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OPINION: It’s Hard To Stay Positive After Katie Taylor’s Dublin Homecoming

Everything was perfect – except the results.

Dublin boxing returned to the 3Arena for the first time since 2014 following a life-affirming, wholesome fight week. The Queen was home, Katie Taylor was back, and the undisputed light welterweight crown of Chantelle Cameron was her latest target.

The woman who has done so much for the sport at both amateur and professional level provided another gift, dragging arena shows back to the capital. Despite all the many, many reasons for a promoter not to bother with a show in Dublin, Taylor was too good, too pure, for even Eddie Hearn to continue ignoring.

Ireland’s most admired – but least witnessed – sportsperson finally had the chance to receive the adulation of her home crowd and it was special. Having been at countless big shows in the UK over the years, this was different. Tickets cost a bomb so there were not as many young boxing fans there as you would have liked but the atmosphere remained joyous. No fights in the stands (you’d think it goes without saying but it really doesn’t), drink flowing, cheering, singing – de lads and the goys all having a good time together.

The crowd really played their part, the occasion was bought into. Hearn called it the greatest atmosphere he’d been a part of and even the omnipresent grinning Conor McGregor couldn’t take away from things. The positivity and good feeling pulled the event firmly out from the shadow of everything that has gone on since 2016 and the Regency Hotel. The baggage and the general financial outlay of Dublin looked to have been overcome, but the final piece of the puzzle, the key to a revival of big time boxing in Dublin, was missing.

We lost.

Chantelle Cameron was a deserved winner

Taylor was outfought by Cameron and her would-be Dublin successor, Gary Cully, was sensationally stopped by Jose Felix. The night that had the potential to be the start of something big came crashing down around us once we got to the business end of the action in the ring.

Now, what to say about Taylor that hasn’t already been said? Irish sports fans are currently drowning in ‘Father Time remains undefeated’ takes but clichés are clichés for a reason. The fighter of a few years ago would have had enough to get the job done. The guts that got through Serrano last May were not enough to negotiate the greater size, skill, and approach of ‘Il Capo’ Cameron. In the end, it was obvious.

There’s also the ‘Our Katie must retire now’ angle which, for the first time, I’m starting to lean into. Taylor wants the rematch, of course she does, it was a competitive fight after all. However, there’s little to suggest that Taylor could overturn things in a repeat, by which time she would have gone 37 years old. Cameron is just too fresh, strong, and perfectly adapted to her style of fighting. Taylor’s punches had little effect on her English foe and Cameron’s output dwarfed the Bray boxer whose mobility is of concern.

The ongoing calf issue has seemingly become a critical factor. For the first time, Taylor was looking to primarily catch shots on her guard rather than manouevering away. There were flashes of footwork which drew cheers from the crowd, moments where Taylor showed the disparity in this technical aspect, but they were far too rare. Instead, the gloved earmuffs were on and, alas, as the rounds progressed, Cameron began to pierce this guard like a divorced dad angrily going at a microwave meal with a fork.

Of course, Taylor is her own woman and still has the beatings of most fighters around her weight. There is still plenty of money to be made in this the most dangerous of sports. Major money that perhaps outweighs the risks of continuing to compete – that morbid equation which every boxer much calculate. Cameron was a bridge too far but who are we to tell her to stop doing the thing she loves?

Taylor could not keep Cameron off her

The Bray fighter is in the process of doing the most classic boxing move – going on too long. In tandem with this, Taylor is doing a boxing rarity, going for the toughest fights. Many say it but Taylor, despite ongoing physical decline and a dominant position commercially, is continually ‘Daring To Be Great’.

Indeed, there is a slightly irrational frustration from this writer. If Katie Taylor wasn’t Irish (or if I wasn’t Irish!) there’d be zero issues. I’d be celebrating the fight, the best fighting the best. But, despite whatever sporting and journalistic standards I hold myself to, this all still hurts.

Does losing diminish her legacy? No, that has long been secure. But, would winning have notably enhanced her legacy? Maybe only to the most hardcore of Irish boxing fans but there is always a law of diminishing returns when it comes to the weight of innumerable achievements.

So, selfishly but reasonably, once Croke Park was off the table, many wanted the ‘easy’ fight. It would have sold out regardless and, as day follows night, this ‘new dawn’ of Dublin boxing could take place. Both as a fan and as someone who occasionally works in the industry – I want the big nights to happen. This isn’t the Premier League, there is no ‘next season’ for us to look forward to without doubt.

