'Losing like this is not correct': Delfine Persoon interview
Luke G. Williams
Photos: Al Bello/Getty Images
Delfine Persoon and her manager / trainer Filiep Tampere speak to Boxing Monthly’s Luke G. Williams about the Belgian lightweight’s controversial defeat against Katie Taylor and why “we have even more motivation now”…
When Boxing Monthly catches up with Belgian boxer Delfine Persoon and her trainer / manager Filiep Tampere it has been six days since the Belgian lightweight left the Madison Square Garden ring weeping tears of frustration and anger.
The intervening 144 hours have done little to dim her sense of burning injustice.
The source of her pain is the majority points verdict (94-96, 94-96, 95-95) which saw Ireland’s Katie Taylor snaffle Persoon’s precious WBC lightweight title, adding it to her WBA, IBF and WBO crowns after a fierce and unyielding 10-round battle which ended with the notoriously hard-to-please MSG crowd granting the two female combatants a stirring standing ovation.
“Katie Taylor’s a great fighter, I have a lot of respect for her, but this is pro fighting not amateur fighting,” Persoon tells me, in a voice that is as unwavering, determined and resolute as her fistic performance was last Saturday night in Manhattan.
“I don't think we lost the fight. Taylor’s manager [Brian Peters] said the first six rounds were won by Katie Taylor – but I’ve watched the fight 10, 15 times now and if you look at the first six rounds they definitely weren’t all won by Katie Taylor.”
Persoon then proceeds to offer her own round by round assessment of the fight, one which incidentally tallies exactly with the scorecard of this writer [see below].
“The first round I think was won by Katie,” she begins. “The second and third by me, the fourth maybe Taylor, and the fifth for me. The sixth for Taylor, seven and eight for me, nine for Taylor and 10 for me.”
Persoon pauses for a moment, as though once again absorbing and evaluating the hurt that she still feels, before adding: “If you look at the fight and are honest, that’s what you’ll see.”
Trainer / manager Filiep Tampere, who has been with Persoon for the entirety of her pro career, then chimes in. “Our training and fight plan worked. It was about keeping Katie Taylor under pressure. She can’t take it.
“After eight rounds she was desperate, she was looking to her corner and there was such panic in there. They were saying, ‘grab her arms Katie, grab her arms!’
“From the second round she was running and she kept on running. We were sure we won the fight.”
Tampere also argues that the swellings on Persoon's face at the end of the fight were not caused by clean shots by Taylor but by "head bumos and elbows".
Last week Tampere filed an official complaint about the judges’ verdict to the WBC, labelling the decision “scandalous” and “outrageous” in the letter he has sent the governing body.
To support his view, he cites the ringside views of a number of members of the British media.
“Look at the reaction of David Haye and Carl Frampton on the Sky TV coverage,” he argues. “People with a lot of experience said that it was a robbery or that Delfine won. Johnny Nelson, Carl Froch, Matthew Macklin, Paulie Malignaggi, Haye and Frampton all gave the fight to Delfine.
“That’s not us speaking - that’s champions and former world champions.”
Persoon argues that Taylor’s status as the ‘house fighter’ was crucial in ensuring the Irishwoman received the benefit of any doubt the judges harboured.
“I think it was the pressure of Matchroom and Eddie Hearn that led to this decision,” she says. “As they say in Belgium, money talks. I am just a boxer from a small country you see. It's a shame and everyone knows the decision was not correct. We hope to get a rematch because the right decision was not made. A rematch would be great for us.”
Such is the extent of Persoon’s disappointment she shrugs off a question about whether she was pleased with her performance.
“It doesn’t matter. Today people know I was robbed, tomorrow they know it, but at the end of the day on her record it says she won and on my record it says I lost. In five years, 10 years they’re going to say Katie Taylor beat Delfine Persoon. That’s tough to take.”
Despite her disappointment, Persoon is able to appreciate what an honour it was to fight on such a big stage for the first time in her life – before the Taylor showdown 43 of her 44 pro fights had taken place in her native Belgium, with one bout in Switzerland.
“Yes, it was nice to fight at such a big venue and at the Mecca of Boxing with a lot of fans,” she says. “It would also be good to fight in England because I have a lot of fans who would have liked to go to the fight, but getting to New York was expensive. There were 50 supporters who travelled - if a rematch was in England I think there would be a lot more able to go.”
