Forget rising to their feet, the crowd jumped to stand, popcorn flying everywhere as Brian Peters brought back the old trick that projected snuck-in beer skyward in a similar fashion to Bernard Dunne’s Point Theater walk in against Esham Pickering.
Sitting ringside on a stage with a beautiful aroma wafting our way from the well-groomed Nicky Byrne of Westlife fame, Ireland legend Shay Given, and a host of other beautiful smelling celebs from the sporting and pop world, the watching press smiled as memories of Paul Griffin acting as a Dunne lookalike in the ‘good aul’ days of packed-house Dublin boxing came back.
We could see Katie Taylor focusing on the job at stage left, and the amateur double enjoying her moment literally in the spotlight, shadow boxing behind a white screen on scaffolding above the ring sending the expectant crowd wild.
It was nothing new, in fact it sparked memories of happier times. However, on our strange stage perch, when we surveyed the crowd our eyebrows raised skyward just like either side of our lips had moments earlier.
This wasn’t like any boxing event we had ever been at. Familiar faces in the crowd were few and far between. The broken nosed old-school boxing fraternity had been replaced by a much less intimidating looking crowd. The raucous nature of big time Irish boxing events was replaced with a more calm support.
Some compared it to rugby and, possibly because of the venue, the staging set up. There was a family feel to the audience, and the fact the legend that is Kenny Egan had just fought -well moved around with – a surprised punter from the crowd, others labeled it panto at its best.
A ‘she’s behind you’ shout wouldn’t have seemed out of place, if only for the fact Katie Taylor’s opponent on that Grand Canal Dock-hosted Road to Rio event was always behind her on the scorecard as the Olympic champion gave another masterclass in boxing.
Upon leaving the venue and re-entering the usually soberingly cold Docklands air with some interviews on (what we felt were) more serious issues in our dictaphones there was a ‘that was different’ feel.
That feeling was enhanced when you realized the greatest female fighter of all time had sold the venue out again and would return the night after before taking ‘the show’ on the road and entertaining and lapping up deserved adulation from around the country.
When you reflect on it, with the news that Taylor turned pro last week, that ‘different’ thing could be one of her greatest assets and something that could stand Irish boxing as a whole in good stead.
More names have been linked with replacing Bernard Dunne as there are with the Ireland Football manager’s job anytime it becomes vacant, and there has been a Dunne-sized hole that, dictated by circumstances more than talent, no fighter could plug.
Some might argue that Taylor will struggle to snugly fit in the aforementioned crater, but because she could prove even bigger than the Dublin Destroyer.
Forget cross over appeal Katie Taylor could take over.
Those Road to Rio shows are just the opening arguments when arguing the case that Taylor could bring back the casual, who has only been seen in Belfast since 2008, to Dublin.
Taylor is a media darling and not just seen as a boxing great, but rightly as an Irish sporting legend. It wouldn’t be surprising to see her on the front of Woman’s Way and Ring Magazine in the same week. The Bray native has that ‘bring boxing from the back to the front page’ capability and the audience that attended her Road to Rio events shows that there is no limit to her draw, Her support isn’t sporting prejudice, has no class indicators, and is unique in the fight World.
Eddie Hearn and those at Sky often talk in amazement about those who attend Anthony Joshua’s fights, hailing him as the man who is bringing pugilism back to the masses, but even the popular Pay Per View cash cow had to be built on undercard.
If Hearn, who has elected to give Taylor two fights in the UK before looking at a possible homecoming, was to debut Taylor in Dublin he would sell out the 3Arena with ease.
Some might find fault in that prediction, but if the Matchroom boss can sell Audley Harrison and David Haye using Sky Sports News as a promotional, even brain washing, tool, imagine what he could do with the power of every media outlet in Ireland behind him?
Hearn could impress the old ladies of Ireland with his charming smile on the Late Late Show with Taylor in toe, reach the boxing sporting public with Off the Ball appearances, create some front page news with some bold Taylor predictions, obviously reach the hard core fight lover via Irish-Boxing.com and so on and so forth.
It would be Conor McGregor-style coverage and the event junkie would be warming their tickets on spoons!
Some may suggest Matchroom haven’t the media contacts here in Ireland, but they have two trump cards in the regard – media darlings Taylor and Brian Peters. One of the biggest factors in that lamented ‘Dunne era,’ a time remembered by fight fans like Grandad’s recalls everything in the 1950s, was the Dubliner’s promoter and manager and his contacts, especially in RTÉ would play a part, while Taylor could open a supermarket in the back-end of nowhere and the press would be in toe.
The purist may squirm at the talk of marketability, ticket sales, and press coverage so let’s be clear: there is no doubting that Taylor should be respected first and foremost for her talent. She is a medal factory, one of if not the greatest and most gifted fighters Ireland has ever produced. However, over the last 10 years, superb talent has come through and fought under the not so bright lights provided by hotels and community centers and gone by without massive public acclaim.
The thing about Taylor is she will bring the hype back to the sport in Ireland outside of Belfast and put boxing firmly back on the map. You get the feeling Mick Conlan and others, if given a chance could do something similar, but Taylor doesn’t need any luck or favours she is already massive news.
She may be from Bray and a proud Wicklow woman, but if, as Hearn promised, she comes home for her big fights she will have Dublin rocking again.
Some of the aforementioned Road to Rio support may prefer Opera, but Sweet Caroline could fill the air in the Point Village again next year and a host of undercard Irish talent may just be dancing with delight too.
Taylor, who has two fights in the UK before Christmas, will fight in Ireland next year – although there are now some suggestions it could be in Belfast alongside Ryan Burnett – and will bring the Sky cameras with her meaning that Irish fighters should benefit.
The likes of Matthew Macklin, Andy Lee, and even Tyson Fury all fought on Dunne cards, the next generation of stars could use the Taylor clamour to build a fanbase at home and gain massive exposure on Sky, meaning there might not be another drought.
All pro boxing should be happy there is no Road to Toyko shows and pray that all roads lead to Croke Park.