"(But) she's strong, she can punch, I think she's going to surprise a lot of people."

Taylor's opponent for tonight's fight over six two-minute rounds is a 24-fight veteran, with a losing record of 7-14-3, although Kopinska has only been stopped once in her career.

The 27-year-old lost a 2013 points decision to Monaghan's Christina McMahon, but that was at a lighter weight class (118lb) than tonight's bout, which is set at 132lb .

Both are orthodox fighters; Kopinska has a two-inch height advantage and she weighed in at 131lb yesterday, one pound less than Taylor, who is the bookies' 1/100 favourite.

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