Katie Taylor is on the cusp of undeniable greatness. Not that she’s ever been too far off.
Tonight in New York, at the sport of Boxing’s home, Madison Square Garden, Taylor will fight Delphine Persoon for all four of the women’s boxing lightweight titles, as well as a newly created Ring Magazine belt. The winner will be labeled that which boxer’s rarely reach: undisputed champion.
Should she emerge victorious, Taylor will be the first unified champion for Ireland in modern times. And yet, despite the huge scale of the task in front of her, it all feels like a natural progression for the soft-spoken woman from Bray, County Wicklow.
The first time Taylor came to prominence as a representative of her country, she was a flag-bearer — a position she’s held long since leaving life as an Olympian — at the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony, before claiming gold in the Games.
While she went home disappointed in 2016, a turn professional made people pay attention, with Taylor’s amateur pedigree hard to be overlooked. In her promoter Eddie Hearn, she found someone who talks of her with reverence, and someone who evidently saw the unique potential in a boxer who almost refuses to talk unless inside the ring.
“Some people have been asking me, ‘If Katie did more, if she was more outgoing, if she was more controversial, do you think she’d be a bigger star?’,” Hearn said to TheMacLife. “Yeah, but I think the beauty of Katie Taylor is that she is like [she is]. She’s unassuming, she’s so driven, she’s shy. … [She] shakes my hand like a mouse, and when the bell goes, [she’s] a fucking animal.
“She’s so refreshing. She’s the biggest star in women’s boxing bar none.”
Hearn is right. One of the most attractive things about Taylor and her career is one of the most commonly derided things in combat sports — humility and quiet persistence. When a microphone is put in Taylor’s face, it’s rare she’ll be drawn on anything other than respect for her opponents and a calm recital of her goals. For her fight with Persoon, however, one gets the sense that even Taylor can’t ignore the gravity of her next walk to the ring.
Because, if Taylor’s hand gets raised in victory over the tough Belgian with nearly three times as many professional fights on her record, it won’t just make her an undeniable Irish hero. It won’t just make her boxing legacy cemented forever more. It’ll be the crowning moment in a journey she’s been on since she was 11-years old.
“The minute I turned professional, I wanted to become undisputed champion,” Taylor said this week. “This is always my goal. I’m nearly pinching myself that I have this opportunity in a few days time. In the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden, it can’t get any bigger than this really. I’m ready to make history. I’m ready to perform on Saturday night.
“This is what I’ve always wanted.”