Katie Taylor’s Rocky-Movie triumph

Those of us who grew up watching “Rocky” movies will sometimes disagree over which movie in the franchise is the best. For me, it is, and ever will be, Rocky IV, regardless of the verdict of the critics, who mostly hated it.

For the few of you who may not have seen it, a summary of the plot: The aging Balboa, mostly retired, is spurred back into the ring not for money, or even pride, but for that most enduring of cold-war era values: to teach the cruel Russians a lesson.

After Russian superhuman Ivan Drago kills Rocky’s old foe, Apollo Creed, in an exhibition bout, Balboa is consumed with righteous anger, and gives up his titles to head off to Moscow to take on the pride of the Soviet Union in an unsanctioned bout on Christmas Day. The Russian is doped up on steroids and trained with all sorts of fancy-dan Soviet equipment. Rocky trains the old-fashioned way, by dragging tree-trunks through the Siberian snow. In the fight, against overwhelming odds, our hero fights back and knocks out the Russian, winning over the Soviet crowd in the process. The whole thing is an ode to an American cliché – the triumph of the spirited individual against the brutal collectivist machine.

It’s propaganda. But it’s brilliant.

And it’s a movie I think of, every time I watch Katie Taylor.

Taylor has that thing that all the greatest sportspeople have: She is never beaten. In her fight on Sunday night, it looked at several points as if she would be beaten. It looked at several more points as if she should be beaten. She was the first to bleed. She was repeatedly rocked by heavy shots from an opponent a little younger, a little taller, and with slightly more power. Amanda Serrano, her very gifted and spirited opponent, had fought forty-two times before. She’d knocked out thirty of those opponents. There were times on Saturday night when it looked like Taylor might become number thirty-one.

But then came rounds seven, and eight. To those who’ve watched Rocky movies, you know the script: Taylor, having taken almost everything Serrano could throw at her, began an incredible fightback. The American was suddenly swinging at fresh air, and Taylor was suddenly landing every punch. The American, now, began to bleed, and wobble, before she, too, recovered. And so it kept going, until the final round, which ended with both women throwing endless punch at each other. All that was missing was the knockout – either one would have deserved it, but neither would have deserved to lose.

Ewan McKenna, the Irish Sports journalist, was amongst those who thought that Taylor got lucky to win a split decision from the Judges. He’s watched more boxing than I have – the scoring system is a mystery to me – but there were as many, and probably more, who thought the outcome was just.

Regardless, the result was secondary. The most impressive thing about Taylor was not that she won on points, but that she – and Serrano – delivered a boxing match so good and so enthralling that standing in one’s living room at 4am and cheering the television was the only rational response.

Katie Taylor is an extraordinary Irishwoman, and an extraordinary woman. Perhaps mostly because she is very much her own woman: Her deep and publicly expressed Christian faith is probably unique in the modern pantheon of Irish public figures, and certainly at odds with the prevailing culture of her homeland, and she doesn’t care. Unlike others in her sport, she has never bothered with, or cultivated, ego or braggadocio. Speaking after this, her greatest victory, she was as humble and respectful as she doubtless was after her first day in a ring.

The simplicity of her life, and personality, is something we can all learn from: She does not pretend to be anything that she is not. She does something she appears to love doing, and doesn’t ever seek fame or celebrity outside of that. She could easily make eye-watering sums of money, at least in Ireland, from selling herself liberally in advertisements and endorsements, and yet, seems to have no time for celebrity at all.

Most of all, though, there is the spirit. It’s a spirit she shares with the greatest competitors ever to have lived: She just never gives up.

It’s how we all imagine ourselves, isn’t it? Capable of the stunning comeback, the brilliant, against the odds, triumph. The truth is that very few of us are capable of it, in most fields. We give up, and we get disheartened, and we sit down, or walk away, or try something else.

The Rocky movies built their protagonists heroism around this same thing: Every time he fought, Rocky would be about to lose, and then came the stunning, never say die comeback. That hasn’t been true of every Taylor fight, but it was true of this one. And it’s a spirit that speaks the truth of her, as a person, and a competitor. We are privileged to watch her, and to call her one of our own.

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