For several weeks after her victory over Natasha Jonas back in May, Katie Taylor’s camp had been teasing a huge upcoming announcement regarding her next opponent. As is always the case in such situations, the rumor and innuendo ran rampant. Jonas and undisputed welterweight champion Jessica McCaskill were both lobbying hard for rematches with Taylor, both of which held immense appeal to fight fans. Heavy-hitting super-lightweight titleholder Chantelle Cameron has been calling out the Irish superstar for a rumble for a while now. Perhaps the super fight against Amanda Serrano was going to happen after all. Good guesses each and everyone but, as it would turn out, they all couldn’t have been more wrong.
With all due respect to Jennifer Han, it came as quite a shock when it was revealed in the middle of July that she was being given the shot at Katie as her supposed IBF mandatory. It is a curious thing indeed that she would be assigned the pole position atop the IBF lightweight rankings ahead of unbeaten Estelle Yoka Mossely and 7-1 Maira Moneo, both of whom hold secondary belts in the division. There is also Natasha Jonas as well as former world champion and top contender Melissa St. Vil who Han inexplicably leapfrogged over considering the fact that she has had one lone contest at 135—an eight-rounder a year and a half ago in which she decisioned unrated Jerry Sitzes (15-10-1), Han’s first fight since vacating the IBF world featherweight title two years prior and last since giving birth six months back.
Unbothered by the harsh criticism that her unlikely title shot has been subject to, Han seemed pleased to be playing the role of underdog, boasting in pre-fight interviews that Taylor is “beatable” and that her team has worked up “plenty of strategies” to pull off the inconceivable upset. Katie, a former footballer and lifelong Leeds United fan, vowed to take Han plenty seriously and not look past her, just happy enough to be able to defend her collection of lightweight title belts in the co-main event in front of a raucous sold-out crowd at the Emerald Headingley Rugby Stadium on Saturday.
The 38-year-old challenger, known as ‘El Paso’s Sweetheart,’ was a decorated amateur boxer with two National Golden Gloves titles and a win at the 2004 National Championships to her credit. Her pro career got off to an inauspicious start, dropping a majority decision to Melissa St. Vil in her debut then fighting to a stalemate with Nydia Feliciano six months later. She would lose only twice over the course of her next fourteen bouts, earning her a crack at the vacant IBF world featherweight title opposite the Nigerian ‘Iron Lady’ Helen Joseph. A third-round knockdown notwithstanding, Han comfortably outpointed Joseph to claim the belt which she successfully defended four times, the last being in February 2018 against Lizbeth Crespo.
Han was clearly overmatched in Leeds as Taylor pressed forward from the starting bell and established a fast, aggressive pace with which her challenger was simply unable to keep up. Having studied Han’s style in the preceding weeks, Katie was aware of the fact that she had a good jab and expertly nullified it by beating Jennifer to the punch with her own and following it up with multi-shot combinations. Taylor’s frantic work rate made it near impossible for Han to get any sort of rhythm going or time counterpunches in between Katie’s relentless volleys. Taylor also employs a graceful fluidity to her lateral motion and head movement while working her way inside to inflict damage at the same time as avoiding it. All things considered, it was obvious that Han was having an extremely frustrating night at the office.
Though the former featherweight appeared to be the bigger fighter from a physical standpoint, Han was being bullied around the ring and peppered repeatedly by body shots and Taylor’s left jab. There was a fair amount of clinches initiated by Han in an effort to stem Taylor’s offensive flow, for which she was finally given a warning in round seven, but Katie wisely took advantage of such opportunities to sneak in some upclose work to the midsection or a short-range uppercut once she had disentangled herself.
A Taylor left hook with thirty seconds left in the eighth caused Han to stumble backwards and Katie, once having caught up to her again at center ring, put Jennifer down on the canvas with a lightning-quick three-punch combination-left to the head, right to the body, another left upstairs. After righting herself, Han protested about it being a slip or push but was rightly administered a standing eight count regardless. Seeking a statement-making stoppage, Taylor kept her pedal to the metal amidst soccer chants emanating from the Leeds faithful, but Han proved to be a tough enough customer to remain vertical until the bout’s inevitable conclusion-a clean sweep for Katie on the judges’ scorecards by identical tallies of 100-89.
