For the first time as a professional boxer, Katie Taylor will step out of the bowels of the 3Arena on Saturday night in Dublin. Maybe it will all hit her then – the magnitude of what she has done for boxing in Ireland, and women’s boxing as a whole.
Knowing Taylor, it might not show on her face, but maybe there will be a light. Since turning pro, Taylor wants to return to Ireland to fight and allow the fans in his birthplace, where he is a superstar, to see him compete as a champion. But for many years it seemed impossible.
At the age of 15, Taylor took part in Ireland’s first official women’s wrestling match. Now, at the age of 36, after hundreds of non-professional fights and 22 professional fights, he returns to one of the biggest fights the country has ever seen. Taylor, who is the lightweight champion, will face Chantelle Cameron for Cameron’s undisputed junior welterweight title in one of the biggest fights of the year.
“This is something I’ve wanted for a long time,” Taylor said. “I’ve been saying I want to fight for years [at] home in Ireland. And because all the fights were in the UK or the US, I think I was disappointed along the way thinking that it wasn’t going to happen.
“But now we are here, we are preparing for a big, big fight and I am very happy.”
Taylor has dreamed of this moment since 2016, when he became a professional after the Olympics and left Ireland to train and, finally, live full-time in the United States. America has been his little home – he bought a property in rural Connecticut – but returning to Ireland to fight has never materialised, citing Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn over the years.
There have been roadblocks and worries. In 2016, there was a pre-fight weigh-in for the WBO European title. Dublin, one murder which led to the end of the fight and changed the status of boxing in the country. Although it wasn’t the same thing that kept Taylor from fighting in his home country, in 2018, fierce shootout at Bray Boxing Club, when Taylor’s father, Peter, was a teacher, made national headlines. Taylor’s father was injured in the shooting.
None of these things had anything to do with Katie, and she declined to discuss the incident when asked by ESPN, but this is the first major fight in the country since then. It was slow, but momentum grew for Taylor to finally fight in Ireland.
After Taylor beat Amanda Serrano last year at Madison Square Garden, several members of Serrano’s team said they would be happy in Ireland again – Serrano was the first opponent. He has to leave because of a hand injury.
He tried to defend Croke Park from Taylor-Serrano 2 – the star of Irish MMA Conor McGregor provided support for the cost — and the talks reached the highest levels of government in February. In the end the fight was reserved for the smaller 3Arena.
“It felt a little surreal, to be honest with you,” Taylor’s mother, Bridget, said. “And I think my stomach did a few flips and I thought, ‘Okay, this is happening.’
Cameron intervened to get Taylor the fight he wanted. The fight Irish people wanted to see – the cheapest ticket on the secondary market was more than $550 and some are as high as $1,700, according to Ticketmaster.
“He didn’t seem interested in fighting for the sake of fighting. You know what I mean,” said Taylor’s brother, Peter. “This fight was supposed to represent a progression for him, and that’s just who he is.
“I think he always wanted to get ahead, so I think he was worried for a few days. He knew he wanted the best guy. He wanted a big name.”
Cameron understood how to live. He understands that he is the one who will set his responsibilities – not Taylor. But Cameron also sees Taylor as having all the problems even though Cameron is the hero because this is Taylor’s homecoming. These are the years that are happening to him.
It’s okay with Cameron. He can play the villain even as a hero and recognizes Taylor’s importance to the sport and boxing in Ireland.
“If it wasn’t for Katie, I wouldn’t be in this position because of what she has done for women’s boxing,” Cameron said. “He’s been amazing and he should have had a comeback fight before this, because he deserves it.”
With Cameron stepping in and saving the fight, Taylor can resume her focus: training. Everything so far has been the same even though the place will not be there. He still studied in Connecticut. His manager, Brian Peters, responded to any ticket requests and Tomas Rohan supported his requests. In Dublin, he is doing his best to make it look like a fight in the United States or England instead of many miles from where he grew up.
During the week of the fight her team and her mother have already worked to shut Taylor down from family and friends who want to fight for her attention. The time with them will come when it is over, when he will be in Bray.
It is the first international fight in the country since 2011, when Guillermo Rigondeaux knocked out Willie Casey in the first round to win the WBA interim junior featherweight title. The last time an Irish fighter won a world title in the country? Bernard Dunne beat Ricardo Cordoba at the 3Arena, then called The O2.
One of the floor fights? Taylor defeated Carrie Barry, 27-3, in the light amateur match. Will this memory last for Taylor on Saturday night? Maybe not. But that’s what he’s experienced before and what’s consistent with all of his ideas: His work is the “next generation of fighters” just like he is.
This fight means everything to him – but his approach is the same as all the fights before it. Train. Fight. Success. What’s next.
“This is great for me,” Taylor said. “This is what I wanted all along.
“We’re bringing big boxing back to Ireland for the first time in a long time.”
ESPN UK boxing reporter Nick Parkinson contributed to this story.