Katie Taylor has become a game-changer for women’s boxing. The undisputed lightweight champion and ESPN’s No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter is on the brink of a huge year that will likely see a fight against Amanda Serrano, one of the best fighters of this generation and the current unified featherweight champion, who won world titles in seven different divisions. That fight, reportedly to be held at Madison Square Garden in April, is considered to be possibly the biggest fight in women’s boxing history.
Born in Bray, Ireland, Taylor played football for Ireland in World Cup qualifiers while still boxing as an amateur. She won the gold medal in boxing at the 2012 Olympics and five world championships before turning pro in 2016 and signing with Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn, who has promoted her career and placed her as the premier event multiple times. A fight against Serrano would be a co-promotion between Hearn and new boxing promoter Jake Paul.
As she begins in 2022, Taylor reflects on her past and tells ESPN what she expects the payoff could be if everything goes according to plan:
I think 2022 could potentially be the biggest year of my entire career because of the opportunities I will have to be involved in the biggest fights women’s boxing has seen.
I’m not sure what order my fights will be in, but I know the next fight has to be against Amanda Serrano. I would be hugely disappointed if it wasn’t.
It feels like people have been talking about this Serrano fight for years, and people are excited to finally see it happen. Obviously it was supposed to happen a few times before and has not gone through on her end for whatever reason. But hopefully this time it will.
After that I’m not sure. I just take it one fight at a time. This game, that’s the way you look at things — one fight at a time, one opponent at a time — so that’s the only fight I’m focusing on right now. But I think it could start a career defining year for me. I’m looking for an opportunity to become an undisputed champion in multiple divisions and a chance to be involved in the biggest fights in women’s boxing.
Outside of Serrano, you have Jessica McCaskill or Chantelle Cameron, as she fights Kali Reis and goes unchallenged at junior welterweight. These are the kinds of names that can make for huge, huge battles. These are super fights, not just in women’s boxing, but in boxing as a whole. The attention battles that could potentially bring the sport would be unreal, so I think this could be a very historic year for me.
“I feel like I’ve sacrificed a lot for this sport. It’s my absolute passion, so to see women’s boxing where it is now, and to imagine where it could go, I feel like it’s all coming together. All the sacrifices I’ve made in my life and my entire career have led me to this point, so I’m very grateful.”
When I started, my goal was to be involved in big events like this. Headlining Madison Square Garden against Serrano, in the first female fight to do so, would truly be the pinnacle of the sport. So much of boxing history has been linked to MSG, and I’ve been lucky enough to fight there a few times. It is such an iconic location.
I think back to meeting Eddie Hearn in his London office about turning pro in 2016. It was at the end of a difficult trajectory for me in the amateurs, where I had two consecutive defeats, but I definitely had a desire to turn pro at the time, he was interested in signing me, and it went well. When I came out of his office, I felt the excitement and passion again.
I told Hearn that I wanted to bring women’s boxing to a place where the UFC was already at the time. At the time, Ronda Rousey was probably the biggest name in the UFC, and so many more female stars have appeared in MMA since then. However, professional women’s boxing was still pretty under the radar at the time. At the beginning of my professional career, every time I was in a fight, I felt like I had to prove myself, even in front of the people watching. And you think to yourself, ‘Okay, are they looking at me like this is a circus act, or are they going to treat me like a real fighter?’ I wanted to be treated like a real fighter who just loves the sport and takes it very seriously, and luckily we are now in a position where I think a lot of the famous names are actually female fighters. It is remarkable.
Of course, I also stand on the shoulders of giants. There were so many women who went before me as pioneers of the sport, like Christy Martin and Deirdre Gogarty, who had that huge fight on the Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno undercard in 1996. That was the first major event in women’s boxing. Gogarty was one of my heroes growing up, and she was a huge support to me. Martin was one of the greatest female athletes in the world at the time.
You also have Laila Ali, Ann Wolfe, Lucia Rijker — these women paved the way for us. I’m just so grateful, and women’s boxing wouldn’t be in the position it is today if the women hadn’t come for us too.
When I look at some of my all-time favorite fighters, Floyd Mayweather, Marco Antonio Barrera, Sugar Ray Leonard and Mike Tyson, those guys were always involved in the biggest fights possible. Every time they fought, it was an event. I don’t know if I’m at that point, but that’s the level I want to reach.
However, I am 35 and I know this is a short career. But I want to make the most of it, and I really feel like people haven’t seen the best of me. I have a feeling that the next few years of my career will be the best yet.
I absolutely understand that I can’t do this forever, unfortunately, as much as I’d like. So many people have been talking about my retirement in recent months. When I’m asked about it, I just answer politely, I guess, but inside my stomach is growling. I understand that’s a natural conversation for people. It’s a sincere question for people to ask, but I’m not looking at retirement right now. I feel very, very fresh and have a few more years left in me. I just feel like people are pushing me out the door. Such as: ‘When will you retire?’ Do you want me to retire?
Outside of those moments and those questions, retirement isn’t something I think about much. I’m just really focused on the next fight, and I don’t really look much beyond that. Obviously boxing has been my life and is such a passion for me so I would love to stay involved in the sport in some way when I retire especially if it means working with young boxers and should help them realize their potential. But I’m not sure what that role is.
When I started boxing as a 10-year-old girl, my whole focus was to become an Olympic champion. This was before women’s boxing was even allowed in Ireland or sanctioned at the Olympics. I feel like I’ve had to push boundaries all my life, even when I was just starting out in the sport.
I’ve always said that the greatest legacy I can leave behind is to inspire the next generation to get through. Now every amateur gym in Ireland is full of talented young girls, so that was definitely the most satisfying part of my trip. I just want to continue inspiring the next generation to dream big dreams like I did, and do it even better than I’ve done in my career. This is what true legacy looks like.
I feel like I sacrificed a lot for this sport. It’s my absolute passion, so to see women’s boxing where it is now, and to imagine where it might go, I feel like it’s all coming together. All the sacrifices I’ve made in my life and my entire career have led to this point, so I’m very grateful.