Brendan O’Brien.


Women’s boxing and Katie Taylor badly need a contest

Eddie Hearn has Katie Taylor primed to spearhead a breakthrough for women’s professional boxing but she can’t do it all on her own, writes Brendan O’Brien.

Women’s boxing and Katie Taylor badly need a contest

What value a world title?

We ask because Katie Taylor is 1/33 to relieve Argentina’s Anahi Sanchez of the WBA world lightweight belt in Cardiff’s Principality Stadium tomorrow night. This just 12 months on from the news that she was shedding her amateur status and stepping onto the bottom rung of the professional ladder in the care of Eddie Hearn.

Let’s put that in context.

Michael Conlan announced his intention to go professional a few weeks before Taylor. Another former World amateur champion and Olympic medallist, the weight of expectation on his shoulders is every bit as crushing as that heaped on Taylor’s and yet the path plotted for him by his minders in Top Rank and at ringside is much more measured in terms of incline.

His trainer Manny Robles, speaking last May, suggested that the 25-year was progressing at a rate of knots that had caused him to think that maybe his schedule could be fast-tracked. So much so that he could be looking at a super bantamweight world title challenge within two years. Quick by normal standards, but miles slower than Taylor.

“When he first came into the gym, I was trying to be selective with his sparring because I wanted to see where he was at as a professional fighter,” said Robles. “I knew of his talent as an amateur, but it’s a different ball game and a different animal in the pros.

“Now I don’t have that concern, I can put him in with just about anybody. I can put him in with Jessie Magdaleno, Oscar Valdez – two world champions – and I don’t have that concern anymore about whether he’s going to be okay or if he’s able to handle these guys.” None of this is to play down Taylor’s abilities.

Her trainer, Ross Enamait, was just as taken with her skill set when he first saw her up close as Robles had been when he began working with Conlan. “I put her in with world champions. I put her in with guys. I am not going to name them,” Enamait said before her first fight back in November of last year. “She could beat them.”

Her rise has been rapid but, important to stress, not unparalleled. South Korea’s Hyun Mi Choi won the WBA women’s featherweight world title in her first sanctioned pro fight in 2008. America’s Claressa Shields claimed the IBF and WBC world crowns last August in her fourth professional appearance. And the men’s ranks have had more than a few stories of similar alacrity.

It took Thailand’s Saensak Muangsurin just three fights to claim the WBC light welterweight belt in 1975. Ukraine’s Vasyl Lomachenko matched that record 40 years later by defeating American Gary Russell Jr and claiming the WBO’s featherweight division.

The problem with Taylor is that none of her pro opponents has come within a wild lunge of being able to stretch her in any meaningful way. Records are sketchy enough but we’d be willing to take a punt that she has yet to lose a single round on her way to the Welsh capital this weekend. A snapshot of reports on her displays and those of her opponents so far says it all. Against Karina Kopinska it was: “one-way traffic” and “out of her depth”. Viviane Obenauf: “dominant”. Monica Gentili “destroyed”. Milena Koleva: “outclassed” and “dominated”. Nina Meinke: “crushing display”, and “deeply one-sided”. Jasmine Clarkson: “demolished”.

And to think that Taylor, as you would expect, is still learning the ropes as a pro. She held her hands up after failing to put Obenauf away having sent her to the canvas in just her second fight. Even her last performance, the cakewalk against Clarkson, was the subject of self-criticism after taking a few silly shots and being “a bit sloppy”.

Like it or not, Taylor’s monumental achievements at amateur level were diluted by the lack of depth in quality opposition and her status as one of this country’s greatest sportspeople cannot but be compromised by the same shortfall in her new surroundings. Just don’t dare to criticise the standard of women’s boxing within earshot of her trainer.

“Most of the casual fans aren’t paying attention to what’s happening and they have no idea of the talent out there,” Enamait said in May. “They are coming here for the experience and to drink beer and the experience, rather than to pay attention to what’s happening in the ring. Then they just go online and spew their opinions.

“You can’t pay too much attention to them but, every now and then, it’s nice to let them know that they’re f**king clueless.” Maybe so but the optics just aren’t good.

Taylor is being hitched to the Anthony Joshua/Sky Sports wagon for a third time this weekend. Hearn has her primed to spearhead a breakthrough for women’s professional boxing but she can’t do it all on her own. A Taylor title won’t suffice. Women’s boxing badly needs a contest, too. A statement fight. So does she.


Twitter: @byBrendanOBrien

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