“Szilvia Szabados has a lot of heart and is fearless. Very tough girl,” six–time world champion Layla McCarter affirmed for me late Friday night after having weighed in at Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall and making sure to enjoy some down time with family and friends who flew in to Las Vegas for the fight.
With this being Szabados’ fourth outing of 2017, not to mention her second away from home and on American television, the 26 year–old Hungarian undeniably has a manic yet admirable work ethic. After losing to Claressa Shields by a fourth–round TKO on the main event of ShoBox: The New Generation on March 10, Szilvia swung back into action a mere two weeks ago, earning a technical knockout of her own over Katalin Menes in Budapest.
To put things into further perspective, Layla McCarter went into Saturday with 56 bouts to her credit, spanning a hall of fame career the length of which is fast approaching the two–decade landmark. Szilvia ‘Sunset’ Szabados, still comparatively in the sunrise of her pugilistic life, has been boxing professionally for just over three years and, at 16–9, already possesses a resume half as lengthy as McCarter’s.
It was confirmed earlier this week that Premier Boxing Champions would be airing Layla’s bout versus Szabados as the co–main event, along with a welterweight showdown between Ladarius Miller and Jesus Gutierrez, on a special prelim edition on FoxSports2 as a lead–in to the feature broadcast on FS1 which saw Carlos Zambrano put his interim WBA World Featherweight Title on the line against Claudio Marrero, with the vacant IBO belt additionally up for grabs.
“TV coverage is an important part of moving women’s boxing back into the spotlight,” acknowledged McCarter who is no stranger to the airwaves. For example, Fox Sports Net first showcased Layla back in 2003 when she familiarized then–unbeaten Claudia Valenciana with the taste of canvas (twice) as well as that of ultimate defeat on its June 14, 2003 boxing program.
McCarter’s 2004 rematch with Chevelle Hallback was promoted by ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and shown live on ESPN2. Her November 2006 GBU World Lightweight Title contest against Belinda Laracuente, a classic and historic battle waged over 10 three–minute rounds, was broadcast by CSI Sports, albeit a week after the fact. Additionally, the memorable trilogy of fights McCarter engaged in with the current WBA/WBC World Featherweight Champion Jelena Mrdjenovich was transmitted by KO Boxing to home viewers in Jelena’s native Canada. In April 2015, McCarter masterfully picked apart Lucia Rijker’s protégé Diana Prazak piece by piece within the perimeter of a gladiatorial, ropeless pit during a BKB (Big Knockout Boxing. No ring. No ropes. More knockouts, promised the evidently defunct company) pay–per–view event. For this accomplishment, she added their Female Lightweight Championship belt to her trophy case where it will remain, undefended.
Layla was returning to the ring on Saturday evening following a protracted layoff of nearly nine months. Despite the fact that McCarter’s eight–round unanimous decision over Melissa Hernandez in their fourth and final head–to–head skirmish was buried on the non–televised undercard of Deontay Wilder’s title defense against Chris Arreola in Birmingham, Alabama on PBC last July, the heavyweight titleholder had personally requested her presence on his hometown show in a respectful gesture very much appreciated by McCarter.
Hernandez announced her retirement hours after last summer’s fight but, after the Nevada State Athletic Commission had vetoed Layla’s original opponent for tonight (reportedly former GBU Super–Lightweight Champion Lisa Noel Garland) and no one else was game enough to step up to the challenge (a frustrating recurrence for McCarter in recent years), ‘Hurricane’ Melissa had agreed to touch down in Sin City for a one night only comeback to face off with her friendly foe yet again. An arm injury suffered by Hernandez during training, however, forced her to withdraw and watch from home. Fortunately, Szabados had a rare opening in her astonishingly busy schedule and was willing to accommodate the last–minute offer from Team McCarter.
“It would be great if I could win by KO or TKO,” Layla told me, hopeful of accomplishing what Claressa Shields could not pull off and put Szabados down for the count. Former WBC World Super–Welterweight Champion Mikaela Lauren appears to have been the only woman to deposit Szilvia onto the canvas, in the first round of their fight in Sweden last December; won by Lauren on a technical knockout in the sixth.
