The Barys Arena, Astana. It has steps running up to the front doors and sits like a coliseum with smoked glass wrapping around the entire structure.
At the back, scrub grassland of the Steppes runs as far as the eye can see. Not much goes on in Astana that is of great interest to Ireland but, in 2016, shortly before the Rio Olympic Games, the Kazak plains were as desolate a place as there could have for Katie Taylor, when she lost in the world championships.
Taylor had not been beaten in a significant amateur boxing event for over 10 years. Defeat was absent since her first European Championship win in Tonsberg, Norway in 2005, when she was 17.
She recalled in her book, My Olympic Dream, which came out after the London Olympics in 2012, how her mother Bridget remembered her first loss in Riccione, Italy. She faced a Russian boxer called Yuliya Nemtsova in her debut European Championships in 2004 and was beaten on the first day.
“I was devastated,” she said. “I think I spent the remainder of the week crying in my room. Seeing the state I was in, the question my mam asked me was whether I wanted to continue doing this.
“She asked if I would rather have come to Italy and experienced the loss or stayed at home in Ireland and not bothered. I knew that I wanted to go to Italy, but I also knew I did not want to feel like this again.”
Taylor was also beaten in Bulgaria in 2011 when came up against local boxer Denitsa Eliseeva in a multi-nation tournament. There was no doubt in her mind that she had won the fight and that was reinforced when the referee raised her hand in victory after the final bell only for an official at the event to announce Eliseeva as the winner. Eliseeva had the good grace to chase Taylor back to her changing room and apologise.
Taylor also lost to Azerbaijani boxer Yana Alekseevna in 2016 at an Olympic Qualification tournament in Samsun, Turkey. But at European or World Championship level she went from 2005 to 2016 without defeat until the Barys Arena in Kazakhstan, when she came up against French boxer Estelle Mossely.
Taylor won the first round 10-9 with all three judges, Mossely won the second with two judges, three again went with Taylor in round three before Mossely was suspiciously given the bout on a split decision. The world turned, the number one was out.
Afterwards Taylor was in shock and left the arena without speaking. She would go on to the Olympics in Rio later that year and suffer another defeat to Finland’s Miro Potkonen. It proved a catalyst to Taylor turning professional and redrawing the lightweight map in her image as she had done in amateur boxing.
What is instructive from Taylor is that her reaction to each defeat was utter surprise. She has never lacked the confidence to feel she would win. One of her founding attractions is humility and lack of arrogance. But the fortitude to be like that is absolute faith in her ability.
All through her fight with Chantelle Cameron last Saturday in the 3Arena, the commands shouted at her between rounds by coach Ross Emanait were caught by boxing broadcaster DAZN with corner cams as Taylor stood between rounds.
“You got faster hands, you got faster feet. She can’t touch you unless you stand still and let her, right,” says Emanait after the first round.
“When you’re on the ropes she has a free pass, tries to treat you like a heavy bag. You are not a f***king heavy bag,” he screams after the fifth round.
“Use your attributes. You got better hand speed, better foot speed so when you are in close you got to overwhelm her with the hand speed. When we’re done touching her, we don’t need to stand there and let her answer back.”
The only recourse for Taylor is to examine whether she followed those commands and maybe fall back on some of the epistles of the past.
“You give me your shield of victory and your right hand sustains me. You stoop down to make me great. It is God who arms me with strength.” Psalm 18:32:35. That will be one. Katie will read defeat as design for a higher purpose.
She will reach for the measures that have worked for her before because that’s all she knows. She has lost. It is not new but shocking for her and those in the 3Arena. The response will define her.
“I have lost seven times from 139 fights,” she said after winning gold at London 2012. “It is easier for me to remember those defeats. I’ve learned more as a boxer and more about who I am as a person in those seven losses than I have in the other 132 wins. There were reasons for the losses and they’re important to understand because their influence has helped shape me into the boxer I am now.”
Nobody ends Taylor. Katie does that. Her career is unlikely to finish in the shadow of defeat but in the light of accomplishment. Astana, Turkey and Rio, the tools are there.