She did it. Katie Taylor did it. She beat Amanda Serrano. She got the decision. She heard the sweetest words before the bedlam came down from all around. And still . . .
She did it. In the dead of night. In Madison Square Garden. With the ghosts of Ali and Frazier and Joe Louis peeking down from the eaves to see what all the commotion was about. What they saw on Saturday night, they had seen before. Done before. Been before. Those days were gone, the days when boxing sucked the world to the Garden like a bathplug pulled from midtown Manhattan. Katie Taylor brought them back.
She did it. Twenty-one professional fights, 21 professional wins. The years are pawing at her now – she’s 36 in a few weeks. And so the victories that come these days, these nights, she has to pull harder on the rope to gather them in. Serrano probably deserved a draw on Saturday night – she surely didn’t deserve the 97-93 decision on one judge’s card. Boxing tends to bend towards its brightest lights though and Taylor got the call.
She did it. She took a sport that essentially didn’t exist when she started learning how to wrap her hands and look what she did with it. She made the case for putting it in the Olympics unanswerable. She brought the house down in London, just in case the IOC were wondering had they made the right decision. She gave amateur boxing momentum, a good news story to cut through all the corruption and judging and mess.
She did it. She changed how people thought about women in sport. In a very real way, she moved back the boundary rope of what people feel they can tolerate. Watch those final rounds on Saturday night, hair matted in blood, rivers of claret flowing between her and Serrano, splatter everywhere. Put those pictures in the paper back in the early 2000s when she was starting out and there would have been howls of outrage and disgust. Today, nobody gives it a second thought.
She did it. She changed what parents can stomach for their daughters. All across the country, mams and dads who fret at the sight of their little one climbing up to the third branch of a tree think nothing of pointing to Katie Taylor as a role model. Someone to aspire to being, a life to dream of making for yourself. The most admired sportsperson in the country is a woman who wants to punch you in the face. And who gets punched in the face repeatedly.
She did it. She. Indubitably, insistently, incorrigibly, she. The odds against successfully forging a woman’s path through the most male, most macho sport of them all are moonshot numbers. When men argue over Katie Taylor now, they grouse about how Serrano was unfairly done and whether Persoon won the first fight and all the petty, workaday noise that has sustained boxing down the ages. They don’t argue any more about whether or not women’s boxing is any good.
She did it. She made her fortune when everyone presumed there was no fortune to be made. She clears well over a million bucks a fight now. The Conor McGregor show aside, you have to go back to Wayne McCullough to find the last Irish boxer who could regularly command that kind of purse. She bought herself a speedboat last year. A speedboat, no less. On every level, that was unthinkable when she turned pro in 2016.
She did it. Her way, nobody else’s. She has been famous in Ireland for the best part of two decades and still she remains to all intents and purposes unknowable. In a country where public figures tend to have no choice but to parcel bits of themselves out, she has kept plenty back for herself. She lives in a small town in Connecticut and nobody knows her there either. She is herself and she is loved for it.
She did it. SHE did it. The story of her sending Eddie Hearn a DM to broach the idea of a pro career has launched a billion How It Started memes, so much so that it has obscured the chutzpah of the act itself. She didn't get a management company to make the approach, she didn't go through intermediaries. She did what she has always done. She drove her own story, she made her own way.
She did it. She DID it. She didn’t talk her way to the top. She was never promoted above her station. She has never bullshitted anyone in the pursuit of a little extra icing on the cake. Has there ever been a world champion boxer more likely to come out in hives at the slightest suggestion of hype? Can you think of anyone more immune to the artifice of selling big-time sport? She has no time for any of it. And yet now they’re seriously talking about Croke Park.
She did it. The very idea that any boxing match could go ahead in Ireland – let alone the biggest one there has ever been – has been off the table for the entirety of her pro career. The Regency shooting was in February 2016, eight months before she sent her message to Hearn. Think of all the death, all the dirt, all the misery that has poisoned the sport here in the years since. Imagine being the fighter who got pro boxing restarted in Ireland after all that. Now imagine it probably not even ranking in the top five of your life’s achievements.
She did it. She changed everything. You see her now with her pug’s face, the bruising around the eyes, the shine on the cheekbones, the drawn exhaustion of the wee hours falling off her like autumn leaves. You look at her and you think of all that has happened, of how every step was more unlikely than the one before and of how she made them all seem inevitable.
She did it. Lucky us, to be around while she did.