Wednesday 19 June 2019

'This would be bigger than Olympic gold' - Katie Taylor targeting history at Madison Square Garden

Katie Taylor during her WBA, IBF & WBO Female Lightweight World Championships unification bout with Rose Volante at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, USA. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Katie Taylor during her WBA, IBF & WBO Female Lightweight World Championships unification bout with Rose Volante at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, USA. Photo by Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Sean McGoldrick

Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon could have been hewn from the same granite rock given what they share in terms of their background, diversity of sporting interests, work ethic, outlook, passion and boxing style.

The pair, who clash on Saturday night in Madison Square Garden for the right to be called the undisputed lightweight champion of the world and hold five boxing belts simultaneously, both hail from working class backgrounds.

Pete Taylor was an electrical contractor before he became Katie's full-time coach and mentor. Luc Persoon, who retires this weekend, is a vegetable and pig farmer.

Their daughters made their mark in other sports besides boxing. Katie made 11 appearances for the Republic of Ireland soccer team – indeed, she played soccer in the United States before she boxed here.

Persoon was a judo champion and represented Belgium in the sport at the Youth Olympics in Murcia, Spain in 2001.

But a back injury ended her ambition of following in the footsteps of her childhood hero Ulla Werbrouck, who won a gold medal in judo at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

Taylor gave up soccer in order to concentrate on her amateur boxing career, which culminated in her winning the gold medal at the London Olympics in 2012.

By then, Persoon had won and retained a European professional lightweight title and won her first international belt. But she would have handed them all back for the opportunity to emulate Katie and box at the Olympics.

Even now, on the eve of the biggest fight of her decade-long professional career, missing out on the Olympics still rankles with her.

"The (professional) belts are not important to me," Persoon said.

"I never had a chance to go to the Olympics. But she is the Olympic champion and the best thing I can have on my boxing CV is to beat the Olympic champion. That's what motivates me."

It is clear that Taylor has left her Olympic career behind her and is now focused solely on joining close friend Claressa Shields (middleweight) and a possible future opponent Cecilia Braekhus (welterweight) and become an undisputed world champion.

"The Olympics in 2012 was a huge deal but becoming the unified champion would surpass anything I have done in my career," Taylor said.

"This is by far the biggest fight of my career. It is what every single boxer dreams about but very few manage to achieve."

Even though Taylor is by far the highest paid fighter in women's boxing, she is not motivated by the money.

"I'd fight Delfine Persoon for nothing if I knew I would be crowned the undisputed champion. But I wouldn't say that to Eddie Hearn," she remarks.

After 44 fights, Persoon will earn the biggest purse of her career on Saturday, but her probable six-figure cheque doesn't interest her. Indeed, she plans to donate most of it to her beloved BTH boxing club, who are building a new clubhouse.

"The money has never been important to me. I have my job and my house and if I have to stop boxing tomorrow it is not a problem because I have everything I need."

For Katie, it's her job, which makes it more difficult for her if she loses.

"Boxing is my passion, I didn't become a professional boxer to make money," said the 34-year old police inspector.

But nobody could accuse Taylor of lacking passion either. She has closeted herself away from her family in Vernon, Connecticut, for most of the last three years in order to focus on her boxing career.

One report suggested that prior to her arrival in New York, the only people she spoke to in the previous couple of weeks were her trainer Ross Enamait, her mother Bridget and her manager Brian Peters.

She is unique in that unlike virtually every other boxing champion, her standards haven't slipped in the slightest since she starting to secure the world belts. There is never a hint of complacency in terms of her preparations or any sense she ever takes anything for granted.

But in terms of professional boxing, she is still a novice, with just 94 professional rounds under her belt compared to 286 for Persoon, whose all action, go-forward style, allied to being officially four inches taller, could make it a difficult night for the Bray boxer.

Her camp are noticeably more apprehensive about this fight, compared to her previous 13 and have taken the precaution of inserting a clause in the fight contract giving Taylor a rematch if she loses.

Still, the belief persists that Persoon has never faced an opponent of Taylor's calibre previously and ultimately, though it could be a struggle, Katie's hand speed and foot movement will see her through at the end of ten gruelling rounds.

Online Editors

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