LONDON – Women’s boxing already had a star. She just needed a stage.
Irish fighter Katie Taylor found one at the ExCel arena Monday and within four pulsating rounds against Natasha Jonas proved female fighters would be just fine at the Olympics.
More than fine.
Their lightweight quarterfinal fight had plenty, if not all, the qualities boxing fans like. Already a world champion, Taylor was quick, skillful and clinical. And, in the end, too good for her British opponent.
Jonas was gutsy. A battling underdog who never gave in and pushed and harried a better opponent all the way to the final bell. She took some shots and kept coming back.
“I was expecting a real battle in there and that’s what I got,” Taylor said as reporters crowded her slight, 1.52-meter (5-foot-5) frame backstage.
Thousands of fans at the ExCel agreed. The noise didn’t let up. Irish tricolor flags outnumbered the Union Jacks, but only just. There also was rows and rows of home support for Jonas, herself a former British and European champion.
“Boxing’s boxing. You live to fight another day,” a disappointed Jonas said after being outpointed 26-15 in the battle of the two home favorites. “Apart from a bit of a black eye, I’ve got out of the ring unscathed.”
In their vests, baggy shorts and head guards, the female fighters dress just like the men. There wasn’t any real difference once the punches came, either.
Sure the men hit with more power, but the 36 women making history as the first female boxers at the Olympics don’t hold back.
The 26-year-old Taylor, the top-ranked fighter and reigning amateur world champ in the women’s lightweight division, may be the best of all of the ladies lacing up the gloves in London for the first time at an Olympics.
“There’s nothing else (I could have done),” said Jonas, who also was a contender for a medal before running into a red-hot Taylor. “I could have thrown the kitchen sink (at her), maybe drove the bus into her. It didn’t work.”
Taylor was too good.
She comes from true boxing pedigree. Her father and trainer, Peter, is a former Irish light heavy champion. Mum’s a boxing referee.
The young Taylor won a European amateur title at 18 — the first of nine world and European titles so far. She’s the odds-on favorite for Olympic gold and is already guaranteed a medal after her swashbuckling win over Jonas.
She shouldn’t have needed to prove anything to anyone at the Olympics. Her record, as they say, speaks for itself.
But women’s boxing is on show at the games and Taylor was always going to play a lead role as the women go toe to toe with the men in terms of winning fans and putting up the entertainment.
Everyone inside a rocking ExCel arena was won over Monday.
“People didn’t realize the standard of women’s boxing,” Taylor said. “I think people have really opened their eyes to women’s boxing this week. We put on a showcase for the sport and they can’t believe the standard of the sport. It’s incredible.”
There was a reason Taylor carried Ireland’s flag at the opening ceremony in London. She’s probably the country’s best athlete at the Olympics and has now guaranteed it a first medal.
“The boxers always produce the medals and produce the goods (for Ireland),” she said.
Only this time, the first medal of 2012 for the Irish will be from a female boxer.
“I’m just concentrating on my next fight,” Taylor said. “No one’s happy with a bronze medal.”