Although her arsenal of weapons includes a left hook capable of producing a more than respectable one–punch highlight reel, McCarter (with only 9 of her 38 victories occurring inside the distance) is renowned as a patient, methodical ring general rather than a haymaker–happy rough–houser. With that in mind, she expressed regret that the abbreviated round length will present a supplemental challenge to making a show–stopping statement.
“I’m disappointed with the executive director of the NSAC for mandating 8 two–minute rounds instead of the original 10–3 as scheduled,” Layla mentioned to me. “Without that third minute, it will be more difficult to launch a tactical offense.” Her letdown by the Nevada State Athletic Commission notwithstanding, McCarter would take matters into her own hands and make a moot point of her own concerns.
Not only is Szabados younger than McCarter by twelve years but the five–foot–four Layla also conceded a four–inch disadvantage in height. She also gave away five pounds to Szilvia who yesterday stepped onto the scale at the welterweight limit of 147, while McCarter, who competes most comfortably at lightweight, came in at 142. With skill and experience on her side, Layla charged forward at the opening bell, beginning aggressively and walking Szabados down behind her left jab. Body blows courtesy of McCarter would come early, recur often, and exact a costly toll not too far down the road. Szilvia backed Layla off with a bone–jarring combination, forcing her into a stand–and–trade exchange of power punches but McCarter, who will often stalk her opponents in semi–circles with her head held in an over–the–shoulder posture like Jersey Joe Walcott was famous for, is far too wily a fighter to be coaxed into a slugfest. Blood began to leak from Szabados’ nostrils in round two, possibly the result of a right uppercut, several of which Layla ripped between Szilvia’s guard. One of these stunned Szabados and McCarter moved in but was mauled as she closed the distance and was unable to inflict further damage.
Muscle memory coupled with the fruits of rigorous training with long–time coach Luis Tapia contributed to a noticeable change in tempo, as Layla found a much more comfortable rhythm in the third round, simultaneously setting Szabados off her axis in violent fashion with a right/left/right combination which dislodged Szilvia’s mouthpiece. Szabados simply smiled, staggered forward, and begged for more. Happy to oblige, McCarter blasted her with an overhand right prior to the bell.
Layla began to more effortlessly put her punches together behind the left jab. Overhand rights followed by double left hooks, first trying to put out the pilot light in the basement furnace, then putting some bats in the belfry. A spirited but frustrated Szabados, rocked by a McCarter left hook and right cross, hit Layla behind the head on three different occasions. Warned by referee Tony Weeks in round six, she would have a point deducted for repeated rabbit punches in the seventh round. Mere moments later, McCarter worked her way inside and put an abrupt stop to the proceedings with a body shot that caused a disheveled Szabados to stumble back into the ropes, turning her back on Layla, her face twisted into an anguished expression.
She may not have dropped Szabados, but Layla got her TKO; a fantastic finish for the crowd in attendance and the television audience, her fans both long–standing and newly won. The lettering on the red t–shirt that McCarter slipped on for the reading of the official time of the stoppage said it all. Past. Present. Future.
“I’m happy to be fighting for Mayweather Promotions,” Layla expressed in her message to me, having shared tonight’s bill with Latondria Jones, the first lady of Team Money who inked her name on a contract with Floyd in 2014 shortly after making her professional debut. Since signing with Mayweather Promotions in February, Layla has every reason to be confident that, at the age of 38, she still has her fair share of unfinished business left to conduct and the plentiful resources now at her disposal to ensure that she remains an active, relevant, and vital component to the sport she has already done so incredibly much for.
Whether she and Katie Taylor can arrange a dream match through Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Eddie Hearn, or whether K2 Promotions can finally be strong–armed into giving her the shot at Cecilia Braekhus’ undisputed welterweight title that she has been lobbying for these last few years, only time will tell. By her own reckoning, McCarter has a few quality years left and wants to make the most of them, professionally and financially. One thing is certain, she has long been, is now, and always will be ‘Amazing’.
Past. Present. Future.
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