Katie Taylor and the Future of Women’s Boxing

Meet the next big thing in women’s boxing.
December 2, 2016, 5:50pm
Photo by Dennis M. Sabangan/EPA

Last weekend boxing fans witnessed another astounding performance from rising Ukrainian star Vasly Lomachenko as he dismantled the formidable Nicholas Walters over seven rounds. Across the pond that same evening, another long-awaited boxing talent stepped into the professional ring for the first time. Irishwoman Katie Taylor, who has been heralded as the best female amateur boxer ever, soundly defeated Karina Kopinska in a one-sided three-round affair, and she is now expected to raise the profile of women's boxing.

Katie Taylor has boxing in her blood. Her father and trainer, Peter Taylor, won the Irish light-heavyweight championship the same year Katie was born, and her two brothers dabbled in the sweet science. Her mother is also a boxing referee. Originally, her father had no intentions of involving Katie in the family tradition, but at age 11 she voiced a desire to learn and received a pair of boxing gloves for Christmas that year.

Taylor has more or less dominated the competition ever since. There are even those that refer to her as the female equivalent to Vasyl Lomachenko, and while it would seem difficult to imagine anyone of any gender to match the accomplishments of the Ukrainian phenom, Katie Taylor would come close. Since 2005, she's won just about any meaningful amateur tournament there is, including six European championships, five EU championships, five world championships, and an Olympic gold medal at the 2012 games. In fact, Taylor has been attributed as one of the key figures to green-lighting the sport by participating in exhibition shows for boxing's higher-ups when they were still deciding whether or not to let women compete in the Olympics.

In her native Ireland, she is already somewhat of a national icon. All activity stops when Taylor is in the ring. She was the Irish flag bearer at the 2012 Games in London, and brought home its highest honors—only the 9th gold medal in the country's history. She's influenced plenty of young girls to lace up a pair of gloves and think differently about their position in life. Overall, she's been a fitting role model.

Her only losses came at the tail end of her amateur career, one right before her appearance at the 2016 World Championships, one at those same World Championships, and finally at the opening round of the 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, a contest that many felt Taylor won. After saying that she had been "disillusioned" with the amateur ranks, Taylor moved onto professional fighting, and has now vowed to make a big splash.

"I'd like to do what the likes of Ronda Rousey have done in the UFC and become a big name in professional boxing and raise the profile of the sport," Taylor said in an interview. "UFC take their female fighters very seriously and they claim equal billing to the men on the shows, that's huge."

That is probably one of the more notable differences between boxing and MMA. Fighters like Ronda Rousey have gained considerable mainstream respect—not for being a good fighter for a girl, but just for being a good fighter—and it reflects in their ability to gain meaningful airtime on fight cards. Taylor's debut last weekend was broadcast live along with the main card on Sky Sports, which, for many reasons, is monumental to the sport. To put that statistic in a bit of perspective, Showtime has not aired a women's boxing match since 2001, HBO has aired one never, and PBC (Al Haymon's Premier Boxing Champions) aired it's first and only women's contest with Heather Hardy just August of this year. The reason this is important is because it directly relates to how much the fighters are paid (televised fighters are paid a portion of TV revenue in addition to ticket sales), and pay is one of the main indicators of assessing equality in any industry. For Taylor to get meaningful airtime in her debut fight makes a statement both to her fighting ability and to what she is doing for the sport.

But like any great prospect, there are reservations as to what she promises as well. There is a noticeable media-push behind Taylor, and one has to question how much is wrested in truth and how much in hype. She is now 30-years-old, just a few years shy of the physical peak for most athletes, and most professionals turn pro anywhere from a half to a full decade before because of that. It's unclear how much ground she'll be able to cover in such a short time.

But Taylor is also wasting little time to find out. Her next fight will be against the 9-1 Viviane Obenauf, and will be aired live on the undercard of Anthony Joshua vs. Eric Molina next weekend, a step up in both the competition and the stage. So regardless of whether Taylor turns out to be truth or hype, she is certainly a talent worth watching, and undeniably moving the sport of women's boxing forward.