Katie Taylor puts a smile on a weary city while cementing her legacy as Ireland’s greatest

Jack McDonald

Katie Taylor

Saturday evening, thousands poured into the 3Arena most hoping to see Katie Taylor emerge victorious, but all choosing to seek refuge from a truly unprecedented few days in the nation’s capital.

The build up was a much more muted affair than that of the original bout six months ago where Katie Taylor’s homecoming was spoiled by Englishwoman Chantelle Cameron after Katie daringly stepped up in weight but couldn’t put it together, losing by majority decision. This time a cavalcade of international media was swapped for a slimmed down group of UK and Irish journalists. Taylor gave almost no media interviews, appearing in the obligated fight week activities and not wasting any time in getting away from the circus which perhaps engulfed her last time out.

As it would happen by Thursday evening very few cared about Katie’s media availability as more pressing concerns descended on the country. Unprecedented riots shook the foundation of Dublin city, motivated initially by news breaking of a horrific attack on school children, a peaceful demonstration soon turned into purge-like scenes.

The weigh in, taking place at our own Helix here in DCU, drew a strong crowd despite the embers of the previous night’s madness. Songs from 2Pac, Jay Z, Eminem and others played as fighters followed the routine of stripping off, getting on the scales and facing off. Irish fighters Thomas Carty, Paddy Donovan and Gary Cully all received a huge reaction from the crowd which suggested fight night would have a great atmosphere.

A little before 2pm Cameron and Taylor hit the scales. If there was a lingering question of Katie’s fanbase following defeat, a little girl holding up a sign in support of Katie and cries of “gowan Katie!” bellowing throughout the Helix would serve as an answer.

Speaking to me ahead of the fight Andy Lee, former middleweight world champion, stressed the importance of Katie “making strategic adjustments,” expanding that “when you share a ring with somebody, you’re much clearer the second time around.” Perhaps his most telling comment was describing a possible Katie win as “one of the greatest sporting comebacks.”

And so, on Saturday night myself and 9,000 hopefuls headed to the 3Arena to see whether Katie Taylor could pull off a comeback of such magnitude. Along the entrances garda presence was very noticeable and deliberately so. Inside the atmosphere was building and would continue to do so over the space of the main card.

Lucy Wildheart kicked off the main event as she faced WBC Interim World Featherweight champion Skye Nicolson. Nicholas dealt with Wildheart within two with the fight stopped after Wildheart’s team threw in the towel. In some ways the fact a female fight was on the main card, something unthinkable only a few years ago, could be regarded as Katie’s greatest legacy, an achievement that will outlive any belts.

It was then time for the three Irish fighters to step up to the mark. First Dublin’s own Thomas Carty secured a final round stoppage in a frustrating fight against opponent Dan Garber. While Carty’s fight didn’t give the crowd much to shout about, his walkout certainly did as opted for a medley of traditional classic ‘Grace’ and Joe Dolan’s ‘You’re such a good looking woman’ that whipped the crowd up in a spine tingling sing-song.

Carty’s win was backed up by Limerick’s Paddy Donovan, who made it an Irish two from two as he dealt with opponent Danny Ball within four. Donovan’s speed was immensely impressive as he was able to get inside, land combinations and then head back out of range before Ball could react. In the fourth Donovan applied the pressure knocking down Ball with a strong left hook, Ball momentarily got back to his feet before being sent back down on the canvas as his team threw in the towel and in doing so awarded Donovan the WBA Continental Welterweight Title.

The fourth and final fight of the main card was about something other than silverware as Kildare’s Gary Cully fought for redemption. Cully suffered humiliation in May at the first Taylor vs Cameron fight after his corner threw in the towel in the third round against Jose Felix. Switching camps and heading over to Liverpool, Cully clearly understood the scale of that loss and hoped to avenge it against Yorkshire’s Reece Mould who’s only loss had come two years prior at Wembley against Leigh Wood. Cully towered over Mould and used that size to his advantage, however a concerned look washed over the crowd as Cully was rocked by two big right hands in the second. The bout went the distance leaving in the judges’ hands who gave it to Cully by split decision.

Three from three Irish wins only added to an already magnetic crowd. The energy was electric throughout the stadium with thundering renditions of Mark MacCabe’s ‘Maniac’, Gala Rizzatto’s ‘Freed From Desire’ and Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’ consuming the stadium as we awaited Katie’s entrance. At other times the notion that all the Irish like to do is drink and sing would be repugnant but this week we’ll happily take it.

Just after 10:30pm Katie and then Chantelle headed to the ring to commence the main event. Katie was greeted by a frenzied crowd as she headed to the ring with the help of upbeat religious song ‘Raise A Hallelujah’. Embracing her outsider position Chantelle played a snippet of the theme from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, but the gunslingers anthem was drowned out by chants of ‘ole ole ole.’

“God bless you both” were the final words uttered by referee Roberto Ramirez Jr before initiating the contest, I imagine the crowd may have only been praying for one. Both fighters started strong with Katie not afraid to get into a firefight, much to the chagrin of some in the media. Despite a strong start the first round was dampened as Katie was sent to the canvas by a stiff Cameron jab, controversially the referee didn’t count it as a knockdown and Katie quickly bounced back to her feet.

After three rounds it was a toss up with many having it 2-1 on the cards for Katie. Both fighters showed tenacity with Chantelle trying to make it a brawl while Katie boxed smart, inviting Chantelle in and making her miss. A big difference could be seen in Katie keeping the fight in the centre of the ring and circling, a level of ring generalship which was not present last time out.

There were good showings from Chantelle too. Round five saw Chantelle coming out on the front foot with feints and rapid movement, likely knowing that she needed to amend the scorecards. Chantelle was able to get Katie against the ropes on multiple occasions and force Katie to use her head movement to get out of trouble. Likewise, round eight showcased some of Chantelle’s best work as she delivered dangerous uppercuts while looking like the much more rested fighter.

Ultimately, Katie had too much for Chantelle this time around, frustrating Chantelle at every turn, who, running out of answers, began looking for points from the referee. Katie did a good job of slipping the jab and coming back with a right hand and even when it seemed she was out of gas in the closing rounds she came back with some tremendous shots including a beautiful right hand in the eight.

After ten rounds there was little doubt on anyone’s mind that Katie had done enough to win on points. Going to the judges’ scorecards Katie had her hand raised as her majority decision win was announced. Utter elation filled the arena with David Diamante proclaiming Katie Taylor as the new Super Lightweight Champion.

Katie’s victory would be a tremendous achievement in any context, but given the magnitude of the contest, she faced and also the backdrop in Dublin over the past few days to deliver one of the “greatest sporting comebacks” against those circumstances cements her as Ireland’s greatest sports person.

Jack McDonald