The last time Mike Tyson held a heavyweight title, Katie Taylor was 10 years old and had yet to set foot in a boxing ring as a competitor. The notion that Taylor might one day share a bill with “Iron Mike” was likely one that had never crossed anyone’s mind – least of all her own.

Yet on Monday, Taylor found herself seated on a dais at New York City’s Apollo Theater when Tyson took a chair next to hers and leaned over to catch her ear in the first press conference promoting their July 20 card at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in which Tyson will headline against Jake Paul and Taylor will rematch with Amanda Serrano in the co-main bout.

Taylor, arguably the top women’s fighter in the world, was starstruck.

“He’s just a legend and an icon of the sport,” she said of Tyson. “I grew up and fell in love with the sport in the 90s, and Mike Tyson was the biggest name in boxing during that time. He was ferocious, just super-exciting to watch.”

Much of the same could be said for Taylor (23-1, 6 KOs), who has been as influential in the current rise of women’s boxing – and the explosion in women’s sports in general – as anyone. In 2022, she and Serrano (46-2-1, 30 KOs) sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden in the first women’s headliner at the venue, and Taylor escaped with a skin-of-her-teeth split decision to retain her undisputed lightweight championship in a spectacle honored as Fight of the Year (Sports Illustrated) and Event of the Year (Ring Magazine). Despite progressing into her late thirties, Taylor hasn’t slowed down since, immediately avenging the first loss of her career with an impressive, hard-fought decision win against the naturally larger Chantelle Cameron. 

But in front of the cameras and a crowd of onlookers at the Apollo on Monday, Taylor could have been mistaken for just another Tyson fan. During her moments on the microphone, she focused mostly on the man at the table to her left, noting that when asked by her family last year what was left on her boxing-career bucket list, she said, “I want to meet Mike Tyson.” Taylor even took moments during Monday’s presser to turn and address Tyson directly.

“I love your knowledge of boxing, and I love listening to you speak,” she said. “I just cannot believe I’m sitting next to Mike Tyson right now. I’m pinching myself.”

Although Tyson’s well-regarded boxing catalog didn’t include the first Taylor-Serrano fight – “I never saw it,” he said with a sheepish smile – he seemed touched by Taylor’s admiration. When host Ariel Helwani confirmed with the fighters that they were meeting for the first time on the dais, calling them “two legends in their own right,” Tyson reached over to dap Taylor, who, perhaps caught up in the moment, awkwardly grabbed his fist.

If Taylor-Serrano II provides even a fraction of the fireworks from the fighters’ first meeting, Ireland’s 37-year-old Taylor is all but certain to make a new fan in Tyson. Until then, she seems perfectly content simply being part of the show.

“This is a dream to me,” Taylor said.

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