Katie Taylor has been an iconic figure of Irish sport since well before she ‘sealed the deal’ with a Gold medal at the London Olympic Games.
She conquered one of the toughest sports we play and did so on behalf of herself, as an ambassador for Women’s right to play whatever sport they want and as a role model for young women.
She played soccer at international level as well and when she lost in Rio it was treated as a national disaster.
When she became World Champion in Cardiff last weekend the news spread like wildfire with every news app in the country firing off messages of what she had done.
In a recent survey of Irish sports fans, she emerged as still the most popular sports star we have, even against the surge of support for Conor McGregor.
She has always been unassuming, modest, a young woman with an unfashionable adherence to her faith and no fear of expressing that.
In many ways, she has summed up our mixed attitudes towards women in sport. Speaking at an event on the eve of the Ladies All Ireland Football Final this year Kellie Harrington, a natural successor to Taylor in the amateur game, remarked that while Irish sport and Irish boxing had been great supporters and willing cheerleaders for ‘Katie’, the same was not so with regard to the rest of the Women’s boxing scene.
Taylor has switched to the professional game now, putting herself first but losing nothing in terms of public acclaim for so doing.
On Friday, December 15th she will break another barrier by becoming the first woman to headline a boxing bout on Sky Sports. Up to this point, she has been on the undercard, most notably of the biggest star in the sport at the moment Anthony Joshua. That has been a big plus in terms of drawing attention from beyond these shores and while she still has an Irish manager in Brian Peters it is part of the Matchroom Team that she had had her schedule plotted to gain maximum exposure in the wider, and far more lucrative world.
There is talk of a World Title fight in Dublin in the spring and if that happens it will be a moment to savour. There was though also talk of fighting in Chicago on December 16th in a bout that would have been screened live across the US on Showtime. That’s where the real money lies.
That did not materialise, yet, because of an eye injury which on Tuesday of last week was bad enough not to risk a first defence so soon, but within 24 hours was felt not to be as bad as feared and so the 15th on Sky was slotted in in its place.
The world of professional boxing has rules of engagement that more structured and traditional sporting organisations can only shake their head at.
It has been ever thus since the days of Don King and the promoters being as big a stars as the fighters whos sweat and blood they built their fortunes on.
Eddie Hearn who runs Matchroom summed it up with a sweet combination of words on signing Taylor to the professional ranks a year ago.
“Boxing is a sport open to all but it’s also an entertainment business. Anyone who has watched Katie fight knows how exciting she is and anyone who hasn’t is really going to enjoy her journey on Sky Sports. I’m really excited by this challenge and we are committed to giving Katie the opportunities she needs to achieve her dreams.”
Those opportunities now stretch out on the back of a successful first year and a World Title belt secured.
In money terms, Team Taylor will now be secure for life. They did well in terms of endorsements when she was an amateur and the hope is that whatever else is gained in the coming years will be invested wisely.
Who knows what the eventual number will be? Taylor remains a woman in a mainly man’s world and the rewards she can hope to achieve are a tiny fraction of what Conor McGregor has already banked and aspires to.
Her greatest legacy may well be in the deeper gain of having established the sport as one which is truly open to all. There are of course those who would argue that this is not and should not be the case for women but surely that is a choice which they should make for themselves.
All she can do is to take the punches thrown at her, emerge with the kind of unforced personality which we have taken to heart and somehow overcome all that in building a profile for herself that will deliver today, tomorrow and long into the future.