“MY MUMMY is a champion,” the little girl told her class at school. That will do nicely and the smile on Tysie Gallagher’s face screams pride.
Last month, Gallagher beat Lisa Whiteside to win the Commonwealth super-bantamweight title. It was her seventh fight, her sixth win. She is 24. Her daughter, Macie, is five. Tysie fights because of Katie Taylor and that is now a familiar story. Nobody fought because of Jane Couch or Christy Martin. The revolution came after they quit the ring. Martin famously hated her opponents and always denied she was fighting to improve the female boxing business – she was in the Coal Miner’s Daughter business. Couch had enough of a struggle to pay for her airfare to fights and then get paid after; surviving was her struggle. Those are harsh and simple facts. Times change, sport moves on.
“I went to the Olympics in London to watch Katie against Natasha Jonas,” Gallagher told me. “The noise was mad. I can remember it so vividly. It was incredible. I wanted to do that; I wanted the Olympics.”
Gallagher had weighed 38 kilos (less than six stone) when she first walked into the gym as a tiny girl of 10. She was at the start of the revolution, a kid in a line throwing jabs and dreaming. That is how it all starts, boy or girl, makes no difference.
She reached finals, she wanted her international experience, she wanted the Olympics. She had seen Katie Taylor; she had seen the others and then she was pregnant. Dream on hold or over. We lose boys and girls at 17 and 18. Pregnant or not, we lose them, and they vanish. And then, during Covid, Gallagher came back to the gym – well, she found whatever door was open at a time when doors were locked. A mum, a bit older, a bit stronger and still dreaming. Katie was still the idol.
She turned pro with Tony Pill, fighting on his shows, listening to his words. She beat tough losers, women that came swinging for her. She still looks about 16 and those hardened women were not happy with a child beating them. “They all came to win, they all tried to take my head off.” Then she lost a tight, tight decision to Nina Hughes over 10 rounds, Hughes won a word title in her next fight. “Nobody wants to lose, nobody.” She also knows that the loss made her. We all know that women take risks, they must and that means they will inevitably have early losses.
“Everybody will end up fighting everybody,” she added. “Tony has always said to me; ‘Do you want to get to the end of your career unbeaten and never having fought anybody, or do you want to win a world title, lose a couple of fights and be in real fights?’ It’s a no brainer. You just have to take the biggest fights and know that you have done your best.”
However, there are risks and risks. A real fight at short notice was recently refused, and it makes sense. Gallagher has time on her side.
The night before I sat with Gallagher at the gym in Finchley, she had been watching Taylor and Amanda Serrano. It’s a fight that anybody wanting glory in a boxing ring should watch and watch.
“She loves the pressure, I really think that is true,” Gallagher told me when I asked about the pressure on Taylor when she walks out with every set of eyes in Ireland on her back this Saturday. “She sold out Madison Square Garden, she won the Olympics – she has dealt with so much pressure. She likes the pressure.”
It’s an observation about Taylor that is often forgotten. Taylor is so confident, so happy in that moment of truth that it is easy to forget that she relishes that moment, those minutes before she starts fighting. Gallagher never overlooks it. Taylor does not and has never belonged to a choir, don’t ever be fooled by the soft voice and gentle eyes. Gallagher has a bit of that, trust me.
“You saw her on the ring walk for the Serrano fight,” she continued. “She is taking it all in, she owns it. You can tell that it is her life. She paved the way for all of us. I watch her fights all the time.”
In the fight against Whiteside, there was a gentle shift in the way Gallagher fought. She was better than I had been told, she was faster, smarter and stronger. I asked her if, during camp, she had got the equivalent of what we call her ‘man’s strength’. And, she had in some ways.
“I felt like in camp, for about five or six weeks, something just clicked in me,” she said, glancing over at Pill as she spoke. “I just took it to another level. And I did the same in the fight.” Her sparring list is, like all female fighters now, packed with potential future opponents. She has done rounds with Raven Chapman, Ellie Scotney and Shannon Courtenay.
“We all spar, it’s the way it is and one day, you might have to fight them. Look at Chantelle and Katie – your idols become your rivals. That is the business,” added Gallagher. She is right.
The modern pioneers, women like Martin and Couch, would have been better boxers if they had been able to share rounds with other women. And decent women, not the rubbish that was found so often to be their opponents. That is a simple fact, and it is what is really driving the female boxing business now. Couch and Martin are judged on their large hearts and guts from fights that were lost causes.
Gallagher might be in Dublin on Saturday night. There will be, however, no shortage of girls watching their idols.