Tayla Harris has credited Australian boxing superstar Tim Tszyu for helping her become comfortable with knocking other women out – with the AFLW favourite revealing there was a time where she refused to pull the trigger on opponents who looked too “scared” or “sad” to be finished.
Already one of Australia’s most recognised female athletes, Harris will create history on Wednesday night when she headlines the nation’s first all-female boxing card at Moore Park, Sydney.
Apart from looking to take the Australian super welterweight title from reigning champ Milli Agboegbulen, the 26-year-old is also eyeing off a path to world title straps and promising to continue an impressive run of stoppages that now sits at four straight.
Undefeated boxer and four-time AFL Women’s All-Australian Tayla Harris is headlining the first all-female card that also features tough up and comer Ella Boot LIVE on Kayo Sports. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
Yet while Harris is undefeated in all nine appearances, and has not been required to go the distance since 2018, the rising star of women’s boxing reveals more than a little mental work has been required to get there.
Speaking with Fox Sports Australia on Monday, the reigning Melbourne premiership hero said that in the early days of her professional career, she refused to finish opponents even when the opportunity presented itself.
Making her professional debut in 2017, Harris went to decision in every one of her first five fights – which finally prompted a frank conversation with coach Tai Tuiniua.
“I remember in the early days, there were opportunities (to finish opponents),” Harris revealed, before explaining how her crew from Team Ellis Gym intervened.
“My coach said ‘what’s going on?’
“I said ‘ah, she looked a bit scared, bit sad …”
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So you wouldn’t pull the trigger when opponents were hurt?
“Oh, one hundred per cent,” she conceded.
“By nature, I don’t want to hurt anyone – let alone knock them out.
“So I’ve really had to make a dramatic shift.
“Actually had to consider if boxing was going to be the sport for me if I wasn’t willing to knock my opponents out.
“And my coach, he presented that to me.
“And I had to look him in the eye and say, ‘yes, I am willing to do it’.
“And now I’m not going to go back on that.
“I can’t look my coach in the eye and say that I’m going to do this sport – go forward in this sport – if I’m not going to commit to (finishing rivals).
“And ever since we’ve had that conversation, I’ve caught the bug …”
Caught plenty of opponents, too.
While Covid kept her out of the ring for close to three years, Harris has always continued training and, in this year’s April return against Connie Chan, won within three rounds.
Before that, the fighting footballer also won both the Australian super welterweight title against Janay Harding and Australian middleweight strap against Margarite Butcher TKO.
Speaking after Monday’s No Limit press conference at Bondi Boxing Club, Harris revealed it was prior to the first national title fight where her team had discussed the fighter’s mentality around finishing fights.
She also explained how, more recently, watching Tszyu perform on the world stage has convinced her to adopt a similar mentality to the man dubbed ‘Soul Taker’.
“Because early on, there were also times where I’d land a big punch and stand back,” she said.
“I’d be off with the fairies; thinking ‘oh, that was a good one’, or thinking about my foot placement, even hoping my coach had seen what I’d done.
“But in boxing you only have a small window to capitalise.
“And once I realised that, that I had to follow up and capitalise on the opportunity I’d created … yeah, the rest is history
“It’s also something I’ve learned from Tim Tszyu — just the way he is able to capitalise in fights, really make the most of even small opportunities to end it.
“You don’t get paid for overtime.”
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Harris also revealed she now wanted to finish fights not only for herself, but also her corner, family and friends.
“Because ultimately the longer I’m in the ring the more dangerous it is for me,” she said.
“If I don’t capitalise when the opportunity arises, it gives my opponent that chance to do the same to me.
“And every extra second I’m in there is extra stress for my team, my family, and my friends who are watching on.
“So I’ve realised from that point of view, I’m doing everyone a disservice by not finishing.
“It leaves them watching on for longer, with their fingers crossed hoping I don’t step into a big overhand right or something like that.
“And that has definitely helped with the mental shift, when I saw it from that perspective.”
In Wednesday night’s co-main event, rising Aussie star Ella Boot (4-0) will defend her Australian light welterweight strap against MMA convert Annie Thatcher.
Then on the undercard, Australian super featherweight champion Angel Rushton takes on Jaala Tomat, while Tywarna Campbell faces Natasha Kurene.
The first fight of the night will be between welterweights Jess Messina and Zoe Putorak.
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