Irish fans danced in the streets of New York as Katie Taylor achieved sporting immortality
Taylor supporters descended on Madison Square Garden to cheer on their hero
In a sport replete with heroes, and often beset by villains, here was a night that illustrated in rich technicolour the true depth of its potential.
This was boxing as grand showbiz spectacle, but it was also something else – a potent unifying force.
In the corridors of Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, ahead of the most anticipated fight in female boxing history, the feeling was already one of celebration – both for how far Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano had come, and for where they’d brought the sport itself.
Across dozens of conversations in the hours before the fight, a noticeable trend began to emerge: the more one knew about boxing, the less sure they were about who would win.
“Serrano gon whoop her ass,” laughed a Puerto Rican fan at the Irish guy alongside him in the men’s toilets, though behind such friendly jibing, both sets of fans could sense the danger.
The legacies of the world’s two best female boxers were at risk, and this zero-sum game offered no room for charity.
Sport, at this level, can delineate in ruthless fashion, and the collision course of two champions so decorated had drawn 18,000 fans through the doors of the famed arena – keen to see whose dreams would be fulfilled and whose would be crushed.
The Puerto Rican fans arrived covered in red and blue, carrying their effortless Hispanic cool.
The Irish arrived as Irish tend to arrive at global sporting events: in GAA jerseys.
From Mullingar Shamrocks to Celtics GAA Auckland, from Down to Cork, Limerick to Kerry, every garment that could signify their Irishness had been excavated for the occasion.
The crowd was about 70-30 in Taylor’s favour, the diaspora flooding into the city from Irish enclaves in the Bronx and Queens, where bars had been filled all afternoon, the same question asked of all patrons: “You going to the fight?”
Thousands had also made the transatlantic trek.
There was the mother and daughter from Carrick-on-Suir, who’d never seen Taylor box before but who came covered in tricolours, the cost of their trip substantial, the value of such memories undeniably even greater.
When security confiscated a flag from a Cavan man, he shot back in furious fashion: “That's a man's country – you don't take a man's country off him.”
The Irish sang as they entered the arena, from There’s-only-one-Katie-Taylor to Ole-Ole-Ole to a strange, Taylorised version of Whole Again by Atomic Kitten.
During the fight the noise came and went in waves, reaching truly raucous levels in the fifth round, when Taylor withstood a vicious onslaught from Serrano, and in the 10th, when both fighters emptied what remained of their tank, unleashing their fists with the reckless abandon of two teenagers in an after-school scrap.
And when the bell rang, the fans exhaled and tried their best to call it.
No one really could, with those that this writer spoke to all believing it was either a draw or a narrow Serrano win.
But soon after the sound of those two treasured words for all champions, “and still,” caused a euphoric Irish eruption.
And with that, out they filed on to 7th Avenue, the Irish fans stopping traffic as they danced, waved flags, and heralded the latest – and likely most important – achievement of Taylor’s career.
The sole gap that now remains on her CV – that she has never fought a professional bout on home soil – has long been something outside her control, ever since the shooting of an associate of alleged cartel boss Daniel Kinahan at a weigh-in in Dublin in 2016, which meant such events were deemed too high a security risk through the pinnacle of Taylor’s career.
But that now looks set to change, with Croke Park touted as a venue for a likely rematch later this year, with Taylor speaking for everyone watching on Saturday night: “Let’s do it again.”
When it comes to her legacy, the result of that rematch now seems almost immaterial. Because here is an athlete who has spent 16 years at the top of her sport, her technical brilliance eviscerating the idea that women weren’t meant to box. Ten years on from her Olympic victory in London, this was a very different, but likely more significant triumph.
It was proof that you can ascend to global stardom and remain the humble person you were at the beginning.
It was proof that in a sport where bombastic bravado is encouraged, that a quiet, introverted sporting genius will always command an audience, no matter their gender.
It was also proof that with Covid and Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis, there remains no better avenue than sport to turn to for a welcome distraction from the distress of the news cycle.
For those who stayed up through the witching hours back home, and for the fans who’d been brought together on the streets of New York, Taylor and Serrano had offered a most magnanimous gift: an astonishing display of craft and courage, a bout that is as close as we’ve come in women’s sport to pugilistic perfection.
Taylor didn’t need to beat Serrano to be remembered as an all-time great.
But in doing so, she has entered the ranks of sporting immortal. The kind whose legacy will live forever.
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