IT was at some point during round five of tonight’s (May 20) women’s super-lightweight fight between Chantelle Cameron and Katie Taylor that Taylor unravelled and began to cut a dishevelled figure, her hair swinging freely with every punch both thrown and received. Brief though it was, this revealing image of Taylor with her hair down did a great job of humanising a fighting machine and making a young girl of a seasoned 36-year-old campaigner. All of a sudden younger, at least in appearance, it stripped away the air of professionalism for which she is well known and instead gave her the look of a wild, reckless amateur fighting out of pure desperation.
The truth is, Taylor’s hair, which had set itself free from her ponytail, could easily be put back into some sort of order, and would be at the end of the round. However, Taylor’s form, which was by that stage as out of control as her hair, would turn out to be an issue far tougher to correct.
Unlike her hair, Taylor’s form could not be corrected at the end of the round, nor easily steered back on track given the resistance of her opponent, Chantelle Cameron. Indeed, one could even argue the unravelling of Taylor in Dublin tonight had as much to do with her, Cameron, as it did any mismanagement of hair or game plan. Because for once Taylor got it wrong, or simply, in choosing Cameron’s super-lightweight titles as a target, bit off more than she could chew. Who knows, had it happened at lightweight, maybe the fight, which ended unanimously in Cameron’s favour (by scores of 95-95, 96-94, 96-94), would have gone differently. Yet, in taking place at super-lightweight, a division new to Taylor, and one in which Cameron feels comfortable, the fight proved to be a step too far for a great lightweight champion who has, if we’re honest, been flirting with defeat – not to be confused with disaster – for some time now.
Previous close fights against the likes of Delfine Persoon, Natasha Jonas and Amanda Serrano all indicated Taylor was in actual fact human, even as a lightweight, and she’s 36 now. What’s more, the older Taylor gets, and the more famous and celebrated she becomes, the easier it is, it seems, to forget the manner in which she fights and how this style is hardly conducive to going on forever. After all, Taylor, despite her rich amateur pedigree and undoubted technical ability, has over the years, due to both age and level of competition, settled for becoming a high-grade brawler content to outwork opponents with quicker hands, prolonged combinations, and a bigger heart. For the most part, too, this thrilling style, if it can be called a style, has brought her great success and allowed her to beat the best in the world at lightweight. Inevitably, though, given the very nature of this style and the cruel nature of boxing, there would come a time when somebody could play the role of Katie Taylor better even than Katie Taylor herself can play the role.
Tonight, that fighter was Chantelle Cameron. Confident, aggressive, and fighting with an acute awareness of where she was and who she was up against, Cameron established her game plan from as early as round one and hardly deviated from it throughout. She allowed Taylor to have her moments, and Taylor certainly did, but these were often only as a result of Cameron not wanting the pace to drop or Taylor to find her flow. She was in her face, in other words, and wouldn’t go away. She asserted her physical advantages early and then reminded Taylor of them as the rounds progressed. She brawled better than the brawler and she outlanded Taylor by virtue of having hands even quicker than those of her legendary opponent.
Like any Taylor fight, tonight’s one had its moments of drama and never once did it lull. The sixth and ninth rounds, in particular, were both noteworthy for their intensity and the volume of punches thrown by both, and Cameron, by initiating this kind of pace and doing so before Taylor, knew she had stolen a march on her opponent from the outset. It was in round one, after all, that Cameron stalked the home favourite and, as well as some well-picked body shots, landed a sharp left hook during an exchange which clearly got Taylor’s attention.
After that, it was all just a matter of Cameron sticking to her game plan and not allowing either the magnitude of the event or the size of Taylor’s reputation to get the better of her. That could have quite easily happened, too, and indeed has happened to many of Taylor’s opponents in the past. Typically, following a good start, we would see these opponents begin to doubt themselves in the latter portion of the fight and eventually allow Taylor, as courageous as any female fighter on the planet, to rally and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
That this didn’t happen tonight in Dublin is surely a testament to Cameron’s mental fortitude, as well as her ability to stand strong in the presence of a fighter normally so good at suffocating opponents with activity and movement. To achieve this Cameron, 18-0 (8), needed to be on her game throughout and, before the fight, had to believe she was worthy of sharing a ring with Taylor, 22-1 (6), in what was to be Taylor’s first ever pro fight at home in Ireland. She had to also ignore the fact she would walk to the ring first despite being champion and that this was not a fight too many in the arena wanted her to win. Those were just a few of the things Chantelle Cameron had to both believe and ignore and, in the end, believe and ignore them she did, quite brilliantly. Now, at last, she can let her hair down.