For the first time as a professional boxer, Katie Taylor will step out of the bowels of 3Arena on Saturday night in Dublin. Maybe it’ll all hit her then — the enormity of what she’s done for boxing in Ireland, and for women’s boxing in total.
Knowing Taylor, it probably won’t show on her face, but perhaps there will be a glimmer. Since turning pro, Taylor has wanted to return to Ireland for a fight and allow the fans in her birthplace, where she’s a massive star, to see her compete as a champion. But for years it seemed unlikely.
At age 15, Taylor fought in the first sanctioned women’s amateur fight in Ireland. Now, at age 36, after hundreds of amateur fights and 22 professional ones, she’ll be back in one of the biggest professional fights the country has seen. Taylor, the undisputed lightweight champion, will face Chantelle Cameron for Cameron’s undisputed junior welterweight championship in one of the biggest fights of the year.
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“This is something that I wanted for a long time,” Taylor said. “I was expressing my desire for years to actually fight [at] home in Ireland. And because all the fights were in the U.K. or the U.S., I guess I got discouraged along the way thinking it wasn’t going to happen.
“But now we’re here, we’re getting ready for a big, huge fight and I’m so grateful.”
Taylor craved this moment since 2016, when she turned professional after the Olympics and left Ireland to train and, eventually, live full-time in the United States. America has become her temporary home — she bought a place in rural Connecticut — but returning to Ireland to fight had been an unfulfilled constant, with an occasional mention to Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn for years.
There have been roadblocks and concerns. In 2016, there was a shooting at a weigh-in before a scheduled WBO European title fight in Dublin, killing one man that led to the cancellation of the fight and changed the tenor of putting on boxing shows in the country. While not the same level of impact and not something that kept Taylor from fighting in her home country, in 2018, a fatal shooting at the Bray Boxing Club, where Taylor’s father, Peter, was a coach, made national headlines. Taylor’s father was injured in the shooting.
None of these things directly had to do with Katie, and she declined to discuss either 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, multiple members of Serrano’s team said they would entertain a rematch in Ireland — Serrano was the initial opponent before having to withdraw due to a hand injury.
Katie Taylor, left, defeated Amanda Serrano at New York’s Madison Square Garden in April to defend her undisputed lightweight championship. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
They tried to secure Croke Park for Taylor-Serrano 2 — Irish MMA star Conor McGregor even offered to help with the cost — and the conversation reached the highest levels of the government in February. Eventually the fight was booked at the smaller 3Arena.
“It felt a little bit surreal, to be honest with you,” Taylor’s mother, Bridget, said. “And I think my stomach did a couple of flips and I thought, ‘OK, this is happening.'”
Cameron stepped in to ensure Taylor received the type of fight she wanted. A fight her Irish countrypeople desperately wanted to see — the cheapest ticket on the secondary market is over $550 and some are as high as $1,700, according to Ticketmaster.
“She didn’t seem that interested in taking a fight for the sake of taking a fight. You know what I mean,” Taylor’s brother, Peter, said. “The fight had to represent progress to her, and that’s just her personality.
“I think she’s always just looking for progress, so I think she was worried for a couple days. She knew she wanted somebody really, really good. She wanted a big name.”
Cameron understood the atmosphere she would be entering. She understood she would be the one putting up her titles — not Taylor. But Cameron also sees it as Taylor is the one with all the pressure even though Cameron is the champion because this is Taylor’s homecoming. This is an event years in the making for her.
That’s fine with Cameron. She can play the spoiler even as a champion while also recognizing the importance of Taylor to the sport and to 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. “She has been incredible and she should have had her homecoming fight long before this, because she deserves it.”
Katie Taylor, left, moves up in weight to challenge Chantelle Cameron for her junior welterweight undisputed title. Damien Eagers/PA Images via Getty Images
With Cameron stepping in and the fight saved, Taylor could once again continue her sole focus: training. Everything so far has been the same even though the venue won’t be. She still trained in Connecticut. Her manager, Brian Peters, has handled whatever ticket requests have come in and Tomas Rohan facilitated her media requests. In Dublin, she’s doing everything she can to treat it like it were a fight in the United States or England instead of kilometers from where she grew up.
During fight week her team and her mother have already worked to cordon Taylor off from the family and friends who want to vie for her attention. Time with them will come after, when she’ll stay in Bray.
It is the first world title 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 fight in the country? Bernard Dunne knocked out Ricardo Cordoba at 3Arena, then called The O2.
One of the undercard fights? Taylor beat Carrie Barry, 27-3, in a lightweight amateur bout. Will that memory slip in for Taylor on Saturday night? Probably not. But it’s her past meshing with her present and in some ways fitting with her entire thought process: Her career is about “the next generation of fighters” as much as it is for herself.
This fight means everything to her — but the approach is the same she’s had for all of the fights prior to this one. Train. Fight. Win. What’s next.
“This is absolutely huge for me,” Taylor said. “This is what I wanted all along really.
“We’re bringing big-time boxing back to Ireland for the first time in a long time.”
ESPN UK boxing reporter Nick Parkinson contributed to this story.