Four defeats in 14 years: What does Katie Taylor need to do next?
She holds three world title belts but a fight in her homeland seems as far away as ever
Katie Taylor moved one fight away from becoming the undisputed women’s lightweight champion of the world by relieving Rose Volante of her WBO belt after a ninth-round stoppage at the Liacouras Center, Philadelphia. Photograph: Tom Hogan/Inpho
With the possible exception of playing The Wolfe Tones track Celtic Symphony as her entrance theme it’s hard to know what Katie Taylor needs to do in her next fight.
Even without BT Barnum’s old definition it feels as if everything about her professional career to date has been a little shy of publicity. What’s the problem?
No one likes a taken for granted situation in any sport, and no sport takes anything for granted less than boxing. The great lyrical reminder of that being Mike Tyson’s immortal quote: “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth”.
Taylor has taken some punches in the mouth and the face since turning professional at the end of 2016, and plenty more during an amateur career which went without comparison since winning her first European title in Tonsberg, Norway back in 2005.
Last Friday night, in the city of Rocky Balboa, Taylor extended her professional record to 13-0-0, and moved one fight away from becoming the undisputed women’s lightweight champion of the world, relieving Rose Volante of her WBO belt after a ninth-round stoppage.
By then Volante was bloodied and bruised, a first defeat for the 36-year-old from São Paulo, even if all but one of her previous 14 wins had taken place in Brazil. Therein lies part of the problem.
With the WBA and IBF belts already in Taylor’s winning possession, only the WBC belt remains, that belonging to the 35-year-old Belgian railway police officer Delfine Persoon, first won back in 2014.
Persoon boasts a 43-1-0 professional record, all but one of those 44 fights taking place in small sports halls around Belgium. Another part of the problem right there.
This is the same Persoon who in December offered the Taylor camp €130,000 for a WBC title fight in Belgium, to which Taylor’s manager Brian Peters deftly replied: “Katie wouldn’t get out of bed for that kind of money.”
Things have changed, with Taylor’s promoter Eddie Hearn reportedly poised to confirm the Taylor-Persoon unifying bout for the night of Saturday, June 1st at Madison Square Garden, on the undercard of WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua’s showdown against former US kickboxing champion Jarrell Miller.
In the meantime reaction and in some cases recognition of Taylor’s rise through the professional ranks remains somewhat muted, if not a little vacant.
Her mostly solitary arrival from Philadelphia back to Dublin Airport on Sunday morning provided some evidence, the TV crews and politicians that usually come in tow conspicuous by their absence.
No congratulatory tweet either from the President of Ireland (who did, in fairness, give a shout out to the Ireland Under-20 rugby team). Taylor has never had a problem with any of that publicity game and for good reason, although it can’t always go unnoticed either.
In defeating Volante, Taylor becomes the first Irish boxer in history to hold three world titles at the same time since the four-belt era began. If she defeats Persoon, she’ll become only the second women’s boxer ever to hold all four belts at once; the first is reigning undisputed welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus, the 37-year-old from Norway holding all four major titles since 2014.
In pound-for-pound women’s boxing, the website BoxRec has just moved Taylor into number one, ahead of Persoon and Braekhus.
At age 32, Taylor has already stated her desire to fight for another six or seven years, depending of course on how many more hits she might take to the mouth. Given her amateur career, the longevity is without parallel in Irish sport and yet to a large extent she appears to operate and perform in some sort of sporting vacuum, some of which is her own making.
It wasn’t that different as an amateur; beyond her historic Olympic triumph in London 2012, few of her similarly all-conquering amateur fights were fought out in the wider public.
Then in the space of four months it all slipped seismically away, beginning in April of 2016 with defeat to Yana Alekseevna of Azerbaijan in the Turkish Black Sea port of Samsun, in the Rio Olympic qualifiers, her first proper loss since 2011, followed by a World Championship semi-final defeat to France’s Estelle Mossely that May, surrounding the crown she’d owned for the previous six years.
Then came her third defeat of 2016, when in the opening defence of her Olympic lightweight title, she was beaten on a split decision by Finland’s Mira Potkonen in Rio.
Essentially that was only the fourth defeat since her first of 18 amateur titles were won in 2005 (the other being in 2011 at the still mythical multi-nations tournament in Bulgaria, where Denista Eliseeva was given a blatant hometown decision which confounded everyone including the referee).
Taylor now considers her home from home to be the small US town of Vernon, Connecticut, where she works with her coach Ross Enamait, her recent application for US residency status suggesting that may become a longer-term move.
The only real insight into her professional career has been Ross Whitaker’s carefully constructed and beautifully shot documentary, ‘Katie’. She was due to take part on in a conference call interview on Wednesday, only that was cancelled on Tuesday evening due to scheduling issues.
The bigger problem is not that opponents such as Volante and Persoon have zero profile in Ireland, or indeed outside their own country.
It’s that for a variety of reasons, mainly the clear and present danger around staging any professional boxing contests in Ireland, Taylor is resigned to winning and defending her titles in Britain or the US, thanks in part to the financial security there via Sky Sports and US-based streaming company DAZN in America.
“I’m certainly finished with running or any involvement with shows in Ireland,” Peters has said in no uncertain terms.
It’s exactly 10 years since Taylor enjoyed any sort of meaningful fight in Ireland, beating Caroline Barry of the US on the undercard to Bernard Dunne’s WBA super bantamweight title win over Ricardo Cordoba of Panama, at the then O2 Arena in Dublin.
Given her timeless aversion to bad publicity, the only thing guaranteed to give Taylor more of the attention and recognition she deserves is a title bout on her old homeland. Could the President of Ireland maybe tweet that?