Best of BM in 2019: Katie Taylor - what's not to like?

Paul Zanon
30/12/2019 10:29pm

Photo: George Wood/Getty Images

Across Christmas and the New Year, Boxing Monthly is presenting some of our most memorable features from 2019. Today we go back to May, when Paul Zanon spoke to Katie Taylor ahead of her lightweight unification clash with Delfine Persoon...

She’s humble, ambitious, skilful, loves a scrap and has raised the bar for women’s sport globally. What’s not to like about Ireland's Katie Taylor?

After clearing up the 60kg division at amateur level for a decade, winning every international gold medal on offer, Taylor turned professional on 11 November 2016 at the age of 30. She won the WBA world lightweight title after 11 months in her seventh fight, then added the IBF crown six months later. She’s gone from having brief mentions in local newspapers to having Conor McGregor coming to congratulate her in the changing room and Michael Buffer introducing her on the world platform.

Discussing the transition from amateur to professional boxing, Taylor told Boxing Monthly, “I knew I needed to be a bit meaner in the ring.”

So how does one of boxing’s most timid characters transform into an elite level fighting machine? “I’m definitely a very quiet person outside of the ring. I never really have much to say and I’m not into trash talking and stuff like that. But the other side to me is that I am very, very competitive.

"I will do whatever it takes to win the fight in there. I love the sport, I love getting in the ring and fighting and getting my hand raised at the end of the fight. It’s the best feeling ever. I just want to keep this going, continue to improve and be the best ever.”

Many thought her latest adversary, WBO world lightweight champion, Rose Volante, was perhaps a step too far, but the Bray favourite proved otherwise. “She definitely looked like the toughest fight on paper, that’s for sure. She was undefeated, very strong and that’s why I trained so hard to be well prepared for that fight.”

That regime paid off in the opening session. “I actually didn’t know what I caught her with at the time, but it turns out it was a short right hand,” Taylor noted. “That knockdown was very important, because it was great to make a statement and put my stamp of authority on the fight straight away. Then by the fifth round I definitely felt like she was getting a bit disheartened from those body shots and I tried to push on and get her out of there, but she was very tough.

"I started to push the pace of the fight from there on and put the pressure on her. I was really happy with my performance against an undefeated champion [Taylor forced a ninth round stoppage] and now I’m one step closer to unifying the whole division, which was always my goal.”

She made history by beating Volante, adding the WBO strap to her IBF and WBA lightweight crowns, making her the first Irish boxer, male or female, to have won three versions of a world title in one division. Taylor expressed her joy at reaching the new summit. “It’s amazing making history. I know everyone in Ireland is very proud and it’s a lovely feeling to have been able to achieve it.”

Despite being delighted with her latest milestone, the ambitious Taylor will not be content until she has the final piece of the world honours jigsaw, the WBC world lightweight strap, held by Belgian powerhouse, Delfine Persoon, who to the confusion of Taylor's manager Brian Peters took a while to sign the fight contract.

“I don’t know how they can call themselves a professional fighter if they refuse these fights. They’re getting to showcase their talents on the biggest stage at Madison Square Garden and be chief support for a huge heavyweight title fight [Joshua-Miller bill on 1 June]. What the hell are they doing in boxing if they don’t take these fights? You have to wonder where their heart is at. You have to wonder about the people around them. How the hell she [Persoon] didn’t have that contract back five minutes after she got it is beyond me. It’s baffling.”

Perhaps Persoon has a fear of losing? “No harm in losing to the greatest of all time. Who better person to lose to? Eddie [Hearn] is aligned with DAZN. We’re in the process of signing a very lucrative deal for Katie, which will probably make her the highest paid female boxer of all time, which is probably right because she’s on track for being the greatest.

"It’s a great time to be a fighter with DAZN and the market over in America has never been livelier. I suppose, to make all these big fights happen, it’s gonna take big money to get Amanda Serrano, Cecilia Brækhus, Holly Holm, Delfine Persoon into the ring, but I think the timing is right.”

With a rumoured $1m pay cheque for her next fight in June, Taylor added, “It is really incredible. I never thought I would be making this sort of money as a professional fighter, to be quite honest. Brian’s done a fantastic job negotiating and I have a great team of people around me, but money has never been my main motivation.

"However, it’s prize fighting at the end of the day, so it’s great that I’m seeing those figures and making that kind of money, but it’s also great that women are included on so many big boxing cards now, giving them the opportunity to earn better purses. The sport has definitely changed over the last couple of years, which has been incredible. Long may it continue.”

Peters, the man with the financial masterplan, explained how the big pay days can be warranted. “There’s a very important ingredient in boxing which has somewhat been lost over the years. Go back to Hagler, Leonard, Duran and Hearns. They all fought each other at a time when the best fought the best. That’s always been Katie’s motto.

"We had Pacquiao versus Mayweather, a superfight which was five years too late. Who the hell wanted to see it? My point is, Katie wants to fight the best now. She just fought the WBO undefeated champion and [now] Delfine Persoon, who is 43-1. Amanda Serrano next. Cecilia Brækhus after that. That’s what makes Katie exciting, going for these fights. UFC has gained a bit of ground over the years by everyone fighting everyone and we need to get back to that in boxing.”

The Serrano fight is probably the one which brings the most intrigue. The seven-weight Brooklyn based world champion has a huge following and if the two lock horns fireworks could very well happen. The Puerto Rican has won her last world title at 115lbs (super flyweight), but only four months prior, another strap at 140lbs.

Taylor clarified at what weight this encounter happen. “It would be at lightweight. I definitely can’t go below. In her last fight, I think she actually went into the ring at about 135lbs, which I think is her natural weight. I don’t know how she drops down so much and it’s probably not even healthy. I don’t really go that much above the 135lbs limit. I probably walk around at 140lbs most days. That said, the last couple of pounds is always hard to get off, but I’m on top of it and make the weight very comfortably.”

Another option could be against her old opponent, Jessica McCaskill. After losing to Taylor in December 2017, the American moved up to 140lbs in her next fight and won the WBC world super lightweight title. Although not an immediate priority, it’s certainly not an option Taylor is dismissing. “Yeah, definitely. I will probably move up in weight eventually, so if that fight is available for me when I do, I’d take it. I also think that’s a fight people want to see again. I’d love that fight again and I’m sure she would also.”

The last of the big scalps to be bandied in the same sentence as Taylor in recent months, is undefeated welterweight ring veteran, Cecilia Brækhus (35-0). Peters was keen to point out the unique merits of this fight. “Katie has a special interest in that fight as well. It will be at 140lbs.

"Two undefeated, undisputed champions going head to head is what people want to see. I don’t think that’s ever been done before, has it? That’s Katie going up a division and Cecilia going down one, which I think is fair. It’s a superfight. They’ll be talking about that in a hundred years’ time.”

It's hard to predict what fight fans will be saying that far in the future, but the spritely 32-year-old lightweight champion reassured Boxing Monthly that the best is just around the corner. “I feel that I’m fitter and stronger than ever. I live a very healthy lifestyle, I’ve never abused my body in any way, never drank or any of that, so I definitely feel like a young fighter.

"I feel I have a lot more years to offer and I’m definitely not thinking of retirement at the moment! I’ll know the right time, but right now I’m very much focused on the next fight and the next few years. The best is yet to come without a doubt.”

A version of this article previously appeared in Boxing Monthly magazine.