Persoon admits that part of her frustration with the judges’ verdict is due to her desperate desire to advance boxing’s profile in her homeland. Indeed, before her world title winning exploits, no Belgian had ever won a world title belt from one of the 'big four' alphabet organisations, and the country was probably best known in a boxing sense for the career of Jean-Pierre Coopman, who lost in five rounds to world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in 1976 and later won the European title. More recently Genk-born Francesco Patera upset the UK's Lewis Ritson to win the European lightweight title.
“It’s such a shame for Belgium," Persoon says, "We aren’t a boxing country and if I had been given the decision, it would have been so good for the sport of boxing in Belgium.
“We’ve had no Olympic champions, this was the first time we could have really got Belgium on the boxing map. It’s a real shame. Here people only ever see cycling, football and tennis on television - you never see boxing.
“This was the first time a boxing match was shown here on television and if I had won for the sport of boxing and every other fighter here in Belgium it would have been so great.”
Nevertheless, Persoon’s performance has turned heads in Belgium, particularly among her native Flemish community. Indeed, you don't need to be able to speak Flemish to understand the sentiments expressed in headlines such as "Corrupt. Maffioos. Verkocht" and "Schandalig" which have appeared in an outraged Belgian press.
“People in Belgium have been saying that Katie Taylor is a paper champion,” Persoon points out. “More than two million people saw the fight on Belgian TV and we only have a population of 10 million, of which four million are Flemish. That’s amazing figures.
"Everyone here is saying the decision was not correct. I wanted to make history for Belgium, I did make history for Belgium and I didn’t get what I deserved. What I achieved was not recognised by the judges.”
Persoon and Tampere’s sense of resentment is accentuated by a series of pre-fight incidents and manoeuvrings that they maintain were consciously designed and employed to throw them off their stride.
“A lot of things happened before the fight,” Persoon says. “They were playing with us. For example, we had to change hotels. I also had to go for one hour in a taxi to a doctor to get a blood test for hepatitis B, which I already have an immunisation for because I work for the police.
“I have asthma. Everyone in the female boxing world knows that the first three rounds for me are normally not good because I have sporting asthma. I have problems but then I get my second wind. I had to do extra examinations for this.
“On Friday everyone else had left after the weigh-in, Katie Taylor left at 4pm and I didn’t get to leave until 9 in the evening.”
According to Persoon, there was further gamesmanship in the final hours before the fight.
“I used to do judo and the ligaments in my foot and ankle are not good, so every time I fight I tape my feet. They came to me and said: ‘What are you doing?’ Less than an hour before fighting I had to remove the tape so they could look at my feet.
“One doctor then another doctor. They were playing with us. I had to tape my feet again.”
Tampere throws a couple of further accusations into the mix, arguing that the final round was too short, which he claimed helped a clearly exhausted Taylor survive, and bemoaning the absence of a WBC appointed judge.
Persoon maintains that her experiences in New York will merely serve to motivate her for the rematch she craves.
However a rematch may not arrive until 2020 at the earliest, with Taylor’s team having confirmed their intention for their charge to fight Puerto Rican superstar Amanda Serrano in her next fight. This despite Tampere having offered Taylor’s team €300,000 for a rematch in Belgium, an offer they have dismissed as “ludicrous”.
“They’ve said I am not in a position to negotiate another fight as I’m not a champion any more,” Persoon says. “They’ve said we have other things on our programme first. To be honest, I don’t think there will be a rematch.”
Should it happen, however, Persoon remains confident. “I know I can beat Katie Taylor,” she maintains. “She is a very good amateur and she can be a good pro fighter. But the style of a real pro, of a pressure boxer, she doesn’t want it.
“From the second round, she grabbed my arms every time she could, or the head. She didn't want us both to box. Yes, she’s a great fighter but she throws three or four punches and then grabs her opponent.
“There are things I could do better next time by moving in and out quicker taking a step back so she couldn’t grab me. That was a mistake I made.“
Indeed, Persoon insists that the events of the past week will only make her strive harder.
“With all these tricks, they made us so angry that it will just make us stronger,” she says. “They think they can crack us or break us, but we are harder than that. For sure we have even more motivation now."
A glance at Persoon’s personal history confirms that battling back against forbidding odds is a theme that has characterised her life and career.
Born in West Flanders, Persoon is Flemish, a Germanic ethnic group who comprise about 60% of the Belgian population but have traditionally had to battle hard to counteract the institutional dominance of the French-speaking elite in the country.
Growing up in Moorslede, near Roeselare, boxing was not Persoon’s first sporting love.
“People always ask me who my favourite boxer was, who I looked up to as a child, but for me it wasn’t boxing that I loved as a child, it was judo,” she says. “Ulla Werbrouck, the  Olympic champion was the girl I always looked up to when I was small.”
