Saturday 4th of March saw Katie Taylor make her third professional boxing appearance, on the undercard of the high profile heavyweight bout between David Haye and Tony Bellew in London’s O2 Arena. Following on from a convincing TKO win in her debut and a unanimous points victory on the undercard of a World Heavyweight title bout, this latest stoppage win over Monica Gentili saw Taylor take the latest step to achieving her goal of over-hauling women’s professional boxing, much as she did in the amateur ranks.
However, these fights revealed more than Taylor’s belonging on such a stage or her ability to rise to a greater challenge. It offered us a glimpse into a future where Katie Taylor could grow to become the female star boxing needs to compete commercially with the UFC.
While Taylor has only fought three times, all matches she was expected to win with relative ease, her career trajectory thus far suggests her potential could exceed anything previously seen in female professional boxing. Before long, it may make little sense to compare the five-time world champion to those within her own sport. Rather, the best comparisons may emerge as being UFC fighters Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.
Mixed Martial Arts in general, and the UFC in particular, has seen an exponential rise in popularity in recent years, culminating in the sale of the promotion in July of last year to talent agency WME-IMG for $4bn. Much of this worth was driven by the popularity of McGregor and Rousey, whose appeal has transcended the normally niche audience of MMA.
Taylor’s appeal to sponsors going forward may be attributed in part to the success of Rousey in particular. It will not have gone unnoticed by those in power in boxing, as well as by brands, that for a period of 12-18 months, the most famous combat sport athlete in the world was female. Rousey’s performances in the UFC earned her sponsorship deals with Reebok and Monster Energy, as well as roles in films such as The Fast and the Furious and Entourage and brought much mainstream media attention.
Boxing, for so long at the vanguard of commercial opportunities in combat sports, had been beaten to the punch. Taylor now offers the sport a chance to build their own female star.
While Taylor may be some distance away from appearing in TV adverts for Budweiser like McGregor or in Hollywood films like Rousey, her role in developing the commercial appeal of her sport could be just as transformative.
The life of a professional boxer is a tough one at the best of times, as most mid-card journeymen professionals will tell you. It becomes more difficult for female boxers, with even those at the top end of the sport receiving almost no attention or media coverage. The prospect of sponsorship for these fighters is a very unlikely one. They have no brand to sell, no platform for sponsors to leverage.
Taylor had no such problems in building her sponsorship portfolio as an amateur, attracting as she did major brands such as KPMG, Kellogg’s, Sky Sports, Adidas and Bank of Ireland. Taylor’s remarkable commercial potential was underlined with the publication of her firm’s figures for 2015, announced months before the fighter’s decision to turn professional.
KT Sports Ltd posted a €1.2m profit for 2015, showing a €250,000 increase year-on-year. The attraction for brands to become involved in the Katie Taylor story was ground-breaking in amateur boxing and marked Taylor down as a one off.
It is this unique appeal which Taylor has brought with her into the professional ranks and with which she will look to break the mould for a female professional boxer.
For any fighter to make their pro debut on a live Sky Sports card from Wembley Arena is an impressive feat and an endorsement of a promoter’s belief in that fighter. For that same fighter to then feature on the under-card of a high-profile PPV bout in front of 21,000 people just two weeks later is extraordinary.
For Taylor to do all this (and then follow it up with her performance on Saturday night) as an Irish female boxer with a relatively low profile in the UK marks her out as remarkable.
Until this point, Katie Taylor has been Ireland’s little secret. Despite her gold-medal winning appearance in London 2012 and a sponsorship agreement with Sky Sports which saw her become an ambassador for the broadcaster, her profile in Britain is minimal and is non-existent in America.
However, Matchroom’s management of Taylor has suggested they are about to address this. Her placement on three high-profile British cards, all of which were televised, as well as a prospective World title fight on the horizon, are aimed at building the profile of Taylor as a fighter in two of the biggest markets not just for boxing fans, but for sponsorship activity.
It seems a big claim to make, but Katie Taylor’s biggest impact on the sport of boxing may still be yet to come. For all her success in the amateur ranks, and for her anomalous portfolio of sponsors as an amateur athlete, what she appears primed to achieve in the next year or so could change the trajectory of women’s professional boxing entirely and possibly enable the embattled sport to compete with the UFC.
While she will always be one of the most commercially attractive and viable sporting properties in Ireland, what truly excites about the newest chapter in Katie Taylor’s career is the sporting and sponsorship opportunities which she may be about to create for herself and her sport in the biggest markets in the world.