Katie Taylor's battle with Delfine Persoon a 'watershed moment' for women's boxing
By Andy Clarke
Last Updated: 10/06/19 12:01pm
Katie Taylor's undisputed title victory against Delfine Persoon a "watershed moment" for women's professional boxing, writes Andy Clarke...
I saw one of the best fights I've ever witnessed from ringside at Madison Square Garden on June 1.
Heavyweight thunder dominated the headlines but the night's best advert for boxing came from Katie Taylor and Delfine Persoon. With the undisputed Lightweight title on the line we hoped for a good fight between WBA, IBF and WBO champion Taylor and WBC ruler Persoon but didn't necessarily expect a close or especially competitive one. How wrong we were.
From the very first bell, Persoon tore into her Irish opponent and the onslaught never relented during an insane 20 minutes of action. The tempo was brutal, with both boxers forced to fight for every second of every round, and as the contest drew to a close the Garden was on its feet.
The consensus at ringside was that Persoon clearly deserved the win. But I felt that was a slightly skewed verdict, that observers' perceptions had been distorted by the fact that the little-known WBC champion had exceeded all our expectations.
My card delivered a draw and I thought that was fair. Boxing is scored round by round and when judging a 10-round fight you are essentially being asked to judge 10 individual fights.
You must find a winner in each of those ten fights and they exist independently of one another, with what has happened in one having no bearing whatsoever on how you score another. Persoon won her rounds bigger than Taylor did but she didn't score any knockdowns and, without a knockdown, a big round and a close round return the same score; 10-9.
If I'd judged the fight as a whole, as one 20-minute round, then I'd have chosen Persoon as my winner because she provided the bigger moments, the moments that left an imprint on the memory, in particular that rousing tenth and final round during which she dominated.
But that's not how boxing is scored and when the judges' cards were read out two gave it to Taylor by six rounds to four whilst the other settled for five each and a draw. It was controversial, and I didn't feel Persoon deserved to lose, but it wasn't a robbery.
I spoke to Katie on the ring apron at the end and you could see how utterly spent she was. Delfine had fled the ring in disappointment after the scores had been revealed but I saw her later too, leaving the venue with her team, her face bruised and swollen.
The new undisputed champion returned to Ireland and a homecoming parade, the loser went home to catch the tail end of her dad's 65th birthday party, a celebration that had long been in the diary and had prevented any of her family from being ringside for her greatest night.
But whilst the result was debatable what was not in question was the quality of the spectacle. As I was watching the fight it became more and more apparent to me that this was a watershed moment in women's professional boxing.
Usually I don't differentiate between men's and women's boxing and male and female boxers because boxing is boxing and boxers are boxers; gender just isn't relevant. But currently there is one crucial difference and that is one of depth.
There is a greater depth of quality in men's professional boxing than in women's, simply because it's been going for much longer, and greater depth means greater competition which in turn means a greater number of good contests which in turn attracts a greater audience and with that audience comes credibility. Over time that will change and fights like Taylor vs Persoon will accelerate that change, they can't not. But we need to see them fight again.
Rivalries are what make sport compulsive viewing and that's particularly true of boxing. There is no sport in the world that loves a rematch more than boxing. And no sport that does a rematch better than boxing. Taylor vs Persoon II could top the bill at a major arena and sell it out.
Persoon deserves it and as fans we need to see it, it's important that we see it. All the talk has been about the Joshua vs Ruiz rematch, and I understand why, but ask yourself this: Who deserves another chance more, Anthony Joshua or Delfine Persoon? If you saw both fights then it's not a difficult question to answer.
Before June 1 the perception was that it was too easy for fighters like Taylor and Claressa Shields, who has become undisputed middleweight champion after just nine pro fights, that there was nobody out there to challenge them and that that lack of competition cheapened their achievements.
But Saturday showed different and Shields, who was sitting about 10 yards away from me, will be hoping that somebody emerges, and soon, who can give her a scrap like that, on a night like that and in front of a crowd like that.
As Olympic gold medallists who both turned pro to great fanfare, and who are both now undisputed professional champions, Shields and Taylor have a lot in common as boxers but the similarities end there.
As people, they could hardly be more different but it's the sheer diversity of their backgrounds and personalities that makes them the perfect representatives of their sport. Anyone seeking inspiration can look at the two of them and find things to identify with and relate to, literally anyone. Every sport needs its role models and you won't find a better combination than those two.
It was an epic night at the Garden, one I'll never forget. Two lightweights stood shoulder to shoulder with two heavyweights and more than matched them. Taylor vs Persoon was boxing at its very best and it was an absolute pleasure and privilege to be there.