Time Out: Legend Katie Taylor deserves to go out on a high at home

Neil Loughran

Neil Loughran

Neil has worked as a sports reporter at The Irish News since 2008, with particular expertise in GAA and boxing coverage.

Promoter Eddie Hearn has confirmed that Katie Taylor's long-anticipated homecoming fight will not take place at Croke Park, with Dublin's 3Arena the likely destination. Picture by PA
Promoter Eddie Hearn has confirmed that Katie Taylor's long-anticipated homecoming fight will not take place at Croke Park, with Dublin's 3Arena the likely destination. Picture by PA

THE fight had barely ended when Eddie Hearn clambered into the ring last October. Hopping from side to side, the Matchroom boss wore that familiar grin, arms placed behind his back as the crowd inside Wembley Arena lapped up Katie Taylor’s latest victory over Karen Elizabeth Carbajal.

Coming off the hell-and-back brilliance of the Amanda Serrano showdown, this was expected to be a routine night’s work. It was.

After such a momentous occasion in Madison Square Garden six months earlier, this was also supposed to be a homecoming for Taylor. It wasn’t.

Since the day she bid farewell to a glorious amateur career, keen for a crack at the pro game that would cement her legacy on both sides of the boxing coin, talk of celebrating Ireland’s golden girl on the stage where she feels most comfortable – not sat awkwardly on a sofa across from Ryan Tubridy - has never been too far away.

Even at the November 2016 press conference announcing her switch to the paid ranks, manager Brian Peters laid out the plan. The shooting at a boxing weigh-in inside the Regency Hotel had taken place earlier in the year, but still a homecoming was on the Meath man’s radar.

“At the moment we are just focused on these first two bouts to get the ball rolling,” said Peters, “but once that’s done we hope to get her fighting in Europe, Scandinavia, in Dublin, in New York and in Vegas.

“We hope to get her fighting all over the world. It is very, very exciting.”

The years between have been filled with maybe-next-times as the mechanics of making it happen proved problematic. Yet the show rolled on.

London, Manchester, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool Philadelphia, Boston and the Big Apple were all stops along the way, while Taylor upped sticks and relocated to Connecticut at the beginning of the journey.

That her star has continued to rise in absentia speaks volumes of the regard in which she is held. Where Conor McGregor has become a stain on worldwide perception, Katie Taylor always represented the very best of us, her absence from these shores somehow making the heart grow fonder.

And yet you always got a sense that the homecoming question preoccupied others more than it did her – until now.

With the Bray woman’s 37th birthday looming this summer, Taylor knows the top end of the hour glass is fast running out of sand. The Serrano fight last April added another layer to an already incredible legacy, leaving only a handful of boxes to be ticked.

A rematch with the Puerto Rican is one, provided Serrano comes through this weekend’s clash with Erika Hernandez, while fighting on home soil is another.

As he climbed through the ropes at Wembley Arena, Hearn knew the question was on its way again. With each victory, and every year that passes, the pressure amped up that little bit more.

“I can’t wait for Croke Park next year,” beamed Taylor, batting the ball straight into her promoter’s court, perhaps knowing it would catch the net on the way back over.

Hearn only went so far as to say her next fight “has to be in Ireland”. Having previously been in discussions about bringing Taylor to Croke Park, he was already aware of the potential stumbling blocks.

Yesterday, months of radio silence came to an end; the outcome not unexpected.

“The fight won’t take place at Croke Park,” said Hearn.

“We’ve done everything we can. Ultimately, and bizarrely, the cost of doing a show at Croke Park is three times more than Wembley.

“And people will say on social media, ‘oh, pay the money, Hearn’ It’s like, no, no, the fighters want this much money. If we do it at Croke Park, even with a sell-out, with the cost that they want to charge, it’s not possible to give the fighters what they deserve.”

The result was a form of social media pandemonium yesterday, even nudging Glen and Kilmacud Croke’s off the outcry plinth.

Hearn got a touch. Okay, more than a touch. The Irish government found themselves in the crosshairs for not offering financial support. The usual ‘Grab All Association’ tropes were rolled out too, although Croke Park stadium and commercial director Peter McKenna claimed the main difficulty had been security fees, and not the €400k rental quote (as opposed to £250k for Wembley).

Muhammad Ali was brought into it too, because only 18,000 people turned up when ‘The Greatest’ fought Al ‘Blue’ Lewis at Croke Park in 1972, with a fair few of those reckoned to have hopped the gate.

That lends weight to something of an uncomfortable truth about the sport here – that while a lot of Irish people like to talk about boxing, and take pride in boxers’ achievements on the world stage, they’re not necessarily that fussed on going to watch boxing. As the old saying goes, they talk a good fight.

Would Taylor-Serrano II have sold out 80,000 tickets at Croke Park? I have my doubts.

But then the landscape has changed significantly in recent years, with the growing fetish for stadium/‘event’ fights pulling in a different audience alongside boxing diehards on those big Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury nights in the UK. They may be there for Sweet Caroline more than the sweet science, but they’re there.

So where Ali was cajoled into holding a hurl and pulling angry faces at Kilkenny legend Eddie Keher in a belated bid to get bums on seats, Matchroom’s slick social media operation has successfully hyped up much less appetising propositions than a rematch of what many considered 2022’s fight of the year.

Taylor is a once-in-a-generation talent, a trailblazer – in Irish sporting terms, she has assumed iconic status. Considering this next fight likely doubles up as an emotional ‘hello-goodbye’ affair, an unprecedented surge in interest could reasonably be expected for an event of this magnitude.

Instead, though, it looks like being Dublin’s 9,000 capacity 3Arena – home to some of Irish boxing’s most memorable nights, not least Bernard Dunne’s dramatic world title win against Ricardo Cordoba in 2009.

On that undercard, a 22-year-old with the world at her fists gave those unaware, or uninterested, a glimpse of what was to come. It is some road Katie Taylor has travelled since – one that deserves to end on the highest note possible.

Wherever that may be.