In the process of securing her twentieth victory in as many fights at the professional level (fourteen of which have been world title matches), Katie Taylor retained her status as undefeated, undisputed lightweight champion Saturday evening in Liverpool. Click here if you want to find the best site to bet on boxing!
Having also satisfied all immediate obligations to contend with mandatory challengers, Taylor additionally paved the way toward the hugely anticipated showdown opposite Amanda Serrano which has been teased for the last three years. Pending the outcome of Serrano’s lightweight clash with Katie’s former challenger Miriam Gutierrez this coming Saturday (a foregone conclusion in the minds of pretty much everyone), the mega bout between arguably the two greatest pound for pound women’s fighters in the game today is being pre-arranged for next April, to take place at the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden.
Accomplishing all of this, however, turned out to be a far tougher task for Taylor than the vast majority of fight fans believed it would be. Or thought it should be. Firuza Sharipova saw to that.
Eight years Taylor’s junior, Sharipova began boxing as an amateur in 2011, repeating as Kazakh National Champion in 2012 and 2013. Having missed out on the opportunity to represent her home country in the 2012 Olympics, then again in the 2016 Rio summer games, Firuza entered the pro ranks that May. Unfortunately for Sharipova, she was matched against another former amateur who also happened to be making her professional debut.
Russian southpaw Sofya Ochigava had more than 100 victories to her credit over the course of an illustrious eleven-year amateur career which was highlighted by multiple medal-winning tournament appearances and besting the likes of Chantelle Cameron, Natasha Jonas, and Mikaela Mayer. Not to mention, she was among the rare few to defeat her personal nemesis, Katie Taylor.
After dropping a disputed decision to Taylor in the gold medal match at the 2012 London Olympics, Ochigava was very vocal about her displeasure regarding the outcome, leveling the first of what would become many complaints by various fighters with concern to Katie being gifted verdicts they felt she wasn’t necessarily entitled to. Just ask Delfine Persoon or Christina Linardatou.
Ochigava easily outpointed Sharipova over four rounds in their shared debut five and a half years ago, but would resurface in the buildup to this fight by offering to train Firuza. This, of course, would come with the benefit of Ochigava’s ability to impart onto her former foe turned pupil the intimate knowledge of how to best exploit Taylor’s perceived weaknesses which she had gleaned from past experience fighting opposite the Irish phenom. Taking this into consideration, Sharipova attempted to play mind games with Taylor, promising that she would be in for a “double nightmare.” Not one to be affected whatsoever by psychological ploys, Katie responded by saying she “couldn’t care less.”
Following her curtain-raising loss to Ochigava, Sharipova rattled off fourteen consecutive victories with eight of them coming inside the distance. The problem being only four of these women had winning records while six of them were fighting as pros for the first time. This disparity in experience makes it more than reasonable to wonder how Sharipova was able to attain the summit of the WBA’s lightweight rankings, earning her a mandatory crack at Taylor’s undisputed title.
Nevertheless, this is how we arrived at the events of Liverpool this past weekend which turned out to be a bit more harrowing for the defending champion than anyone had anticipated, and this includes Katie Taylor herself.
Although she would never have admitted this publicly, it’s safe to assume that Taylor felt the need to answer her detractors by turning in an impressive performance in anticipation of the Amanda Serrano super fight to come. It has been suggested, based on recent outings, that the 35-year-old Taylor may well be a shot fighter with her best days already behind her. Naysayers are quick to point to the fact that Katie had knocked down both Miriam Gutierrez and Jennifer Han, two of her most recent and significantly overmatched challengers, but failed to finish either of them off.
By way of rebuttal, it should be stated that, as much as she loves a good scrap, even vintage Katie Taylor was never known to be a big puncher, fearsome finisher, or knockout artist the likes of Serrano. Only six of her now twenty victims have been dispatched prior to the final bell, and four of these half-dozen stoppages occurred within her first six fights, or to put it another way, before she had become a world champion.
That said, it could be argued that her technical proficiency may appear to be slipping by slow degrees of late. Ever her own harshest critic, Taylor has openly expressed dissatisfaction with her recent wins, chiefly her narrower than expected decision over Firuza Sharipova. What was assumed to be a walk in the park for Katie devolved into an experiment in Darwinian theory with Taylor, by necessity, making improvisational adjustments to do whatever was necessary in order to prove herself the more fit for survival while fending off a younger, hungrier, and extremely tenacious challenger.
Sharipova was busy with the jab from the outset, connecting quite frequently and throwing right hands behind it to both the body and head of the champion, who was made to rely on precisely-timed counters in the very early stages. It wasn’t until round three of what was already proving to be a highly competitive fight that Katie was able to more consistently employ her exemplary hand speed to beat her challenger to the punch with the voluminous work rate for which she is renowned.
Whether as a result of an accumulation of Taylor’s punches or one of their frequent head clashes, abrasions appeared above and beneath Sharipova’s right eye. The skin below her eyebrow would eventually split open, but the cut would be well tended to and not be a factor. Besides resorting to headbutts, Sharipova made creative use of her elbows and forearms, and repeatedly clinched Taylor when the action threatened to become a little too hot and heavy in a manner that was disadvantageous to her.
While not a dirty boxer by any stretch of the imagination, Katie has been known to fight fire with fire by conjuring what she refers to as “the dark arts” when the occasion warrants their use. This was one of those times.
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Midway through the sixth round, just as referee John Latham was in the midst of separating the two fighters to issue a warning to Sharipova for excessive holding, the cunning challenger threw a cheap-shot left hook on the break which necessitated an immediate point deduction. While being paraded around the ring by Latham, an unrepentant Sharipova smirked the entire time. Their spirited exchanges soon resumed and Taylor’s trainer Ross Enamait could be heard instructing his fighter to “pick it up” and “get her coming in.”
To his credit, referee John Latham allowed the pair of combatants to stand shoulder to shoulder for the final forty seconds or more, engaging one another from stiflingly close quarters. Taylor put her experience to good use by taking the occasional short step back to get off a clean right hook or two before the final bell sounded.
By tallies of 98-92, 97-92, and 96-93, the verdict was unanimously in favor of the reigning undisputed champion, although perhaps a little too close for comfort given the unknown quantity of her opposition. As much as some may want to say “I told you so” regarding Katie Taylor’s supposed decline, all due credit must go to Sharipova for surprising her doubters by bringing her A-game to Liverpool and giving Taylor all she could handle and then some.
Now all eyes will be on Tampa this weekend when Amanda Serrano returns to the lightweight division for what should be little more than a tune up for Taylor against Katie’s former adversary, Miriam Gutierrez. Assuming that everything unfolds as it should on Saturday, Eddie Hearn’s master plan involves finally signing Taylor and Serrano to clash at Madison Square Garden next April in what will beyond a shadow of a doubt be the biggest, most lucrative and pivotal fight in the history of women’s boxing.
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