On a week when a men’s heavyweight boxing champion took a step away from unifying all four belts, Belgium lightweight Delfine Persoon seeks that rare collection when she meets Ireland’s unbeaten Katie Taylor on Saturday night.
By pausing a late-summer showdown with England’s three-belt heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua, who stars in Saturday’s main event at Madison Square Garden, Alabama’s Deontay Wilder will still have an opportunity to collect millions in purse money in a rematch with Cuba’s Luis Ortiz.
But in boxing’s male-female divide, Persoon (43-1, 18 knockouts) must return to her job as a federal policewoman in Belgium once her fight is completed to ensure she’ll have enough money to maintain her modest lifestyle.
“We do it all ourselves because we like boxing, and it’s our passion,” Persoon said Wednesday after facing off with former Olympic gold-medalist Taylor (13-0, six KOs) at their undercard news conference.
Beyond newly unified middleweight champion and two-time Olympic gold-medalist Claressa Shields of Michigan, Norway’s unified welterweight champion Cecilia Braekhus and Taylor, purse money is scarce for women’s fighters.
And that includes someone as gifted as Persoon, who has reigned as World Boxing Council champion through 10 title wins since 2014 while going unbeaten since 2010.
“We look forward to the challenges that make us -- the challenge like Delfine,” Taylor’s manager, Brian Peters, said. “She’s very tough, very experienced, very strong. She can bring in all the dark arts and she’ll show Katie things she’s never seen.”
Taylor-Persoon will make the winner only the fifth fully unified champion since 2017, joining Shields, Braekhus, Terence Crawford and 2018 fighter of the year Oleksandr Usyk.
“Delfine is a formidable challenge. I realize I’ll have to show a lot of heart,” Taylor said. “I’m well prepared for this challenge, and to have a great performance. This is when boxing is at its best: champion versus a champion, and these are the kinds of fights I need to participate in to take the sport to higher levels for all of us. I understand how big this is. This is why I box.”
Persoon emphasized the separation that’s existed between her and Taylor’s boxing preparation. While Persoon has balanced police work and boxing since 2007, Taylor developed through a state-supported amateur system until 2016.
Persoon was assigned to street police work for her first nine years of duty, responding to “trouble,” as she called it, which required her to handcuff suspects, conduct searches with a gun drawn and respond to street violence without using a weapon or closing her fist.
“The Belgium police are not like the American police. If you punch someone, it’s a big ordeal. It’s important to talk with [citizens], to negotiate … if they attack you, then you can defend yourself,” she said, confirming she’d been physically confronted.
Didn’t they know who they were dealing with?
“I didn’t use a fist, it was more like a hard slap. If you punch a guy, you have others who can report it. It’s a system of truth,” said Persoon, who will present a gift to the Midtown Manhattan New York Police Department station Thursday as a token of respect.
Varying morning, daytime and graveyard shifts began to affect her boxing preparation, so Persoon three years ago moved into an office job -- armed and unarmed police training – while relying on close associates to maintain her boxing career.
She stockpiled 55 vacation days over the years to spend on the fight of her life, which arrives Saturday night on DAZN.
“The world championship [fights] I’ve organized with my little team … when some were over, there was no pay,” she said. “My trainer is my promoter. I have my manager, my agent. We have someone who helps with the sponsors, someone to do the media and another person with the mail. They deserve to be paid something. I have to do a lot myself, but I’m so grateful for the volunteers around me because if they weren’t there, I would not be a 10-time WBC champion.”
With the record-high purse money she declined to disclose for the Taylor fight, Persoon plans to invest in a relocation of the gym where she boxes and trains about 100 fighters, seven of whom are professionals.
“Boxing is hard, because it’s one against one and if you have one bad day, one bad moment or one second you’re not ready, the other one will take what you have,” Persoon said.
That might not be a lot monetarily, but to Persoon, it’s everything.