But Katie Taylor doesn’t think like this. She wants to fight the best, challenging herself to always go one further and challenging David Diamante to read out even more accolades. Accolades.

Taylor wants the rematch, of course she does, and there’s a near-certainty she’ll get it and a good chance it will be in Dublin. Cameron’s profile and power will skyrocket following the win but not to the degree where she holds superiority in negotiations. That said, Dublin is no guarantee both due to the general cost and the fact that tickets priced as they were for Saturday would not be palatable. Croke Park remains in the background but that’s for another rambling feature piece.

Dublin came out for Katie but will we see her again?

Cully’s defeat is maybe more damaging for Dublin boxing in the medium term.

While maybe not to this extent, it was a lesson that needed to be learnt for the Sarto stylist. There are shades of Luke Keeler who noted in the aftermath of his stoppage defeat to Tom Doran in 2016 that it was a result that had to happen sooner rather than later. Keeler had viewed his chin as his best asset. For Cully, it would appear he saw his dimensions and range as a sufficient guard against taking the biggest punches. The timing of Jose Felix, however, showed that even 6’3” is not big enough to avoid everything.

Talk of being ‘chinny’, ‘drained’, or just a flat-out ‘hype-job’ all don’t tally with the opinions of those in-the-know on Cully. The shot itself was perfect, maximum power, swung from the bowels of the arena – but that’s not to say it was luck. Unlike recent opponents who sought to disrupt and pressure Cully, Felix stood off, slowly establishing his timing, increasing his odds before pulling the lever. Boom. Jackpot.

It wasn’t a cuffing shot on a frail fighter. How Cully continued for nearly two minutes afterwards was impressive in itself – although plenty has been said about the officiating. Cully doesn’t ‘need’ to go up to light welterweight to guard against this happening again. His team will tell you of how the numbers are off the charts, of how committed their man is, how everything goes right in camp. Without sounding glib, Cully ‘needs’ to not get hit square in the chin by a huge overhand shot by his opponent.

The type of shot that would put any lightweight down

For Keeler, his adjustments post-Doran 2 saw him go on the best run of his career with two wins over Conrad Cummings, a stunning upset of Luis Arias, and a world title challenge against Demetrius Andrade. His brawling style replacing by a sharp, tactical approach that saw him frustrate and outwit opponents.

Any coach or sparring partner will wax lyrical on Cully’s qualities. Zaur Antia’s ‘perfect amateur’ remains one of the most talented Irish boxers to have come through since the turn of the millennium but defensively he will need to tighten up (and, heck, what Irish boxer doesn’t require this?) for the rebuild.

Prospects lose and rebuild all the time and most are sure that Cully will eventually rise above this level but, while the lesson needed to be learnt, those considering the ‘Big Picture’ will still lament. As the entirety of the crowd sang along to Dan McCabe’s brilliant version of ‘The Fields of Athenry’, there was a feeling, however fleetingly, that Cully was a cast-iron headliner. Maybe, but not necessarily, one more chief support slot to Katie Taylor in September and then 2024 would be the Year of the Diva at the 3Arena. There would be succession. Cully would headline and keep rising, Thomas Carty, Paddy Donovan, et al would continue to grow on the undercard.

All gone now.

Cully will come again but it will be on undercards in America and the UK. If he is to challenge for major titles it will probably be as a major B-side. It’s just the Matchroom model, the business-minded Hearn will no longer see him as headline material in the medium term. Gary Cully will most likely need to win a title before he can headline Dublin. He can do it, but it will be tough and the 3Arena will lay boxing-dormant in the interim.

We may well find ourselves back at The Point this Autumn for a rematch for Taylor and the start of a rebuild for Cully but it all feels a bit hollow. Despite whatever your thoughts may be on Taylor’s continuing in the sport, the event would be big – although not as big as Saturday. Fans would get swept up again but it’s hard not to envision the fight being something akin to Canelo-Golovkin 3.

That would be that for Dublin for another few years anyway. The likes of Carty, Donovan, and Cully would argue that they could continue things into 2024 and beyond but it’s no longer realistic at this point within the aforementioned model.

For people close to Irish boxing, there was excitement and hope throughout last week. Hope for major events in Dublin to go alongside the thriving Belfast scene. Hope for something like ‘The Bernard Dunne Days’ ©.

It’s the hope that kills you.

The 3Arena could remain empty for some time

Photo Credits: Mark Robinson / Matchroom

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie

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