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AND STILL – Katie Taylor overcomes feisty Firuza Sharipova in ugly Liverpool clash

Katie Taylor remains the undefeated and undisputed lightweight champion of the world but was put through the wringer tonight in Liverpool.

It’s not that she shipped a lot of heavy punches from mandatory challenger Firuza Sharipova – although the Kazakh did perform better than many expected – moreso the manner of the fight at the M&S Bank Arena.

A bout full of wrestling, clinching, and ‘the dark arts’, Taylor had enough quality to win a unanimous points decision after a gruelling and exhausting clash, banking enough rounds to hold off a strong finish from Sharipova.

It was a third fight of 2021 for Taylor who boxed off another mandatory having disposed of stubborn IBF challenger Jennifer Han in Leeds in September. Prior to this, in May, the Olympic gold medallist had won a thrilling pro rematch with old amateur rival Natasha Jonas in Manchester. A rematch with Scouser Jonas had looked a perfect fit for this card before ‘Miss GB’ split with Matchroom and joined up with Boxxer – presenting a space for Sharipova to fill.

Truthfully, the match-up was a bridging fight for Taylor who now appears closer than ever to a showdown with controversial seven-weight champ Amanda Serrano. The Jake Paul-backed Puerto Rican boxes former Taylor foe Miriam Gutierrez in Florida next Saturday night and, should she prevail, it would appear that all systems are go for the pair to finally meet in New York next Spring.

In fairness to Sharipova, the Taraz invader presented something of an enigma before tonight. While her performances to date did not suggest she would provide much opposition, a bizarrely large entourage and a training camp alongside Taylor’s amateur nemesis Sofya Ochigava added some intrigue. Ochigava had, in fact, handed Sharipova her only previous pro defeat, in both their respective debuts, but the tricky Russian’s style is completely at odds with the more rugged approach of the Kazakh.

In the end there was very little ‘Ochigava’ in Sharipova’s approach but she certainly made things difficult for Taylor.

Entering to ‘There She Goes’ by Liverpool cult heroes The La’s, Taylor was sung to the ring by a crowd that seemed to have been jolted awake following a quiet few hours. This energy carried into the announcements and then into the first round which began with a lusty rendition of ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’.

Actually inside the ring it was quieter to start with Taylor boxing from the outside while Sharipova attempted to rough her up as the clinched in the closing moments.

Opening up in the second, flurries from Taylor sent the Kazakh underdog backpeddalling before timing her with some crunching single shots.

The differences in handspeed was allowing Taylor to land cleanly in the third on the frustrated-looking Sharipova who ended the round by shoving the Irish darling in the face – much to the crowd’s chagrin.

It was rough stuff in the fourth as Sharipova – who was cautioned for using the elbow – looked to tie up and throw in the clinch. Taylor, though, was more than willing to throw her own cheeky shots – and head – as they wrestled and continued dominating whenever the pair were at range.

It was getting exceedingly messy in the fifth and Sharipova received a stern warning from the referee before being clocked with a thudding combitnation from Taylor seconds later, the biggest punches of the fight thus far.

While she was succeeding in dragging Taylor into a scrappy fight, it was Sharipova, eight years the younger at 27, who was looking the worse off as the fight entered its second half.  To add insult to injury the bruised Asian was docked a point for punching after the referee said ‘break’, enraging her team.

The seventh was perhaps the physically strong Sharipova’s most ‘effective’ round to theat point although little was landed from either outside of the clinch – and they were brought together by the referee to be told to clean it up.

A close enough eighth followed, with Sharipova’s straight shots starting to get through but the classier work was always Taylor’s and she showed flashes of real quality in an entertaining ninth – flashes being the key word.

Throwing caution to the wind, Sharipova started the tenth and final round fast, brawling furiously and outlanding Taylor. Tired, the Wicklow fighter was forced to trade to the bell, exciting the crowd, but coming off second-best – although this finish for Sharipova was not enough to change the verdict of the fight

The cards themselves read 98-92, 97-92, 96-93 all in favour of the reigning champ. This was much to the incredulity of Sharipova but, if anything, they were overly generous.

Taylor improves to 20(6)-0 with the win while Sharipova drops to 14(8)-1(0).

All eyes will now turn to the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, next weekend to see if Serrano can hold up her end of the bargain, overcome Gutierrez, and send us into the Christmas period dreaming of the biggest fight in women’s boxing finally happening.

Joe O'Neill

Reporting on Irish boxing the past five years. Work has appeared on irish-boxing.com, Boxing News, the42.ie, and local and national media. Provide live ringside updates, occasional interviews, and special features on the future of Irish boxing. email: joneill6@tcd.ie