Regardless of the fact that only two of the three female bouts headlining Saturday evening’s Wembley Arena boxing card would turn out to be world title fights, with one demoted to interim status, the headline-making show promoted by Eddie Hearn was nonetheless a watershed moment for women’s boxing. As it should be when competing at a world championship level, each of the half-dozen women was coming off particularly tough fights in their last respective outings, none of them cruising to victory.
In fact, petite Argentine Jorgelina Guanini just barely managed to escape a close call by way of a majority draw with Micaela Lujan, coming up short on one scorecard in defense of her IBF super-flyweight title this past June back home in Buenos Aires. A late replacement for Ball’s original opponent Ebanie Bridges, who had to bow out due to an arm injury, Guanini tipped the scales over the stipulated weight limit, even with an agreed-upon overage allowed for due to the last-minute scramble, not to mention having her shoulder-length locks shaved down to a severe buzzcut to no avail. All this to say the vacant WBA world bantamweight belt which was to have been up for grabs was taken off the table.
It was hoped that WBA world super-bantamweight champion Mayerlin Rivas might agree to surrender her title to be squabbled over at Wembley instead since she is strongly considering scaling down to the bantamweight division anyway. However, the concession prize ultimately made available was the interim version of the WBC super-bantamweight title (Yamileth Mercado being the world champion), but even this would be unattainable to Guanini. It would be winnable only by Rachel Ball, who upset Eddie Hearn’s applecart by dropping Matchroom’s heavily-favored rising star Shannon Courtenay with a perfectly-timed check hook in the first round of their August 14 Summer Fight Camp bout, overcoming subsequent adversity to eke out a narrow points win. Both Ball and Guanini had tasted defeat only once coming into Wembley on Saturday, Ball’s loss occurring by way of a March 2019 majority decision which went to Katharina Thanderz.
Born in Norway but a resident of Altea, Spain, Thanderz is as soft-spoken, respectful, and likable as a prizefighter gets. She is also not one to shy away from a brawl, and she had her hands full with Danila Ramos in her old stomping ground of Oslo almost an entire year ago. Escaping with a narrow split-decision victory, Katharina earned recognition as the interim WBC super-featherweight titlist and mandatory challenger to world champion Terri Harper, who had more than her share of nervous moments against Natasha Jonas in early August. The potential fight of the year between Harper and Jonas on Matchroom’s second installment of the Fight Camp series in the backyard of Eddie Hearn’s Brentwood estate resulted in a controversial split draw with everyone keen on seeing an immediate encore. Unfortunately, the return bout failed to materialize, relegating Jonas to color commentary duty on the Sky Sports broadcast and opening the door to Wembley Arena for Thanderz to step through.
Katie Taylor, without a doubt the star attraction of the evening, maintained possession of her complete collection of world lightweight title belts by grinding out a second hardscrabble win over Delfine Persoon. If Persoon was sounding a conciliatory melody in the direct aftermath of her rematch with Taylor on August 22, she has since changed her tune. Delfine now claims to have had her nose broken by a possibly deliberate headbutt in the second round, finding it nearly impossible to breathe or keep her focus throughout the rest of the fight. There have also been charges of bias levied by Persoon’s camp against the judges and Matchroom’s commentators whose scores and on-air remarks they feel were contrary to the reality of the situation. While Delfine, and most fans for that matter, would like to see their rivalry reach its natural conclusion in the form of a trilogy to settle the matter for good and all, it seems that Taylor is confident she has written the last, definitive sentence of that chapter in her career and is content to move on.
Enter Miriam Gutierrez, fighting out of her birthplace of Madrid. Despite being knocked down in the tenth and final round, Gutierrez bested Keren Batiz by slim margins on November 29 of last year, thanks in part to two points having been deducted from Batiz’ tally along the way, to become Katie Taylor’s WBA mandatory challenger. The 37-year-old Gutierrez knows from adversity and resilience, having been physically assaulted by her former partner at the age of 21 when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter Zayra. Hoping that her disturbing experiences will benefit others, Miriam joined forces with a council in suburban Madrid that assists victims of domestic violence while educating the public about this societal malady. An admitted fan of Katie Taylor, Gutierrez had a successful amateur boxing career of her own, winning three Spanish championships at welterweight and light-middleweight but missing out on the chance to represent her country at the 2016 Rio summer games because her weight class was not part of the Olympic curriculum.
In the three show-opening men’s bouts, Thomas Whittaker Hart remained undefeated by outpointing Jermaine Springer in an eight-round light-heavyweight contest, Ukashir Farooq thoroughly dominated Angel Aviles en route to a unanimous decision victory for the vacant WBA Continental bantamweight championship (like Guanini, Aviles missed weight and was ineligible to win the title), and Jack Cullen overcame a questionable first-round knockdown to deal John Docherty his first career defeat in a super-middleweight scrap preceded by brash verbal jabs hurled by Docherty that he was ultimately unable to back up in the ring.
Jorgelina Guanini did what she could to stalk forward and establish herself as the aggressor, but was at a decided disadvantage against five-foot-nine Rachel Ball. Shooting up from a crouch with looping lefts and right leads, Guanini would have to employ a one-step-forward-two-steps-back strategy to keep out of Ball’s extended range. The firehaired Brit showed patience and poise, methodically working her offense through her left jab, behind which she would snap off hit-and-miss combinations. Guanini, who remained standing between rounds, had early success evading many incoming shots with exemplary head movement and countering nicely off Ball’s errant swings.
