Katie Taylor Always Lives Up To The Hype
9:08 AM EST on November 29, 2023
With more than three of its scheduled 10 rounds still to go, a ringside announcer declared Saturday night’s Katie Taylor vs. Chantelle Cameron championship bout from Dublin as the “fight of the year.” Taylor, the underdog challenger and most-beloved Irish athlete of her generation, ended up winning a majority decision to take Cameron’s unified world junior welterweight title (meaning sanctioned by the IBF, IBO, WBA, WBC and WBO organizations). Taylor also still holds the unified lightweight title.The announcer’s rating of the event, delivered prematurely or not, will surely hold up. What a damn fight!
Taylor, a 37-year-old former Olympic boxing gold medalist, avenged the only defeat of her professional career, a May 2023 loss to Cameron, 32. From the opening bell of this brutal rematch, Taylor seemed faster, more determined and just plain meaner than the larger, younger and previously undefeated Cameron. Taylor regularly responded to rabbit punches from Cameron with haymakers to the back of the now-former champion’s head, and on at least one occasion even looked to be throwing elbows to get out of clinches. Several unintentional head butts left a vicious gash in Cameron’s forehead that looked big enough to stick a shot glass in, and the violence left both fighters’ faces bloodied and blatantly disfigured by the end of the 10th and final two-minute round.
Fans weren’t the only ones left craving more of what this fight delivered. In a post-fight interview while still in the ring, Taylor was asked about giving Cameron another shot, which would be the first trilogy fight of note in women’s boxing history. Instead of being coy or pulling an Apollo Creed and saying there “ain’t gonna be no rematch,” the winner immediately said bring it on. And showed she's dreaming bigger than ever.
“Let’s get the trilogy in Croke Park,” she said.
Taylor has thrilled packed houses in her hometown and around the world before: Her win last year, also by split decision, over Amanda Serrano at a sold-out Madison Square Garden (with a nearly $1.5 million live gate) made her the first women’s boxer to enjoy a seven-figure purse, and was deemed the best fight of 2022 by Ring magazine, Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News.
But Croke Park’s another animal. The 82,000-seat stadium in Dublin, which opened in 1884, is best known as the temple of Irish sports, hosting hurling and Gaelic football championship matches before packed houses every summer (and also for being the site of 1920’s Bloody Sunday Massacre, in which British troops showed up at a Gaelic football match and gunned down fans and players). The only fight card ever held at Croker came in July 1972, and was headlined by Muhammad Ali, who took on Al “Blue” Lewis.
Yet if any fighter besides The Greatest feels worthy of a Croke Park date, it’s Taylor. She won five world championships as an amateur fighter and became a national hero by getting a gold medal fighting in the lightweight division in the 2012 Olympics, where she served as the country’s flag bearer in the opening ceremonies. Taylor ended up being the only Irish athlete to win gold at the London games. (Ireland has won just 11 gold medals in its Olympic history.)
Her reputation was bolstered in the decade since turning pro by her refusal to ever get loud or boastful as she piled up wins and title belts. Last December, she finished atop an annual poll of Ireland’s most admired athletes for the sixth year in a row. Her status transcended the sports world in her homeland long before Saturday’s win over Cameron.
In a piece that ran last week in The Independent, a U.K. publication, Alex Pattle wrote that when Taylor fights, “God looks down and Irish children look up.” The piece also quoted Dublin sportswriter Peter Carroll saying, “She’s like a deity, she’s not like an athlete. I don’t think anyone has meant as much to Ireland as Katie.”
Ireland needed some sort of higher power to take its mind off the real world come Saturday.
Anti-immigrant violence broke out in Dublin’s city center late Thursday after three children were stabbed in Parnell Square. Right-wing groups used social media to claim, without waiting for any public confirmation from police, that the kids had been attacked by an Algerian national. At least 34 people were arrested for ensuing riots in which buses and police cars were burned and shops were looted. Much of the country woke up the next day embarrassed by the public display of hatefulness. Ireland has historically been a country crippled by emigration; it was big news in 2022 when the nation’s population reached 1841 levels. But anti-immigrant fervor has been percolating since Ireland began taking in Ukrainian refugees after the Russian invasion in larger numbers per capita than all but a few of its European Union counterparts.
After the fires were put out, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar issued a statement blaming the Dublin disorder on “waves of ignorance.”
“Those involved brought shame on Dublin, they brought shame on Ireland and they brought shame on their families and themselves,” Varadkar said. “We need to take back Ireland from the unscrupulous who prey on the fears of those easily led into darkness.”
The Taylor-Cameron bout was dragged into the mess when it came out that Conor McGregor, former MMA superstar and a major sponsor of the fight card, was among the loudest of the unscrupulous predators Varadkar railed against. McGregor, a Dublin native, has won just one fight in the last seven years and hasn’t had any bout since getting TKO’d in July 2021. With his combat sports career on life support, McGregor seems to be preparing to pivot to politics, while mimicking the American right. He sent a flurry of anti-immigrant, anti-government, and anti-media musings from his personal account even while mobs were destroying parts of his hometown.
McGregor, with some very public prodding from Taylor’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, ended up staying away from the Taylor-Cameron fight, even though he was in Dublin over the weekend.
But what had been an amazingly upbeat post-fight press conference for Taylor unraveled when a reporter asked Hearn about any “links” between her camp and the disgraced McGregor. “He has nothing to do with Katie Taylor,” Hearn said. “No more questions about Conor McGregor.” Hearn then got up and told Taylor the presser was over.
Yet Taylor was not sullied by McGregor’s financial connections to her great night. She came away with her godly status on the island not only intact, but enhanced.
“Katie Taylor gave her country a much-needed boost,” said the Irish Mirror.
“When Ireland needed Katie Taylor most, she delivered,” seconded the Irish Examiner.
There’s really no obvious way for Taylor to top this night. Well, except for that one thing.
“Croke Park has to happen,” said Hearn.
Hell yeah. Is it too early to declare 2024’s fight of the year?