Katie Taylor’s home sits atop a hill in Vernon, Connecticut, a metaphor for where she generally ranks amongst women’s fighters, pound-for-pound.
There isn’t much to distract Taylor from boxing in Vernon. It’s a town of less than 30,000 people, close to the same number as her hometown of Bray, Ireland. Vernon was once a textile hub, a significant producer of wool, but now boasts colonial artifacts and relative peace and quiet. It’s the way Taylor likes it. During the beginning of the pandemic, Taylor said on Instagram Live “you realize you’ve already been in isolation so much when you have to go into quarantine and nothing about your personal life changes."
Taylor has a gym in her basement and a boxing gym in town that she frequents. The only thing less than ideal for her in Vernon? Those hills. She has to come down one to leave her house, and up one to go anywhere else.
“I can't get away from the hills unfortunately. Still plenty of hills,” Taylor joked. “It's probably the least enjoyable part of training for me, the running sessions. I actually can't sleep the night before, that's how much I hate it. But it has to be done unfortunately.”
Of all the things one can marvel at when it comes to Katie Taylor, perhaps the most impressive thing is her ability to find motivation at this point in her career. Not just merely finding a way to grind out grueling daily training or living in solitude thousands of miles away from family, but finding a reason to do those things when there’s so little left to accomplish at the age of 35.
Taylor is ruling a world effectively of her own creation. Along with fellow Olympic gold medalist Claressa Shields, Taylor helped normalize high-level women’s boxing as part of the regular boxing broadcast schedule, and helped raise the level of the women’s boxing entirely—not just in the eyes of objective observers, but according to fellow women’s fighters.
Kali Reis, who now holds the WBA’s 140-pound title, was a pro for eight years before Taylor entered the paid ranks, remembers the first time she shared the ring with Taylor.
“I have the blessing to spar Katie Taylor on a regular basis, she trains in Connecticut, I live in Rhode Island, it's an hour away. I got a taste of it, when she first went pro, I was sparring her and I was like oh, this is a whole new f------ level. Why is she hitting me so much? When I first sparred her I was like yo, what the hell just happened? That's how we're fighting now? Oh no, I've gotta step up,” said Reis.
These days, women’s boxing is populated by Olympians, world amateur champions, and the types of dedicated professionals with the resources previously only available to men, understandably raising the level of operations significantly. The present era of women’s boxing includes women like Reis who helped pave the way and have adapted and grown, but the game changed entirely when Taylor et al removed their headgear and stepped into a pro ring.
Taylor’s is a career filled with firsts. At the age of 15, she took part in the first women’s amateur boxing match in the history of her home country of Ireland, defeating Alanna Audley at the National Stadium in Dublin. In 2006, she became Ireland’s first world amateur champion. In 2012, she won Ireland’s first Olympic gold medal in 16 years, at the very first Olympics women were permitted to box at.
As a pro, Taylor is considered the first woman to main event a major venue in the UK, the main eventer of the first televised women’s triple header, and of course the first undisputed women’s lightweight champion of the four-belt era.
“I've always wanted to break boundaries and be a history maker, from the very very start. When I started boxing as a ten-year old, boxing for women wasn't even allowed, it wasn't even a legal sport in Ireland. To be involved in the very first women's fight in Ireland was special, that was something I fought for from a very early age. I have tried to break boundaries and make history in my sport,” said Taylor. “I still absolutely love my sport. I'm still so passionate about it. I feel like I'm learning and improving all the time. I want to keep pushing back the boundaries, really. I still feel as passionate about my sport as ever.”
It was a sign of progress made that when Taylor walked to the ring in front of 20,000 fans in Leeds last Saturday to defend her titles against Jennifer Han, it felt normal. By this point, Taylor is one of the biggest names in the sport, and one of a select few boxers in history who can accurately be called “national heroes” in their country. If anything, the only thing that felt unusual was that Taylor’s bout, for an undisputed world title, wasn’t the main event. Of course, that was because Josh Warrington, whose rematch with Mauricio Lara ended in a technical draw, is a local hero.
But also, Taylor’s bout against Han, a mandatory challenger ordered by the IBF, was considered lopsided by oddsmakers. In practice, Han proved to be savvy and clever defensively, but was no match for Taylor as bookies and pundits predicted. Taylor won by wide scores of 100-89 across the board, scores which accounted for an eighth-round knockdown as well.
This is the impasse Taylor has reached. All but five of Taylor’s fights have been world title bouts, with all but one of those championship clashes coming at lightweight, a brief venture to 140 pounds to defeat Christina Linardatou for her WBO light welterweight crown. She’s vanquished her amateur contemporary Natasha Jonas, her toughest foe Delfine Persoon twice, and more or less anyone else that was ever available and worthy at 135.
“There's still a lot more I want to do in the sport. I want to continue to win titles, I want to be involved in the biggest fights possible. I want to be involved in a big pay-per-view show maybe in the future,” said Taylor. “I just want to be involved in those big, big fights, those big names in women's boxing. They're the kind of fights that excite me and motivate me as well. That's exactly what I'm training for, at the end of the day. I train for those big fights. I'm constantly in the gym, I'm thinking about those opponents, those fights. I just want to be involved in history-making fights.”
Taylor mentions undisputed 147-pound champion Jessica McCaskill, a woman she defeated in 2017, as one of the fights that would fit the bill. She also brings up Estelle Yoka Mossely, the French star who supplanted her as Olympic lightweight champion in 2016, and who handed Taylor her first defeat in the amateurs in over 11 years that same year as well.
But the fight most fans want to see, above even those clashes, is one against Amanda Serrano. Serrano has had her own historic career, collecting world titles across seven weight classes. With an uncanny ability to fight at a world title level from 115 pounds to 140 pounds, Serrano could comfortably meet Taylor on her turf at 135. Two weeks ago, Serrano picked up added exposure and a career-high payday in defeating Yamileth Mercado on the undercard of the Showtime PPV headlined by Jake Paul and Tyron Woodley.
“She has done great things in the sport as well over the last couple of fights, and I think her name is bigger than ever before. I think this fight is bigger now that it was when it was actually scheduled a year or two ago,” said Taylor. “The fight was scheduled a couple times before and they're the ones that actually pulled out. I guess the ball is in her court if she actually wants the fight or not, I know she wants to unify the division right now, but hopefully that fight can happen really, really soon.”
The fight is indeed bigger now than it would have been when it nearly materialized in 2020, when it also likely would have happened in front of little to no audience due to the pandemic. In fact, it’s big enough that a very real suggestion has been for the bout to headline on St. Patrick’s Day in New York City, at Madison Square Garden.
A women’s main event at Madison Square Garden would mark a shattering of a glass ceiling that seemed utterly out of reach at the beginning of Taylor’s pro career in 2016, let alone Serrano’s in 2009. The symbolism of two women headlining the Mecca of Boxing is hard to overstate.
As she sits figuratively and literally atop the hill, Taylor likes to peer down at the women’s boxing scene she’s left an indelible mark upon, at those who are climbing up to meet her. Those whose climbs are a little less difficult than hers was, and potentially even more fruitful—both because of her. Making that possible has always been the deeper motivation.
“It's amazing how far women's boxing has come, even since I turned pro. Even in the last five years, in such a short period of time, it's been absolutely incredible, we've bridged the gap so much, in so many different areas,” said Taylor. “Even looking at some of the 10 and 11-year olds on the videos hitting the pads, the next generation are absolutely outstanding fighters. I'm so excited to watch their future.”
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.