For some years now, a softly spoken woman from Bray with an infectious smile and personality to match has carried the hopes of a nation on her broad shoulders. With emotional highs and some extremely difficult lows along the way, Ireland’s Katie Taylor has cemented herself as one of the greatest athletes to emerge from this small island.
On November 2nd at 9PM in the Manchester Arena, Katie stepped out in front of 20,000 spectators to face Greece’s Christina Linardatou, as the co-main event to Anthony Crolla’s final fair well fight. After putting on yet another masterful display of boxing, she was crowned the victor and became just the third fighter in Irish history to become a two-weight world boxing champion. The capture of the WBO junior welterweight belt (140 lbs) now sees her placed alongside national boxing greats, Steve Collins and Carl Frampton. All in a day’s work for arguably this country’s greatest ever sporting product.
From 2005 until her amateur boxing retirement in 2016, Taylor established herself as the most illustrious female boxer to lace a pair of gloves and such was her impact that she is hugely credited with the introduction of women’s boxing in the Olympics for the first time at London 2012. The Irish people had fallen in love with the Bray native long before the West-End games, but from that moment on she became a national icon and role model for all young women across the country and even the globe. On the incredible day when she won a gold medal, Katie entered the arena that resembled a colosseum, with Rihanna’s ‘Only Girl’ playing in the background. The typically booming boxing voice from commentator Ronald McIntosh was drowned out completely by a nation totally fixated.
Fast-forward a little over seven years and the now 33 year-old finds herself on a similar high, having overcome the powerful Linardatou in a 10×2 minute round contest in Manchester. Since turning pro, shortly after her extremely disappointing and highly controversial exit from the Rio 2016 Olympics, Taylor, under the guidance of Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Boxing, has broken barriers in the female pro-fight game and created an incredible legacy for others to now follow. With no headguards and smaller gloves, Katie puts her body and life on the line every time she now steps in the ring and in doing so she has changed the mindsets of many in the sport who had previously felt boxing was not a sport for women.
Defeating these stereotypes is nearly as remarkable as Katie’s conquering of opponents, and in Manchester just a couple of weeks’ ago many young girls were pictured with Ireland flags and cardboard messages of support for this sporting hero. What is perhaps Taylor’s greatest achievement is that boxing experts and promoters like Eddie Hearn are now no longer differentiating between boxing and female boxing. Katie has put so much credit into the bank that gender is no longer becoming a descriptive element of the sport, which since its foundation thousands of years ago, has always been male-dominated.
Coming into her latest bout, the Connecticut-based Taylor looked to prove a point as many believed that she had lost her previous fight, which saw her contentiously crowned the undisputed lightweight champion of the world in a very close contest. That saw her join a star-studded list of just 6 other boxers in history to have held all belts in any weight division simultaneously. Taylor, never fully satisfied, decided to move up a weight class to 140 pounds to challenge the Greek WBO champion, Linardatou. The Mediterranean fighter was visibly much heavier and stronger than Katie, who was on the back foot for the whole of the fight as her opponent looked to chase her down. However, such is the skill of the Bray woman, she managed to box beautifully off the back-foot, making the champion look clumsy and off-balance at times. Although she received a lovely ‘shiner’ for her troubles, Katie saw her hand raised after the final bell in a unanimous decision, with judges scoring the bout 97-93 (x2) and 96-94. While Linardatou was upset with the decision, she had little to complain about after she was ultimately given a boxing lesson.
Taylor was overcome with joy and the normally stoic fighter was very emotional in her post-fight interview. Three years previously Katie had cried tears of pain on RTÉ television after being knocked out of the Olympics but thankfully on this historic occasion she was shedding tears of happiness. The 33 year-old now has many options on the table. She openly advocates for a rematch with her previous opponent Persoon to banish any doubts from their previous fight, while she also wants to clear out the rest of the junior Welterweight division. What is certainly on Katie’s and many Irish peoples’ bucket-list is a bout here in Ireland in a sold out arena. Maybe after that this breaker of barriers and once in a lifetime champion will hang up her gloves.