21 years ago, a shy Bray girl boxed at the National Stadium. Today, Katie Taylor is the Queen of New York
In a sport of so many shadows, it has maybe never been more important to stand for something.
Katie Taylor exerts the charm of a hero for whom humility will forever represent a personal bottom line, no matter the ostentation or vulgarity around. She is two stories in one, two people. Now, indisputably, the greatest female boxer ever seen, having dug down under the floorboards of her own resolve to beat Amanda Serrano in that Madison Square Garden epic.
But also, somehow, miraculously, unchanged from the shy Bray girl who boxed her first contest in the National Stadium on Halloween Night 21 years ago.
Still a woman of unabashed faith, willing to have a psalm number embroidered into her ring-walk robe. Still likeable, self-aware, human.
No-one has been visibly holding the ladder on her climb to Sunday’s cacophony in New York, because this is the story of a self-made woman. The story of authentic greatness.
Ten years ago, this fight might have been staged on exhibition terms in some big shopping mall, an eccentricity to make customers pause, though hardly long enough to put their bags down.
Women’s boxing was, still, a giggle-show to some, the target of smirking misogyny and caveman wolf-whistles. So, whichever way you hold it up to the light, to have Taylor vs Serrano top a ‘Garden bill needs to be seen as, not just a soaring tribute to the talent and toughness of both women, but to a much broader awakening too.
Now there’s been a lot of high-sounding nonsense about what it might do generally for women in sport, vapid pronunciations about it, somehow, representing a crucible moment. An act of emancipation almost.
The truth is that money made this fight viable largely because an accident of timing brought two extraordinary champions to a point of (possibly defining) intersection in their careers.
Taylor (35) with all the lightweight belts in her possession and Serrano (33), a multiple champion at assorted weights, both craving the signature of a generational fight. And even then, it almost certainly wouldn’t have been possible on these extraordinary terms had Serrano not formed an alliance with social media influencer, YouTuber and aspiring pro, Jake Paul.
Until his company, Most Valuable Promotions, took an interest in her, the Puerto Rican-American’s array of belts was no protection from a circuit of small halls and paltry purses.
Taylor’s Showroom connections gave her far more global visibility and, accordingly, earning power. But the idea of two fighters walking away with $1,000,000 each was pretty much unimaginable in women’s boxing up until the moment this particular contract got signed.
But then so much of the men’s game today is smoke and mirrors by comparison.
Anyone who witnessed the undercard for last week’s Tyson Fury heavyweight title fight at Wembley Stadium would know this, recognising the feeling of being over-charged for dross.
Some of those on show would have struggled to outbox a waxwork.
And Taylor-Serrano came at a time too when much of professional boxing struggles to untether itself from the largesse of a notorious figure with a bounty now on his head. It has been the legacy of people like Daniel Kinahan that Taylor has yet to box professionally in her home city.
The murderous feud sparked six years ago by that gun attack at The Regency Hotel – in which he was reputedly the target - convinced Gardai that it would simply not be safe to put on a major show in Dublin since.
Much as that pains her, Katie has long been equipped with the hard resilience of someone whose glories in the amateur game were narrated chiefly in stark, half-empty halls located in obscure Asian and East European cities with an approximation of the moon.
To this day then, she fights essentially wherever opportunity and circumstance allow.
And for those of us who were there to see her tears at the Rio Olympics, Taylor’s achievements since have been nothing less than extraordinary. Because the very foundations of her world had, palpably, been blown apart by her parents’ break-up and, so, the very idea of her still boxing six years later would – at the time – have seemed faintly tragic and dangerous.
Yet here she is, independently wealthy and, crucially, fighting entirely on her own terms.
Better still, she is refreshing in a sport that so often feels overtaken by the self-interest of marketing octopuses for whom the pain game will forever be a resolutely abstract, but profitable concept.
But Katie remains, too, something of a stranger to us.
A small multiple of reliably vapid Late Late Show interviews has offered just keyhole sized insights into her private life, her relationships, her day-to-day realities in rural Connecticut where – to all intents and purposes - her life seems that of a recluse.
What we do know categorically is that, despite the ending of her parents’ marriage, Pete and Bridget reared a daughter of impeccable class, someone who can seem almost miscast in this environment of narcissists and hawkish money men.
Her aggression flowers only inside those ring-ropes, a kind of osmosis kicking in to produce the best pound-for-pound female boxer ever seen.
And in the early hours of Sunday morning, the famous ‘Garden ablaze with people, that osmosis carried her from a potentially ruinous fifth round to retention of all her belts and – more importantly – final, defining acknowledgement that there has never been a finer female boxer on this planet.
It was a fight evoking almost wistful memories for those of us who attended Drogheda’s Deirdre Gogarty and Christy Martin’s epic six-rounder at the MGM Grand in ‘Vegas just over quarter of a century ago on a Mike Tyson/Frank Bruno undercard.
There was, of course, one profound difference. This time, the women made the headlines.
And the money.
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