The wry grin pasted across Katie Taylor’s bruised, swollen face told the whole story. Ireland’s greatest athlete had just navigated the deepest waters of her career to roar back from near-defeat and retain her undisputed lightweight championship with a split-decision win over Amanda Serrano, a heart-stopping affair before a sold-out crowd of 19,187 rollicking spectators that Taylor described as a “career-defining performance”.
“I had to dig deep in there tonight,” Taylor told reporters early Sunday morning in the bowels of Madison Square Garden. “This is a special, special moment. The best night of my career for sure. I wasn’t sure if anything could reach my Olympic gold medal moment, but tonight was absolutely the best moment of my career.”
Through the opening rounds Taylor relied on her superior hand and foot speed to ward off the heavy-handed Serrano’s unsparing pressure, opening an early lead while boxing beautifully off the back foot. But Serrano hurt Taylor badly after finally cornering her elusive foe early in the fifth, leaving the champion bloodied, seemingly exhausted and fortunate to escape the round.
“I think I was boxing very, very well in the early rounds and I just got stuck in a fight her,” Taylor said. “I think the courage and the strength comes back in those moments just purely from the hard work that I put in in training camp over the last few months. It’s in those moments that the hard work of training pays off. I don’t just show courage on fight night. I show courage every single day in training, day after day after day. That’s exactly why you train hard, for those moments when you actually are in the trenches.”
From there Taylor delivered the finishing kick of a champion, winning the final three rounds on all three judges’ scorecards to keep her WBA, WBC, IBF and WBO lightweight titles.
“My corner was saying to me that I needed the championship rounds,” Taylor said. “I did what I had to do. I showed a champion’s heart in there as I always do.”
The exceptional quality, narrow margin and smashing business of Saturday’s fight – a long awaited showdown between the consensus No 1 and No 2 fighters on women’s boxing’s pound-for-pound list – all but ensures a rematch. Even in the immediate aftermath, Taylor was quick to embrace the prospect.
“We all want to see the best versus the best,” she said. “A rematch would be absolutely phenomenal. If it was in Dublin, we could sell out Croke Park. We’ve seen something special here tonight, but imagine fighting in front of 80,000 or 90,000 people at Croke Park. Absolutely that can happen.”
Before taking leave from the media throng for several weeks of hard-won rest and relaxation with her family, Taylor reflected on the history made on Saturday night as she and Serrano became the first female fighters to headline a bill in this storied venue’s 140-year history and the first women to earn more than $1m each from a single bout.
“That’s the best part about this journey, is being able to inspire young girls and inspire the next generation,” Taylor said. “I think both myself and Amanda have broken so many barriers over the last few years in our sport. I guess we’re both winners in a certain way tonight for what we did and what we achieved.”