Katie Taylor: I just want to be in the biggest and best fights possible
Olympic gold medallist, world and European champion Katie Taylor has come a long way since, as a 15-year-old, she beat a young Belfast woman in Ireland's first officially sanctioned female boxing match. She tells Lorraine Wylie about coping with public adulation, getting your nose broken and how turning professional isn't about the money
IT WAS a historic moment for female boxing when it made its debut at the London Olympics in 2012, although there’s nothing new about women’s ability to land a knock-out punch.
As far back as 1876, Nell Saunders squared up to her opponent Rose Harland, in what was America’s first sanctioned fight between women. According to records, it was a close match, with Saunders winning on points. What she made of her prize, a silver butter dish, remains a mystery.
Since then, despite producing some talented athletes, the sport has been slow to gain recognition. But Irishwoman and boxing icon Katie Taylor has been determined to put things right.
“I want to encourage women to get involved,” enthuses Taylor, who as a schoolgirl in Co Wicklow played Gaelic football, camogie and soccer. “There’s a lot of benefits to the sport. For a start, it’s a great way to give the whole body a workout. It helps tone the muscles and keeps you in shape. Boxing can also be a great antidote to stress.”
But what about the potential for getting hurt?
“Yes, there is that,” she laughs. “Admittedly, boxing isn’t for the faint hearted, although, the point is to avoid getting hit!”
Like all combat sports, it’s impossible to dodge an occasional a bloody nose.
“Getting hurt is an occupational hazard and, of course, nobody wants a punch in the face. It’s painful! But during a match, you have to remain focused and keep going. I was gutted when I had my nose broken but you get over it. Now, I do all I can to prevent it from happening although, if it does, I simply accept it as part and parcel of the sport and move on.”
Taylor's reputation for having a fast and aggressive boxing style seems at odds with her soft tone and shy manner. Does she have to ratchet up some anger before she enters the ring?
“No, not at all. It isn’t about anger. In fact, negative emotions would detract from your performance. Boxing is a skill, it’s about strategy and figuring out your opponent’s moves. You have to be thinking all the time. At the end of the match, we shake hands, no hard feelings. You have to remain professional.”
She is the first to admit that there is a downside to boxing.
“To be a success in any sport, you need to make sacrifices. When there’s a match coming up, my training schedule doesn’t leave much time for socialising. Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with good friends who understand the challenges. They support me and when we do get together, we enjoy catching up, having a laugh and listening to music.
"I love boxing, although, I must admit, as a chocaholic, giving up chocolate to ensure my weight stays at around 135lbs affects my mood and it can be hard. Come to think of it, it’s probably just as difficult for those around me!”
Does she have a favourite band or artist?
“I love most of the worship songs but I particularly enjoy Robin Mark; his work is amazing. The lyrics have the power to speak to your heart. Apart from that, I like Coldplay.”
It’s obvious that family and friends are important to Taylor. However, her Christianity – she is a member of the evangelical Pentecostalist faith – is central to everything.
“I was brought up in a Christian home and, as I got older, my personal faith continued to grow. Now, I don’t know what I’d do without God in my life. Prayer has always been very important; it’s wonderful to be able to talk everything over with God.
"For me, going to church has never been a burden or a chore. I love how the worship songs are so uplifting; they inspire me. Before a fight, I like to read the Bible as I find it strengthens and encourages me. I believe that everyone has their particular gift or talent and, for me, it’s boxing. I think God is happy when he sees me using the talents he gave me.”
Is her teetotal lifestyle due to a healthy boxing regime or does her faith impose restrictions?
“I simply don’t like the taste,” she explains. “But I have no problem with others having a drink. Still I sometimes think it would be nice if celebrations didn’t always involve alcohol.”
With a string of accolades, not to mention 18 gold medals, there’s no disputing that Katie Taylor is Ireland’s queen of boxing. The crowds love her.
Evidence of that admiration was noted by London officials who declared that, at 113.7 decibels, the roar of the crowd at the 2012 Olympics, was equivalent to the sound of a jumbo jet’s engine during take-off. (Fittingly, she waved a tricolour from the cockpit window of the plane on which the Olympic squad returned to Ireland upon landing at Dublin airport with her gold medal, the first issued for women's lightweight boxing.)
In April this year, when Taylor defeated Germany’s Nina Meinke at The SSE Arena, Wembley, Alanna Audley-Murphy was among those cheering her on. At just 15, Taylor defeated the Belfast girl, then Alanna Audley, during Ireland’s first officially sanctioned female boxing match.
“The support from the crowd, especially when I hear Irish voices, is incredible. I love it,” says Taylor.
So who inspires her?
“As a child, I really looked up to the Irish athlete Sonia O’Sullivan. She was my idol because of what she achieved and the way she bounced back from adversity. I had the opportunity to meet her and she was such a brilliant person.”
And what’s next on the Bray woman’s wish list?
“I’d like to make a bid for a world title later in the year. But, in everything I do, I want to glorify God.”
Now that she’s acquired professional status, Taylor stands to earn an income from her sport. Considering the current debate, does she have any thoughts the subject of equal pay for female boxers?
“Professional boxing is different to other sports in that there isn’t a set wage or prize money. Purses differ between fights and depend on a variety of factors. I don’t think about the financial side of it too much. I just want to be involved in the biggest and best fights possible and to be the best in my sport.
"I think by doing that, everything else takes care of itself."