By the time the final bell rings on her professional debut tonight, Katie Taylor hopes that talk of Rio will be firmly in her past.
Just three months on from losing her Olympic crown, the 30-year-old lightweight takes to the ring for a first time as a professional, going up against Poland’s Karina Kopinska in a Sky Sports bout that has been afforded headline treatment in the promotional fight-week build-up.
Such hype is common in boxing, but relatively unusual for debutants, let alone a female boxer, and Eddie Hearn’s Matchoom Sports are banking on Taylor rediscovering the Midas touch she possessed prior to 2016 in an effort to revolutionise women’s pro boxing into a marketable sport.
Following three defeats in the space of five months, culminating in her shock Rio loss to Finland’s Mira Potkonen, Ireland’s 2012 Olympic champion admitted that this is a chance to end what has been a bad year on a high.
“I think so,” said the 30-year-old. “This is a new chapter and I’m just going to try and put the last year behind me. I’ve got new goals now.
“Hopefully when I finish my career, we won’t be speaking about what happened in Rio, what happened this year — we’ll be speaking about all the successes I’ve had.”
Of course, “what happened this year” is not solely a reference to the London 2012 champion’s losses in 2016, but it is also appears to be an acknowledgement of distractions outside the ring.
Much attention has been paid to the departure of her father, Pete, from her corner owing to personal reasons. His absence led to Irish head coach Zaur Antia picking up the slack for the Bray woman’s Rio preparations, although the Georgian coach had already been a highly influential figure in the five-time amateur world champion’s development.
Her move to the pro game prompted a link-up with US trainer Ross Enamait, who put Taylor through her paces at his Connecticut base ahead of tonight’s bout. “There was definitely a lot of big transition, for sure,” said Taylor.
“And I think it definitely took its toll on me this year as well, with all the [training] changes, but I think the minute I went over to Ross, there was an instant connection. I felt like I was boxing better than I have in a long, long time and he definitely got the best out of me — although with Zaur as well, he’s been so good to me over the year.
"He [Antia] went above and beyond all he could do for me this year as well. [But] I definitely feel like I’m boxing very well so that’s very exciting.
“At times this year I was getting up and it was nearly a burden to me, getting up and going training, so I’ve got that love back for the sport again and that’s very important for me.”
The fact that Taylor’s pro debut comes in the same city where she claimed Olympic gold four years ago means the 30-year-old has, in one sense, come full circle around the disappointment of Rio (although that ignores the fact she won world gold, world bronze and European gold in the intervening years).
Around 3,000-4,000 are expected to be present at Wembley Arena for fight night, but it remains to be seen if Taylor has attracted any of the Irish crowd that cheered her to Olympic glory against Sofya Ochigava in 2012.
In reality, tonight’s bout has been set by Hearn and manager Brian Peters to get the show on the road ahead of bigger and better things.
Her opponent tonight, Kopinska, is a 24-fight veteran, with a losing record of 7-14-3. However, the Pole is a tough cookie and has only been stopped once in her career. The 27-year-old lost a 2013 points decision to Monaghan’s Christina McMahon, but that was at a much lighter weight class (118lbs) than tonight’s bout, which is set at 132lbs — just below the pro lightweight limit.
In physical terms, both are orthodox fighters; Kopinska has a two-inch height advantage and she weighed in at 131lbs yesterday (1lb less than Taylor, who is the bookies’ 1/100 favourite).
In fighting terms, Taylor’s new trainer Enamait is confident of a smooth transition to the paid ranks. “We’re just kind of adjusting a little bit to the tools of the trade,” explained Enamait, referencing the abandonment of head gear and more aggressive approach. “[But] she’s strong, she can punch, I think she’s going to surprise a lot of people,” added the trainer.
TV: Live on Sky Sports 2 (from 8pm) Taylor v Kopinska: 9.30-10pm approx.
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