Curiously, Guanini paid little attention to Ball’s midsection which seemed like a missed opportunity with her opponent’s navel within naturally easy reach. A more concentrated investment in body work would have served to compromise Ball’s higher center of gravity in addition to forcing the taller fighter to drop her guard momentarily to protect her ribcage while leaving her chin vulnerable, which was exactly what happened on the occasions Jorgelina did double up on quick combinations to the body and head. For the most part though, Guanini seemed intent on headhunting with increasingly wild punches which seemed to sap her energy as the rounds wore on. The reversal of fortune in the fight wasn’t necessarily dramatic, but Ball did seem to fight with more urgency in the later going, closing the distance with growing regularity and mixing it up on the inside where she did the better work of the two.
Rachel Ball earned a clear victory and the interim WBC super-bantamweight title by totals of 99-91 on two scorecards and one tally of 99-92. With a variety of options open to her, not least of which is having become mandatory challenger to Yamileth Mercado, Ball expressed a desire to honor her original obligation to Ebanie Bridges for her next fight.
It looked like if any of the favored female boxers Saturday evening were ripe for upset, it was Terri Harper. Not only had she held onto her WBC and IBO belts by the skin of her teeth in a controversial draw with Natasha Jonas, but Harper was stepping into the ring against something of an unknown quantity in the undefeated Katharina Thanderz. Despite her relatively low profile, never having boxed outside Spain or Norway prior to Saturday, Thanderz represented a legitimate threat to Harper’s title reign and grand design for a unification fight with Mikaela Mayer. Katharina’s work ethic speaks for itself. Defensively Thanderz is impeccable, holding her guard high while pulling her head off the line during exahanges to avoid counter attacks. She relies studiously on her jab and is known for varying her punch selection and tempo which can cause confusion and spell trouble for her foes.
Thanderz was given very little opportunity to showcase her exquisite skillset at Wembley thanks to the fact that Terri Harper rose to the occasion and turned in an absolutely brilliant performance from start to finish. The champion consistently beat her challenger to the punch and took the wind out of Thanderz’ sails with an onslaught of body shots, something the Norwegian is ordinarily known to do. Harper later revealed that she broke her right hand in the fourth round, but you wouldn’t know it by watching the fight as her work rate did not appear to diminish to any noticeable degree.
Referee Victor Loughlin waved off the fight at 1:12 of the penultimate round after Thanderz was visibly shaken by a body blow and under ferocious attack. Even if the fight result was a foregone conclusion by then, the stoppage seemed to be somewhat arbitrary. No doubt Thanderz was in trouble at that moment, but she did not appear to be in any sort of physical peril. There was no protest from Thanderz or her corner, although she subsequently decried the referee’s decision as “horrific” and claimed that the blood streaming from her nose came courtesy of a headbutt. Thanderz also regretted that no international judges were on hand due to the Covid crisis, but this was a moot point under the circumstances. She was not crying over spilt milk, however, and praised Harper as a skilled world champion.
A sis by side comparison of Katie Taylor and Miriam Gutierrez shows the Spanish challenger to be the bigger, more muscular fighter by a long shot. The undisputed champion betrayed no sign of intimidation, however, pressing the accelerator to the floor from the opening bell with a fury and grim determination to put an abrupt stop to the fight that we haven’t seen from Katie in some time. By contrast, Gutierrez has a reputation for being something of an awkward, one-gear fighter which is a style perfectly suited for a high-octane combatant of Taylor’s caliber.
Taylor was in classic form, boxing beautifully from long range and throwing a heavy volume of punches in close quarters which kept Gutierrez fighting off the backfoot for the majority of the bout. Katie caught Gutierrez walking forward with an overhand right and followed up with a left hook on the button to deposit her challenger onto the canvas right at the bell signaling the end of round four. Gutierrez picked herself up off the floor and retuned to her corner following a mandatory eight count. Indeed, she would finish the fight on her feet despite Taylor’s best efforts to put her away, which nearly occurred on a handful of occasions. Katie retained her titles by unanimously comfortable margins, although one judge somehow saw fit to award a round to Gutierrez.
Ever humble in victory, Taylor shared the post-fight stage with Gutierrez who was gracious in defeat, bowing to her conqueror with both hands pressed together in the universal gesture for “Namaste.” Katie even handed Miriam her WBC and WBA title belts to hold while they posed for photos at center ring in a sincere display of sportsmanship and respect.
There are those who have focused their post-mortem on Katie Taylor’s performance on the fact that she failed to finish off her clearly overmatched and often staggered opponent which is credible enough, but also sells Gutierrez short in terms of her physical and mental durability. Calling the fight for Sky Sports at ringside, Natasha Jonas, who lost to Katie in the quarterfinals of the 2012 Olympics and is itching for a rematch at the professional level, made specific mention of this shortcoming of Taylor’s, one of very few it must be said, but one which could prove detrimental against knockout artist Amanda Serrano assuming Eddie Hearn and Lou DiBella can finally do business together and make this match happen. Katie is keeping her options open with regard to the mega-bout with Serrano, a crossover fight with Cris Cyborg, or resuming hostilities with Natasha Jonas.
Without looking too far ahead, let us applaud Katie Taylor, Terri Harper, and Rachel Ball for their classy, winning efforts Saturday evening on this historic card at Wembley. A tip of the cap also to Jorgelina Guanini, Katharina Thanderz, and Miriam Gutierrez for putting forth credible, gutsy challenges. We wish them all well in their future travels.
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