Katie Taylor – The Third Queen
Editor’s note: This feature is from the latest issue of Ring Magazine (Cover Star: Anthony Joshua), which is available on newsstands now.
“It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
This 1966 song, recorded by the legendary James Brown, had an unapologetically sexist title that was once very appropriate within the world of professional prizefighting. A woman could watch a fight in those days, or maybe punch a ticket for you on the way into an arena. But take part? Hell no! Only men punched for pay.
Not anymore, and what a turnaround this has been.
Before 2019 is half over, the women’s game will have three undisputed world champions. Cecilia Braekhus holds all the marbles at welterweight, including the Ring pound-for-pound female champion belt that was presented to “The First Lady” in September 2018 by Editor-in-Chief Doug Fischer. In April, Claressa “T-Rex” Shields snatched Christina Hammer’s WBO title, as well as The Ring’s inaugural women’s middleweight championship, to solidify her supremacy at 160 pounds. And now all eyes are on the lightweight division.
Katie Taylor, the reigning IBF, WBA and WBO female 135-pound titleholder, will venture to New York to take on WBC counterpart Delfine Persoon on June 1 at Madison Square Garden. This intriguing matchup, which will also have the Ring female lightweight title on the line, is chief support to the long-awaited U.S. debut of unified heavyweight titleholder Anthony Joshua.
The 32-year-old Taylor, a wonderfully charming and humble fighter from the coastal town of Bray in Ireland, turned professional in November 2016 to considerable acclaim and was bursting with ambition. Even so, her career trajectory to this point has exceeded all expectations, and the personable unified titleholder is almost pinching herself in the buildup to the biggest fight of her life.
“I’m delighted with how things have gone,” Taylor told The Ring. “I first sat down with (Matchroom promoter) Eddie Hearn two-and-a-half years ago, and I never could have believed the journey would be this exciting. Getting to box in such great venues; it really has gone beyond my wildest imagination.
“I told Eddie that I wanted to be undisputed champion, but to have the opportunity to do it in a few weeks’ time is just absolutely amazing.”
Taylor (13-0, 6 knockouts) won her first title, the vacant WBA version, in her seventh fight on October 28, 2017. The victim that night was Anahi Esther Sanchez, who was dropped and dominated over 10 rounds. Six months later, the pride of Ireland added the IBF title to her collection with an equally convincing points win over Victoria Noelia Bustos. In three subsequent title defenses, Taylor didn’t come close to losing a round, and her popularity soared once again when she wrenched the WBO belt from the previously unbeaten Rose Volante via ninth-round stoppage in March.
The only distinguished lightweight left standing is the 34-year-old Persoon, who has won 43 of 44 fights with 18 KOs. The Belgian veteran snatched the WBC belt from long-reigning titleholder Erica Anabella Farias in April 2014 and has made nine successful defenses over the last five years. However, despite Persoon’s huge edge in professional experience, Taylor’s legendary amateur resume – she’s a 2012 Olympic champion who won everything there was to win in the unpaid ranks – is more than an equalizer.
“Persoon looks very strong, she’s got great endurance and she looks quite awkward,” offered Taylor. “I think she’ll be hard to look good against, and this could be the fight where I have to go into the trenches, dig deep and show a bit of heart. She’s very hittable, that’s for sure, but she doesn’t tire over the 10 rounds and comes at you from funny angles. It’s definitely going to be a tough challenge.
“I do believe that Persoon is a fantastic fighter. She hasn’t always been in against high-quality opponents, but she has still produced some fantastic performances. I’ll have to be better than I was for my last fight, and that’s why I’m working so hard. This is the kind of fight that I’ve always wanted; it’s come at the perfect time, and I’m so motivated.”
PERSOON (RED GLOVES) VS. NICOLE BOSS IN 2015:
But what would Taylor do for an encore? Undisputed champion after only 14 fights sounds terrific, but the lightweight division would be all but decimated. What dragons are left to slay if Taylor fulfills her dreams at the iconic Madison Square Garden?
“Cecilia (Braekhus) is an incredible example for world boxing, and she has been for years,” said Taylor with genuine admiration. “There has been talk about a fight between me and Cecilia if I am victorious on June 1.
“I could definitely move up in weight. I walk around at 140 or 141 pounds, so making weight for the 135-pound division is still quite comfortable for me. But I could definitely move up, and I’ve already beaten a lot of the fighters at 140. I just want to be involved in big fights.”
Taylor’s manager, Brian Peters, said that a Braekhus showdown would likely have to take place at a catchweight, but all of that is for the future. Persoon is dangerous. The Belgian pressure-fighter has defeated every opponent she has ever faced, and her one setback (a TKO 4 by Zelda Tekin in November 2010) is pretty much irrelevant because she was a novice pro at that time. The last time this magazine published a women’s pound-for-pound list, in April 2018, Persoon was No. 2 behind Braekhus.
What dragons are left to slay if Taylor fulfills her dreams at the iconic Madison Square Garden?
The Ring female lightweight championship will be at stake for the first time ever in this fight, and that speaks volumes about the quality of the matchup. And that piece of history was not lost on the pre-fight favorite.
“It’s the pinnacle,” said Taylor, her excitement visceral. “The Ring title represents the champion of champions in each division. To fight for it is truly an honor. Just looking back at all the champions who have held that title – Jack Dempsey being the first – it’s an incredible feeling.
“It’s amazing how far the women’s game has come, and it’s satisfying to be in this position. This is where women’s boxing should be. We’re getting the chance to perform on these big shows, live on TV, and the right fights are being made.”
With Aleksandr Usyk formally relinquishing his WBA cruiserweight title in March, there is not one single undisputed male champion in the sport of boxing. Not one in 17 divisions. Promotional bickering, network allegiances and politics to one side, the powers that be would do well to follow the women’s lead and make the fights that fans want to see.
Right now, it’s the ladies who are setting the example.
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for The Ring and a member of the ratings panel. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing