Should the Bray lightweight defeat Brazilian Rose Volante [14(8)-0] at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia she will become Ireland’s first ever three-belt world champion but her WBA-IBF-WBO unification bout has something of an odd feeling about it.
Naturally, it was never going to match her inaugural world title win over Anahi Esther Sanchez or even her first unification with Victoria Noelia Bustos.
There isn’t the abrasive character in the opposite corner like Jessica McCaskill was – or Amanda Serrano will be – and the stage is smaller than her most recent clash with Eva Wahlstöm on a Canelo Alvarez undercard.
Indeed, one fight shy of an undisputed ‘all the marbles’ showdown with Belgian WBC ruler Delfine Persoon, there is a sense of limbo.
It’s not unlike Taylor’s amateur career where the guaranteeing of bronze or silver medals in major competitions became commonplace. It’s all about the gold.
Ireland’s most decorated sport star, in this way, is a victim of her own unparalleled success, where major and even historic achievements are rarely dwelt on and the focus is always seemingly on something bigger and better in the pipeline.
Pro boxing, especially, lends itself to ‘building’ and fights with Persoon, Amanda Serrano, Cecelia Brækus, Mikaela Mayer, Estelle Mossely, Chantelle Cameron, Cris Cyborg, Holly Holm, and more are all at various stages of marination.
There’s talk, a lot of it, and Taylor [12(5)-0] is forced to engage with it, all the while a beefy Brazilian flys in under the radar.
The Wicklow woman, however, has become adept at balancing it all – having multiple dreams and plans while keeping her primary focus on a comparatively unglamorous initial assignment.
“I’m not thinking about any other fight right now,” Taylor promises Irish-Boxing.com in a special extended interview.
At the weekend Persoon retained her WBC belt for a ninth time and an undisputed fight is all but agreed for June 1st at Madison Square Garden on the Anthony Joshua v Jarrell Miller undercard.
All Taylor needs to do is to prove her 1/50 odds accurate, dispose of Volante, and pick up the gaudy pink WBO belt.
“I know that’s the goal, to become undisputed champion, but my only focus right now is on Rose Volante.”
“Those fights are in place for me later on in the year but those fights don’t happen if I don’t win this one.”
It’s all a bit cliché, rehearsed even, of course it is, it’s the umpteenth time Taylor has been asked a variation of the question.
That’s not to say the 32-year-old is underestimating Volante.
On the whole, the South American probably ranks below a handful of opponents already beaten by Taylor and her BoxRec page has been sneeringly scoured by some.
However, back muscles bulging, the Brazilian brings brute force to the table – much like McCaskill, Taylor’s toughest foe to date – and also has a little-reported amateur grounding having won PanAmerican Championships silver and multiple Brazilian titles.
Is she being underrated? Unfairly written off?
“Possibly” muses Taylor before quickly adding that “I don’t really take much notice of that.”
“I know the challenge in front of me and I know how dangerous she can be. Myself, Ross [Enamait, coach], and the whole team, really, aren’t taking her for granted at all, we know that this is a tough challenge and we know that we have to overcome this challenge for all those fights to happen later in the year.”
“This is a huge fight for me and my focus is completely on this fight, I know that I can’t leave any stone unturned going into this fight. We don’t overlook anyone.”
The McCaskill comparison is an interesting one.
Following some testy talk beforehand, a short camp, and perhaps the pressures of headlining a historic bill, Taylor was at times drawn into a war with the powerful American when they faced off at the York Hall in December 2017 in the first, and so far only, Sky Sports bill topped by women.
With three judges scoring, and slightly widely for the Irishwoman at that, Taylor lost a total of five rounds from the thirty possible – as well as suffering her one and only point deduction for excessive holding in the seventh.
By comparison, in her other four world title bouts which went the ten-round distance, she has lost seven out of a possible 120.
Most tellingly though was that McCaskill was, however fleetingly, able to hurt Taylor.
While she seemed to relish the gruelling contest, and the red mist may descend again tomorrow at the Liacouras Center, Taylor admits she will aim to box clever against Volante.
A straight-forward enough slugger, the amateur legend doesn’t plan to play to Volante’s strengths and notes how “I think I will have to be a bit more clever in this fight because I know that she is strong, that she is aggressive, that she has a big right hand.”
“She is a very dangerous fighter and she’s coming to the fight undefeated and it’s a big test for both of us with all the belts that are on the line.”
“I definitely will try to make the fight as easy as possible,” she promises before acknowledging that there will be times when there are fireworks.
“There are going to be times when I’ll have to be in close with her but I feel like I’ve gotten the best preparations out here in terms of sparring for this type of fight.”
If one was to make an in-depth prediction, a third successive 100-90 x3 unanimous decision win for Taylor might be a smart bet – and herein lies the ‘problem’.
The achievements are undeniable and unrivalled, the quality of Taylor’s performances obvious, but the winning margins and the dominance leaves some finding it hard to get ‘invested’ and has led to criticism of women’s boxing as a competitive sport.
Does Taylor need an up-and-down war to be appreciated? Is struggle essential? Do we, as Irish onlookers, need a flawed hero?
The comeback from the lows of the Rio Olympics, fantastically captured in Ross Whitaker’s Katie which hit Netflix this week, is not enough for some.
While this whole discussion is perhaps something which only ‘matters’ to media types and against-the-grainers – and manager Brian Peters is not overly keen on the debate – Taylor does have some thoughts.
While it would be wrong to say that her voice is tinged with anger or frustration, there is a notable injection of passion in her response.
“I know there’s definitely a few negative people out there but I’m not going to apologise for making the fights easy for myself and dominating.”
