Joanne O’Riordan: For me, Katie Taylor has passed the greatness test
It shouldn’t be down to Taylor to raise the poor standards in female professional boxing
Katie Taylor celebrates after defeating Finland’s Eva Wahlstrom in an IBF and WBA women’s lightweight championship boxing match in New York last Saturday. Photograph: Frank Franklin II/AP
I think we can all come to one conclusion after Saturday’s latest bout in boxing in Madison Square Gardens: that Katie Taylor is genuinely on the right path for potential world domination as far as women’s boxing is concerned. That’s not me interpreting information or me announcing some earth-shattering theory that will change mankind as we know it – that is a fact. But I’m not even talking about the fights or her recent bouts – I’m just talking about how she and her promoters are trying to turn her into the second coming of Ronda Rousey.
So, let’s rewind through the facts. Throughout her young life and childhood and adolescence, Taylor was seeking a career in a sport that barely acknowledged women were participants. Taylor was also chasing a dream she was not sure was possible. Not because she did not believe in her ability, her talent or her boxing skills; it was merely because the Irish Olympic Committee did not acknowledge female boxing until 2012. We all know the story. Taylor came, she saw, and she conquered all around her.
It’s not really Taylor’s fault that she’s up against female boxers that aren’t as good as her
And even then her begrudgers – or even those with a passion for boxing – had their issues. Sure, she is a talented boxer, but let’s talk about her competition instead. Let’s talk about how we can’t acknowledge her greatness until she gets a real test in boxing. For me, as a sports fan, I never really understood that gripe. It’s not really Taylor’s fault that she’s up against female boxers that aren’t as good as her; she can really only fight what’s in front of her.
We all held our breath when she went professional after that horrific year in and out of the ring for 2016. As sports fans, we really did want Taylor to face some stiff competition and come up against world champions who could put it up to her. Has that happened to this date? Well, the question marks remain, and the pool of doubters grows bigger as the fans continue to multiply by the day.
Kimberly Connor, one of the opponents Taylor steamrolled, is an amateur by degree fighting in a professional game. Connor is a licensed real estate agent and owns companies and works with her family in construction. Before she even steps foot in a ring or a gym, she has put down God knows how many hours doing various jobs to bring the money home.
Or how about Taylor’s Argentinian opponent Victoria Noelia Bustos. She has the same story. She’s merely an amateur boxer working in a professional game with a job outside the ring to make sure she can sustain a living and a boxing career.
If you think this is just a column begrudging Katie Taylor, let’s look at how Claressa Shields got on at the weekend. For context, Shields is a double Olympic champion and in the space of two years has won WBC middleweight title and the WBA and IBF titles, as well as already being a world champion at super-middleweight. The weekend just gone in Mulvane, Kansas, Shields faced Hannah Rankin, a classically trained musician who lost her previous world title fight just three months prior to meeting Shields. Rankin, 28, was only having her eighth professional bout, having not boxed as an amateur. Her record stands at 5-3-0.
For me, these are all not issues Taylor/Shields or any superstar is supposed to fix. The spotlight and increased scrutiny that comes with being a superstar only highlights the deficiencies that professional female boxing has. Female boxing at a professional level is not a sustainable career unless you come off a hype train like a Claressa Shields or a Katie Taylor. It is only a lasting career if you are deemed a viable cash cow by the top promoters that can put you on a pedestal.
Taylor was responsible for catching female boxing by the scruff of the neck and earning it Olympic status
I don’t think it is fair that there could be a question mark over Taylor’s legacy by some. I understand Eddie Hearn may have her wrapped in cotton wool and I know that Taylor is essentially a big fish in a tiny pond. But it really cannot come down to her, and the blame cannot be solely placed on her that she has entered female boxing in its infancy. It is not Taylor’s fault that 1,430 boxers are fighting almost double the titles. The situation in female boxing is what it is: semi-professionals (borderline amateurs) in a big bad world of professional boxing.
Taylor was responsible for catching female boxing by the scruff of the neck and earning it Olympic status. She will definitely need more help to grab pro boxing by the scruff of the neck and haul it up to the standards that can eradicate the question mark over her legacy.
It’s not a Katie Taylor problem, it’s a boxing and sporting problem as a whole.