Eva Wahlström [22(3)-0-1] knew from when they first met back in 2004 that Katie Taylor [11(5)-0] was going to prove herself a special fighter and, over the years, has discovered the Wicklow favourite is a special person too.
The Finn will be the next fighter to attempt to defeat the unified WBA-IBF lightweight world champion and the general consensus is she will provide the Matchroom star with her toughest pro test to date on the massive Canelo-Fielding DAZN card in none other than Madison Square Garden this Saturday night.
Indeed, Team Taylor believe the WBC super featherweight champion will bring everything Cindy Serrano didn’t – and thus will be ideal in terms of giving one of two reigning Irish world champions the kind of test that will allow her to entertain beyond the one-sided talent shows she has largely put on since turning over in 2016.
However, selling the fight as a possible all-action war or a grudge match may prove difficult for the show’s promoters.
We may have to wait up and until the first bell before we see any hint of aggression from Wahlström and she certainly won’t try and ruffle any feathers during fight week.
It seems the Finish favourite, who has massive respect in Ireland due to her Taylor previous, won’t try and get under her rival’s skin, instead taking a ‘do her talking in the ring’ approach to pre-fight chat.
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Don’t get confused, once the fight begins both competitors will do what it takes to win the belts and Saturday does have the potential to be a classic match-up.
Yet, when the pair come face to face at the final press conferences and media days this week it may look more like two retired foes with a shared history meeting at a Hall of Fame event or a boxing convention rather than two reigning world champions trying to gain a mental edge ahead of what could be a game-changing fight for female boxing.
Speaking to Irish-Boxing.com this weekend, Wahlström was nothing but respectful and complimentary and, such is the love between the pair, you’d expect that to carry throughout this week.
“Absolutely! I would have been very surprised if she hadn’t,” she replied when asked if after their first meeting, when Taylor was just 17, if she was aware that her opponent would go on to be such a success.
The pair would go on to fight three times more, twice in major championships and once in an exhibition during the Irish Men’s Elite Seniors, before the now WBC super featherweight world champion would move into the pro ranks back in 2010 following the birth of her first child.
When she saw that Taylor was joining her in the pro ranks, Wahlström offered her services as a training partner to aid the transition and the friendship blossomed further.
The 38-year-old recalled how “when I saw Katie boxing for the first time [as a pro] I mailed her asking if she would like to train together and she answered positively.”
“I went to Ireland for a few camps. She and her family have always been very supportive to me. I respect Katie for being humble and still have right kind of values even though she is the name on everybody’s lips.”
Such is the respect that the likable and talented fighter has for the Olympic gold medallist that she isn’t too keen to make a prediction for Saturday’s clash.
Additionally, so highly does she rate her opponent, Wahlström is honest enough to suggest her extra experience in the pros may not count for a great deal against such a clever boxer.
“Nope, I have no idea what’s going to happen. I just hope both of us will manage without any bad injuries,” she responds when asked for a prediction before claiming their previous meetings count for little.
“No, it is more than 10 years since we last fought so I think we both are different people now a days. At least in my case I have gone through so much and changed as a person and as athlete.”
“I can’t say if my experience is an advantage or not. Katie is so experienced in boxing plus she is smart and a fast learner. I think she has embraced the pro format pretty well and I said that it is a different game than amateur boxing in the press release.”
“From my time amateur fights were only 3 x 2 minutes. It was like a racer race. Katie is at her best in the beginning of fights. 10 x 2 minutes gives much more space for tactics, and one of my strengths is smartness which is more needed in long fights than in short.”
“Still, I suppose everybody knows how hard my task will be.”
Wahlström has had an extremely successful pro career thus far. She is undefeated in 23 fights, won the European title in 2014 and the world title a year later. She has since defended it successfully on four occasions.
However, she has never fought outside of Finland and Saturday’s fight provides her with the chance to become a bonifide star of the sport.
It’s a massive opportunity in terms of finance, legacy, and future prospects for the Baltic boxer, yet it’s a potentially career changing chance she hasn’t had the time to get excited by just yet.
“I have had so many practical things to take care of when the fight moved from Russia to USA, like visas and different medicals and so on, so I haven’t had time to think about the fight that much. I guess I will have the time to be exited when we arrive to New York and I will realize that the fight is really going to happen.”
Walhström may be a relative late-notice opponent, having been officially confirmed just over a week out from the clash – but she had been preparing for a WBC title defence that fell through and, in that regard, has been in camp.
“I was actually preparing for a fight against Firuza Sharipova in Russia. There were a lot of problems with the fight, her team moved it three times. A month before the fight they cancelled the fight. I was very disappointed,” added the fighter who has previously questioned Sharipova’s pull-out
While taking on the challenge of Taylor was not an issue, Walhström reveals that belt uncertainty and family commitments caused pause for thought.
“The next day [after Sharipova’s pull-out] my matchmaker called me and told me I could fight Katie in three weeks. I thought I would lose my own belt for this fight so I slept one night to make sure this was what I wanted. After accepting the fight the WBC told me I didn’t have to give up my own belt.”
“Also, even though it sounds funny, my son has a dance performance on the same date, and I know he really wants me to be there. So I had to talk to him also.”