On Saturday night in the leafy South Dublin suburb of Ballsbridge, the Leinster Rugby Twitter account sent out a message of congratulations for Katie Taylor to their 193,000 followers. It was just one of thousand of messages from Ireland, and further afield, sent in support of the former amateur star, and it will only get bigger.
Crossover star, big time boxing, transcending sport, they’re all phrases thrown about, especially by boxing fans, and Taylor is beginning to do all of the above.
While it was always believed that the Bray super featherweight had the potential, and she indeed built a foundation in the past six or so years, to go stratospheric, we have seen over the past three weeks that Katie Taylor is on the road to global stardom.
Since signing with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Boxing, Taylor has raced to 2(1)-0. Her first fight, the de-facto headliner at the Wembley Arena last month, saw the Wicklow woman pummel Karina Kopinska into submission, while her second scrap at the weekend was a step up and a subsequent six round outclassing of Viviane Obenauf which featured prominently the Anthony Joshua v Eric Molina pay-per-view undercard.
Both fights saw the Irish Sun send boxing writer Kevin Byrne over to England, while freelancer Ciaran Gallagher provided ringside reports for a number of outlets. It’s a level of coverage unheard of for an Irish boxer’s first two fights and Eddie Hearn even noted the outstanding depth of reporting given to Taylor by the Irish media.
And it’s not just parochial coverage either. Of the 10 bouts on the bill at the Manchester Arena on Saturday, the BBC Sport website provided fight reports for four – headliner Anthony Joshua, the grudge match chief support between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora, new World champion Kal Yafai, and our own Katie Taylor.
In America, the Taylor-Obenauf tussle was the only undercard bout aired by Showtime TV, and the Irishwoman even caught the eye of the notably tough-to-please boxing writer Steve Kim.
While there will always be some detractors, the reception for Taylor’s first two fights has been near-universally positive. The woman can first and foremost fight, and with the path and platform she has been put on, superstadom surely awaits.
The opportunity is there, but Taylor still needs to perform. While the depth of talent is admittedly currently inferior to men’s boxing, Taylor has already raced into the lightweight (one weight north of where she is initially targetting titles) Top 15 in the World (with Boxrec.com). It may not have seemed like it on the night, but Obenauf was a massive step up for any boxer’s second fight. There aren’t many more rungs on the ladder before Taylor is at the top.
Some may have snickered at commentator Adam Smith’s assertion that Taylor is the Lomachenko of women’s boxing… but she is. It’s not hyperbole or blind patriotism, look at videos of the current World champions, Eva Wahlstrom (whom Taylor defeated in the amateurs), Maiva Hamadouche, Ramona Kuehne, and Hyun Mi Choi. None throw combinations like, or have the speed and footwork of, the nineteen-time major medal winner. Fitness would be the only worry, but Taylor is putting the hard rounds in in the gym, and there is nothing to suggest from the sixth and final two-minute round on Saturday that she would have much problems fighting for another eight minutes (world title fights in women’s boxing are contested over ten two-minute rounds).
There is little doubt that Katie Taylor could indeed have challenged for World title honours in her second fight like Lomachenko, but with her potential star power, a more measured approach is being implemented.
This measured approach will, most likely, see the Garden County woman fight in England next January or February – perhaps a step up to eight rounds – then feature in a profile-boosting bout on the Gennady Golovkin undercard at the Madison Square Garden Arena on March 18th. Another showcase appearance on the Anthony Joshua v Wladimir Klitschko card at Wembley Stadium is a possibility, and maybe one more fight, before the long-awaited homecoming World title shot at the 3Arena in Dublin which is tentatively being eyed for next August
Going by the response of the past three weeks, interest in Taylor is only going to grow. Time will see the tools continue to sharpen, and by the time the near-inevitable World title homecoming comes round, we could have the next Irish sporting megastar on our hands.
Fans may balk at the so-called ‘casual,’ easily swayed, element of boxing support – and some may dislike the comparison with Lomachenko. However, and speaking as someone who calls the Ukrainian boxer my favourite fighter, I’d be very confident that, by this time next year, Taylor will be more of a global sporting name than Lomachenko.
…if she isn’t already.