Significantly, Werbrouck was also Flemish, and also renowned for her fiercely competitive spirit.
Like Persoon, who is a federal policewoman, Werbrouck was also committed to public service service, winning election to the Belgian Chamber of Representatives and the Flemish Parliament after the end of her glittering sporting career.
“I started off in judo when I was six,” Persoon elaborates. “I fought at a high level, I competed in the youth Olympics and three times I was the Belgian champion. I trained every day and the sport was everything for me.”
However, not long after she turned 20, Persoon faced the devastation of having to forsake the sport she loved.
“I had some back problems,” she says. “So one day I had to stop and start a new sport, find a new passion.
“I really missed the training and that’s how I came into boxing. I like training hard you see. I didn’t originally start boxing for competition. It was for training. Boxing filled the gap that was left when I had to stop judo.”
Persoon was 22 when she first pulled on a pair of boxing gloves, and had her first pro bout at 25 in 2009.
By then, she had joined the police force, a job she has had ever since, the rewards for professional pugilists in a boxing backwater such as Belgium not being sufficient to enable her to concentrate on the sport full-time.
“It's hard for me. I work in the days so I have to train early in the morning and every evening,” Persoon says.
Reward for Persoon’s indefatigability came in 2014 when she won the WBC lightweight title by outpointing the then unbeaten Argentinian, Erica Anabella Farias in a bloody battle in Wingene, West Flanders. It was a title she went on to successfully defend nine times before the Taylor controversy.
“The rematch would be the greatest thing for me but it’s going to be very difficult to get it,” Persoon reaffirms. “Maybe we will have a fight in Belgium in November but we don’t really know what we are going to do at the moment.
“I never say I will win. I never say I’m going to win a fight, but I know I can win against her if we fight again. I know how to beat her. I did a lot of things not so good technically this time. I’ve found things I have to do better next time so I know I can improve next time."
As the interview draws to a close, the hurt that still permeates Persoon’s psyche and once again bubbles to the surface.
“I work for the police and it’s part of my character to know what is correct and what is not correct,” she argues. “That’s been important for me my whole life.I wouldn’t want to be in the position of Katie Taylor, knowing I lost the fight but saying to everyone and to yourself I won the fight. I couldn’t live with this. For me that would be very difficult: if I really lost a fight in the correct way it would be difficult for me but I would say after a day or so that she was better.
"But losing like this is not correct.”
Taylor vs Persoon: how did you score it?
Here's how Luke G. Williams scored the undisputed world lightweight title clash that has got everyone talking…
Round 1: A tight opener. An early and late flurry from Taylor edges the round her way, but Persoon discomforts her several times with her rushing tactics and forward momentum. 10-9 Taylor
Round 2: Constant pressure from Persoon. Although Taylor counters effectively at times, the Belgian takes the round with effective flurries and activity, landing a couple of good rights in particular. At the bell Taylor looks flustered. 10-9 Persoon
Round 3: An untidy round, as Persoon uses every trick in the book to rough Taylor up. The more telling work comes from the Belgian. 10-9 Persoon
Round 4: Taylor moves more effectively than in previous rounds, scoring with a good right hand/left hook combination and countering more effectively to steal a tight round. 10-9 Taylor
Round 5: Taylor starts brightly but ends up being pounded on the ropes, unwisely beckoning Persoon forward. The Belgian lands a great left. 10-9 Persoon
Round 6: Up on her toes, Taylor scores with some effective counters and plays the matador, making Persoon look wild and clumsy. 10-9 Taylor
Round 7: Taylor again tries to box and move, but Persoon measures the distance more effectively this time, scoring with some effective blows and ending the round the stronger. Taylor’s face is battered and Persoon’s left eye badly swollen. 10-9 Persoon
Round 8: A scrappy first half of the round before Persoon repeatedly catches Taylor with damaging shots, including a big right. Taylor ends the round looking ragged and a little desperate. 10-9 Persoon
Round 9: Taylor rallies, landing her cleanest shots of the contest and momentarily stunning the previously imperturbable Persoon. For the last 30 seconds, the two women go to war, toe to toe. Persoon has the better of that exchange and lands a good short left at the bell but Taylor has edged the round. 10-9 Taylor
Round 10: The Garden crowd erupts with appreciation as the final round begins. Emphatic final round for Persoon who never stops throwing punches, landing some big shots that stagger Taylor who looks out on her feet at times. 10-9 Persoon
Luke G. Williams' final score: Persoon 96 Taylor 94
(official verdict, MD Taylor, with scores of 95-95, 94-96, 94-96)