Taylor-made sparring bouts keep Katie and Paddy on their toes
Few women have the skills to go head-to-head with men as she does
Katie Taylor and Paddy Barnes, seen with their Olympic medals after the London Olympics.
It disappears for a moment but comes back at a higher tempo. Shushhh-tat. Shushhh-tat. Shusssh-tat. Combinations chase up over his arms, under his elbows. In chains of three or four the punches glance around his body, his head his ribs, steam hissing from her boiler.
It is the fifth three-minute round and already past Taylor’s comfort zone. Her competitive boxing world is four two-minute sessions. She is now into her 15th minute.
The man she is fighting is 10 kilos lighter, a double Olympic bronze medallist, a 2010 European champion, the current Commonwealth title holder.
But here there is no deference to Taylor, no gender balanced response. Barnes comes back in great exhalations of air, his guard high, but his right and left hands flashing in blows low to the side of her arms. A flat square punch to her ribs draws no reaction. He follows with driving upper cuts that run a line from her navel up to the underside of her chin.
“See the intensity,” says Pete Taylor oozing approval. “It’s hard even for these guys. There’s respect between them,” he adds stepping through the ropes.
Both boxers cast off their head guards and gloves. Taylor stares into nowhere in one corner, the ropes bearing the weight of her arms her mouth open. Barnes sits on the side of the ring awkwardly pouring liquid into his mouth, the plastic bottle squeezed between his heavily-taped hands.
“Okay,” says Pete throwing a small square mat into the middle of the ring. Barnes stands with one foot on the mat. He cannot take it off. Katie attacks him. Another three minutes.
“I say hold the centre,” says Pete. “When I put the mat in they have to. It shows you how easy it is when they have to do it.”
They switch. They move to both with one foot on the mat. Head to head their arms start driving again, sweat splashing across each other’s faces, noses pressed together.
Shushh. Shushh. Shushh goes Taylor ripping off five or six staccato combinations, her reddening face visible through the guard. Barnes is puffing, his mouth open sucking in air, scything and hooking in blows. Body. Body. Body. Head.
It’s an intensity verging on belligerent but there is no ill temper in the oddly intimate setting, the mood preoccupation and detached from the world, three people watching, the gym doors locked.
Momentarily her temper bolts and she’s throwing the locker at him, Barnes in a ball, swaying from side to side in a controlled tailspin. He instantly snaps back and hits her very hard to the side of the head.
“That is more intense than competition,” says Pete, moving towards them with a length of tape. For the next three minutes they are tethered together in the hit zone, one metre apart, like a pair of ancient knife fighters.
“If you put two other guys in there they would be dead in two minutes,” warns Pete. “The reaction speed. If you look closely, they don’t hit each other that often. Their defence is brilliant. At that distance it’s brilliant. If they can avoid punches at that distance ...”
Katie’s hair is matted and stuck to her neck in clumps of sweat. The green tee-shirt she wears is wringing wet, glued in patches to her torso. Her left eye is black.
“Whoaaaah,” shouts Barnes carelessly flinging his gloves to a corner, the two of them then silenced by exhaustion.
Nine three-minute rounds of fighting come to an end.
“I think I got that yesterday,” says Katie of the yellow and black eye. “I don’t know. It could have been the weekend. I never know who it is.”