“I’m not going to apologise for being better than my opponents.”
“Every time I step into the ring these girls are more fired up than they’ve ever been, they’re more prepared than they’ve ever been.”
Taylor continues, recalling her amateur successes which, Olympic gold in London in 2012 and World gold in Jeju in 2014 aside, saw many of her medals relegated to the ‘and finally’ sections of news reports.
The eighteen-time major gold medallist outlined how “I’ve been dealing with this sort of stuff my whole career, even in the amateurs. I’d come back from winning a gold medal and there’d be negative people there.”
“It’s not news to me, I’ve been dealing with these sort of comments throughout my whole career, it’s not something that I focus on.”
The topic of the depth of talent is brought up, the old big fish in a small pond scenario, the paper-thin argument about ‘part-time’ boxers.
“The talent pool is definitely there,” says Taylor decisively. “The people who say that are only in Ireland.”
“In and around the lightweight division it’s stacked with great female fighters, the talent is definitely there, the fights are definitely there.”
At this point, Peters cuts in with an anecdote from the lead-in to Taylor’s bout with Wahlström
“We walked into a fighter’s meeting where you had Sugar Ray Leonard, Steve Farhood, 16 guys in a circle around Katie, it was quite intimidating, nearly 500 years of knowledge and there wasn’t 1% of any of that,” he recalls before making a big prediction.
“Katie Taylor will go down as the greatest Irish sportsperson of all-time. To dominate in your field – Katie, as an amateur, for 10 years, was number one pound-for-pound. Now, in little over two years a pro, look at what she’s achieved already on a world scale.”
“In the fullness of time, we will see.”
Taylor then breaks a pregnant pause with a chuckle, “Thanks for that, Brian”
The two do bounce off each other well. Taylor will slag Peters for his big claims and desire for media coverage while the Meath fight boss will gently goad his fighter for her naivety in terms of the money-fuelled pro game.
Katie Taylor, Brian Peters, Ross Enamait, Tomás Rohan, Eddie Hearn, it’s a close-knit team.
In recent times there have been a number of Irish fighters, most notably Carl Frampton, who have seen their team descend into turmoil – something Taylor also has experience of in the last days of her amateur career.
In the pros, though, it’s a smooth ride that, according to Peters, is on course to bring the Wicklow woman the first million-dollar single fight purse for a female by the end of the year.
Based in the small town of Vernon, Connecticut, Taylor described how “I don’t have to think about anything else other than training over here.”
“Ross is doing a great job, I feel like I’m with one of the best trainers in the world, and Brian and Eddie do their job in getting me these fights and negotiating big fights for me.”
“It is a very unique team in that it’s very small but that’s exactly how I like it. We all do our job great and I’m in a great position here.”
Living largely in America, fighting in America, the chances of a Taylor fight in Ireland are almost non-existant.
There are a number of well-documented reasons why not, and these were perhaps more pertinent in late 2017 and early 2018, but the major factor now is economics, claims Peters.
In recent weeks the man behind the ‘Bernard Dunne Days’ in Dublin has confirmed in numerous interviews, including this one, that Taylor won’t be fighting in Ireland.
Attempting to put an insomniac issue to bed, Peters jokes that “it’s a bit like an Irish person saying ‘bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye’ – how many times do you need to say ‘bye’ when you’re on a phone call?”
“The like of Cecilia Brækhus, Amanda Serrano, Delfine Persoon, Holly Holm, for them fights to happen you need the American market. Katie will not be fighting in Ireland.”
“I’m pushing that, when the fight happens, Katie Taylor v Amanda Serrano is a main event in a venue in New York, main event on DAZN, the first time ever.”
In a recent interview with Gavan Casey, Taylor would go into detail on the role of money in her career and touches on a similar point here.
“Obviously I’d love the opportunity to fight in Ireland but, for the time being, it’s important that I fight in America and try to build a big fanbase here and secure my future as well, that’s very important.”
For her, though, it’s mainly about the fights – and thus we return to the ‘problem’ of Taylor’s success and the uniquely subdued buzz around a three-belt unification.
Taylor exists by herself in an odd bracket within Irish sport. Unimaginably successful, there is a diminishing returns aspect to every big achievement claimed.
Volante, rightly or wrongly, ranks lowly and the eye is always on the next big one and the undisputed match-up with long-reigning WBC champ Persoon looks like it could, finally, be the first super-fight of Taylor’s career.
Things have progressed a long way from that downbeat December day at the County Club in Dunshaughlin where Taylor and Peters lamented the lack of willingness from Volane and Persoon to fight, with money seeming to be the issue.
Volante would eventually relent and Persoon looks a sure-thing for June 1st – with the narrative in Belgium suggesting that it was Taylor being the one that was stalling.
“It doesn’t annoy me,” says Taylor of these reports.
“I think that’s part and parcel of the game. There’s people who talk, trash talking is part of the sport, unfortunately. I’m not one for trash talking too much but I know that is part of it. I don’t really care what’s said.”
“If I come through this fight, we have the opportunity to fight on the June 1st show and we can put it all on the line then.”
“I guess, at times, it can be tough to make those fights but I think it’s nearly like a business deal for those girls, hanging on, waiting for the bigger purses.”
“Thankfully the likes of Eddie Hearn and Brian have delivered for me and I’m in a great position at the moment.”
“It is very, very exciting and I’ve said before that this could be a monumental year for me if everything goes to plan.”
Tomorrow night is the last ‘small’ fight of Katie Taylor’s career.
After that she will go into fights which could fulfil Peters’s prediction.
“In the fullness of time, we will see.”