|Place: 3 Arena, Dublin date: Saturday, May 20|
|Coverage: Broadcast commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, live text commentary and reactions on the BBC Sport website and app from 21:00 BST.|
“Once you become a world champion, no one can take that away from you.”
In January 1997, Deirdre Gogarty became the first Irish woman to win a boxing world title. She was promised $12,500 to fight in the US, but never saw a cent.
Domestically, this is not front-page news. When friends, family and several reporters greeted her at the airport four months after the fighting, the Irish Times ran the headline “Gogarty returns to Ireland”.
But the same newspaper also ran articles against women’s boxing.
“You go into the ring and give everything you’ve got and there are still people against you who want to bring you down and don’t allow you to do what you love to do,” Gogarty said.
Women’s boxing is illegal in Ireland. Gogarty played her first professional match on Irish soil in 1991, but was never allowed to do so again.
But one person noticed her—10-year-old Katie Taylor.
Taylor will be a great amateur, win olympic gold. As a professional, she won multiple heavyweight world titles and is currently undisputed lightweight champion.
But when she was a teenager, none of those options were open to her. Boxing isn’t even in the Olympics.
Still, Taylor wanted to be a boxer. She wrote Gogarty a letter and met her at her mother’s house, asking: “How do you do it when everyone is trying to stop you?”
“If you keep working hard and keep showing your skills, someone will say ‘We have to frame this girl,'” Gogarty said she told Taylor.
“When I hear from her, I can see her frustration and I totally identify with it.
“It’s exciting. Especially when she writes ‘Maybe one day they’ll make us in the Olympics.'”
This Saturday, in Dublin, Taylor will play his first Irish game in a professional capacity. Here’s the story of her previous world champions.
“If you don’t box, no one will marry you”
Gogarty devoted himself to boxing when he was 17 years old. She moved to Dublin from Meath, hooked up with trainer Pat McCormack, and hid an obsession with boxing from an early age.
Her mother was against the idea and tried to get her interested in golf.
Ireland has traditionally had conservative expectations of women, but Gogarty wanted something different.
“I was brought up to be very ladylike, considerate and respectful. My mom definitely wanted me to go into more feminine territory,” she said.
“It was so rough. My love for boxing was really secretive because it was so taboo and kind of unacceptable. So I suppressed it as much as possible, for as long as possible.”
“If you don’t box, nobody’s going to marry you,” is a phrase Gogarty hears often as she spends four years trying to get a fight in her hometown.
Irish boxing authorities put her on a frenzied chase to pass a medical, and when she found a doctor who signed her up for boxing, they suggested she become a judge or referee.
But on June 30, 1991, after four years of searching for an opponent, the 21-year-old Gogarty fought her first professional fight against Anne-Marie Griffin in Limerick.
Gogarty went to fight with McCormack and told no one, not even her family.
“I kept my friends and family life very, very separate from my boxing world,” she said.
“I don’t want the two to merge because I think my little boxing world is going to fall apart.”
The fight was supposed to be an exhibition match, but Gogarty was declared the winner, and the fight remains on her career record.
Boxing authorities would outlaw women’s boxing until 2001 – when Taylor, then 15, fought Alanna Audley in amateur bouts – when Ireland again sanctioned women’s boxing.
“I just feel like I can’t give up”
Gogarty, a full-time graphic designer, has been involved in several “underground” fights in London for which he was not paid. Women’s boxing is also not sanctioned in the UK.
So she moved 7,000 kilometers from her hometown to Louisiana, convincing Muhammad Ali’s former sparring partner, Beau Williford, to train her.
From May 1993 to May 1995, she fought nine times. It was an exhausting experience.
“I had to keep going. I gave my whole life to it. I left my friends, family and country for it. I just didn’t think I could give up until I was world champion,” Gogarty said.
“I hate putting other women through what I’ve been through.”
In 1996, more than a million people watched Gogarty fight American Christie Martin in the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno heavyweight bout.
The women were booed as they entered the ring, but the crowd rose to their feet and cheered at the end of an epic six-round match.
Gogarty scrambles off the canvas to keep his distance from the battering Martin. She was paid $3,000 after 10 days’ notice and battled a 15-pound weight difference.
On the day of the weigh-in, her trainer stuffed some coins in her pocket to make sure she was at her limit.
“I had absolutely no idea that this fight was going to be a game-changer,” Gogarty said.
The fight will bring women’s boxing to the main stage for the first time.British Boxing Board of Control forced to license British women to box after just two years Jane Couch’s Legal Challenge.
In 2001, Northern Ireland’s Deirdre Nelson won a sex discrimination case against the Irish Boxing Union, which ended its ban on women’s boxing.
Eleven years later, Taylor would become one of the first women to compete in the Olympics, winning gold at London 2012.
“Timing is really important,” Gogarty said of Taylor’s success. There was much heartbreak in Gogarty’s career, from constant obstacles to a lack of recognition that continues today.
A fundraiser in Drogheda on Friday aims to advance efforts to build a statue in Gogarty’s honor; it will be one of the few acknowledgments of her achievements in Ireland.
But Taylor has always counted the featherweight fighter as one of her idols.
“I think I came too early,” Gogarty said.
“My coach Pat always told me, ‘You’re going to open doors for women in 10, 15 years’. But I wanted to open and go through them.
“He’s right, so they’re great. But I do feel like I’m being cheated a little bit.
“I really feel like I’m good enough to go to the Olympics and win a medal.
“I could have been a multi-time world champion and all of those accomplishments are on my record. The chances didn’t exist, but witnessing the state of women’s boxing definitely healed my heart.”
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