Saucy Aussie Ebanie Bridges was back in action on Saturday after just four weeks, having stopped 3-9 Bec Connolly in the third round of their August 4 Matchroom Summer Camp bout. This tight turnaround time is not at all uncommon for Bridges who says she loves to fight and would every weekend if it was possible. Saturday’s outing was Bridges’ fourth of the year thus far, with a similar four week waiting period separating her win over Carol Earl in Australia from her thrilling donnybrook with Shannon Courtenay after which she allowed herself a recuperative four-month furlough.
It goes without saying that it wasn’t the Harley Quinn-inspired boxing gear in which Bridges beat down Bec Connolly last month that caught anyone’s attention, but the barely-there undergarments she stripped down to at the previous day’s weigh-in. Again, this is just a matter of Ebanie being Ebanie. Whether you’re irritated and perhaps offended by Bridges’ antics or—pardon the choice of words—titillated by her exhibitionist tendencies, she is simply giddy at the prospect at eliciting a reaction one way or the other.
It is clearly her intent to put forth jaw-dropping performances both on the scales and in the ring the day after. She didn’t disappoint on either count this weekend, literally turning heads at Friday’s weigh-in courtesy of what she was wearing, or not wearing as the case may be, a frilly white number which left little to the most fertile imagination. It is admittedly pretty entertaining to watch Eddie Hearn and the other men onstage forcing themselves to strenuously avert their gaze so as not to get busted sneaking a peek at Ebanie’s prominently displayed assets. No matter how you look at it, or elect not to, the cheeky Bridges is having a laugh.
The following day, Bridges would be engaging in an eight-round tussle with 25-year-old Mailys Gangloff (5-2, 2 KOs), a 2014 European Youth Championship finalist (losing to Irma Teasta in the deciding match) who rebounded from a shutout loss to Ellie Scotney back in March by breaking Romane Geffray’s nose en route to a fourth-round stoppage six weeks later. Ebanie once more proved that there is more than meets the eye by transforming from provocateur to prizefighter and hanging tough in the face of excruciating adversity.
Bridges favors a brawl and Mailys Gangloff was happy to comply. The two combatants fearlessly mixed it up, the more heavy-handed Bridges often getting in the first shot or two in the back and forth exchanges and Gangloff fighting her way out of trouble with nicely-timed counters as Ebanie stalked forward. Bridges and Gangloff were both eager to stand and trade at an uptempo pace, delivering the rowdy onlookers a fan-friendly scrap.
Often forgoing defense in the process, Bridges was taking an inordinate amount of punches and the same eye which was hideously swollen shut against Shannon Courtenay became compromised to a lesser degree in this fight as Gangloff’s consistency and accuracy picked up significantly as the bout wore on. Worse than that, though, was that from the third round on Bridges could be seen shaking her right hand on numerous occasions and throwing it reluctantly if at all in the later going when she was, for all intents and purpose, a one-handed fighter relying almost solely on her left jab to score points and attempt to ward off incoming blows.
With Gangloff in the driver’s seat throughout the second half of the fight, it certainly seemed plausible that the French bantam warrior had done more than enough to secure the upset victory yet, despite her impairments, Ebanie Bridges was given the nod by the slimmest of margins. Steve Gray, the lone decision maker in this contest, scored the fight 77-76 in favor of Bridges who later revealed that she broke her hand in the second round, posting a picture on social media of what looked more like a water-filled surgical glove from the emergency room.
Who knows at this point whether Ebanie Bridges and Katie Taylor will share another bill together, but a Bridges/Courtenay rematch would make for an exciting support bout to Taylor/McCaskill 2 or Katie versus Amanda Serrano at Madison Square Garden later this year or early 2022.
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