Reporting live from Manchester
Katie Taylor has been crowned a two-weight world champion following a gruelling fight in England tonight.
The Bray boxer was pushed, hurt, and given something of a scare by Greece-based Dominican Republic fighter Christina Linardatou but did enough quality work across the ten rounds to claim a tight unanimous decision win and the WBO light welterweight title.
The main event at the Manchester Arena – although on before the farewell fight of local favourite Anthony Crolla – Taylor looked to box early on before the caginess descended into carnage in the later rounds.
With her team not keen on an Irish homecoming in the current climate – alongside her rising star on the U.S. East Coast – this was perhaps the closest to home Taylor will fight for the rest of her career. It most definitely felt like home, however, as the Irish sporting legend was given an incredible reception both before and after the gruelling clash.
There were plenty of pockets of green at the Manchester Arena – which had its top tier closed – as Taylor took to the ring just after 9:00pm to the tune of Oasis anthem Wonderwall.
— Matchroom Boxing (@MatchroomBoxing) November 2, 2019
A special moment for all in attendance, what followed was quiet at first as Taylor, a noted lover of brawling, used her vastly superior skillset – but a war would eventually ensue as the fight and the crowd came alive.
For Taylor it was a return to ring following her controversial split-decision win over Delfine Persoon in New York. That thrilling victory saw the amateur legend become something of a disputed undisputed lightweight champion.
A repeat of that blood-and-guts throwdown with Persoon had seemed the obvious fight to make but it soon became clear that marinating until a potential pay-per-view occasion in 2020 was Team Taylor’s plan.
And so, it was decided to make a temporary jump up to light welterweight and the chance to become a two-weight world champion, the latest in a long line of accolades.
Standing in the way of an Irish achievement only Carl Frampton and Steve Collins have claimed was Linardatou. The Athens 31-year-old’s only previous loss came over 10 one-sided rounds versus Persoon back in 2016 but tonight was a different affair.
While it was a step-up in weight for the Wicklow woman, Linardatou was no physically-imposing light welter. A pound lighter on the scales yesterday, the Caribbean boxer actually campaigned at super featherweight as recently as last year.
Much like Taylor, Linardatou’s move to light welterweight was one of opportunism, claiming the vacant pink 140lbs strap in March. That win came via an explosive sixth-round stoppage of American Kandi Wyatt and she would follow this up with a ten-round domination of Aussie Dee-Dee Hobbs in June.
Paul Keegan, the Irish promoter of Hobbs, warned of Linardatou’s potent right hand – something Taylor herself had noted in the build-up and she certainly seemed respectful of this power in the early exchanges.
Indeed, throughout the fight, it was a more considered Taylor than in recent clashes, with plenty of backfoot boxing and some beautiful upper-body movement.
One we began, the first chorus of Olé, Olé, Olé rang out inside a minute, with the action inside the ring itself being quiet as Taylor sized up her come-forward opponent.
Quickly ratcheting things up, the counters began to flow in the second. Remaining on the backfoot, Taylor made Linardatou miss wildly on a number of occasions as she refused to accept invitations to brawl.
Linardatou managed to swing herself to the canvas in the third but when she did manage to land clubbing shots they did damage, with Taylor’s right eye swelling rapidly.
Looking to box smart and stay out of trouble, Taylor did largely that in round four, peppering the bulldozing ‘Medusa’.
While she made full use of the extra five pounds, there was no obvious effect on Taylor’s hand-speed, with the golden gloves zipping in and out as usual. However, her output appeared to be lower – perhaps conscious of her own gas tank which was an issue versus Persoon.
Caught by a left hook early in the fifth, Taylor would snap into action with a volley of shots before returning to the back foot.
Entering the second half, Taylor began to take a firmer grasp of proceedings, her timing clicking but the visiting champion was not yet deterred.
It was showboat stuff at the start of the seventh before a lapse in concentration saw Taylor take an enormous thudding left which could be heard around the arena. Invigorated, Linardatou began to chase and landed further long lefts in a potentially worrying round.
A break in the eighth round to reinsert Linardatou’s gumshield allowed a wave to rush over the crowd and, with the atmosphere bouncing for the first time in the fight, the pair went to war – and Taylor came out second best. The Olympic gold medallist was rocked as they traded heavy shots but stood firm as we headed into the final two rounds – rounds many at ringside felt she needed to win.
It was close in the ninth. Taylor boxed well in spells but, tiring, was caught at the end of Linardatou’s straight shots.
A huge shot in the closing stanza sent Linardatou’s gumshield and half a pint of saliva flying across the ring, bringing the crowd to their feet. Linardatou pushed and pushed, having success towards the end, and we would hear the final bell.
Going to the cards with no certainty, it was a close unanimous decision with tallies of 96-94 and two 97-93s and MC Michael Buffer would eventually announce ‘The Fighting Pride of Ireland’ as the new WBO light welterweight champion of the World.
Irish-Boxing.com scored the bout 96-94 in favour of Taylor.
Taylor improves to 15(6)-0 with the win while the better-than-expected Linardatou falls to 12(6)-2(0)
On top of her four lightweight belts, Taylor now holds one quarter of the light welterweight crown – with the IBF strap vacant and former foe Jessica McCaskill possessing the WBA and WBC titles.
A move back down to 135lbs, though, seems the likeliest next move for Taylor – with the Persoon rematch and a fight with controversial seven-weight champion Amanda Serrano both on the immediate to-do list for Ireland’s most decorated sportsperson.
That all will be after Christmas, with Taylor now able to enjoy an extended period at home for the first time since starting her pro career.