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Christmas Cracker – Top Class Katie Taylor dominates brave Eva Wahlström in New York

Katie Taylor lit up New York tonight.

On the biggest of stages, Bray’s unified world champion put on the best performance of her pro career to date against her toughest foe and came out the other side with both belts.

Taylor dominated Finland’s Eva Wahlström at the Madison Square Garden Arena on the undercard of Canelo Alvarez’s clash with Rocky Fielding.

Defending her WBA and IBF lightweight titles, the Wicklow wonder electrified in an entertaining fight which was shown live on Sky Sports and on the DAZN streaming platform.

Facing an ambitious and familiar opponent, Taylor claimed a unanimous decision win but this result came following an open and heavy-hitting encounter which allowed the 2012 Olympic gold medallist to show all of her skills and put on a show.

Taylor last fight was only in October, with the Irishwoman dominating passive Puerto Rican Cindy Serrano in Boston which facilitated a quick return to the ring. There were initial problems in securing an opponent, with WBO titlist Rose Volante of Brazil dragging her heels on a unification.

Convenient timing, however, saved the day, with Wahlström seeing a scheduled WBC super featherweight title defence versus Firuza Sharipova in Russia fall through and the Finn, deep in camp, elected to jump up in weight to face her old amateur rival.

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The pair had met four times in the amateurs, with Taylor prevailing in all four – first as a 17 year old in her first international tournament before defeating Wahlström in her first European final, en-route to her first World gold, and finally in a showcase bout at the National Stadium on the same night as the 2007 Men’s Elite Finals.

A meeting over ten rounds though was always going to be different but Taylor outboxed, outfought and outmuscled her old friend and foe.

Since turning pro 2010, Wahlström had gone 23 fights undefeated, winning the European super featherweight crown in 2012 and the WBC title in 2015.

The Baltic boxer had defended the green belt four times, including a points win over Anahi Sanchez in 2016 who Taylor later defeated when she claimed the WBA lightweight belt in Cardiff last year.

38-year-old Wahlström’s pro entire career had played out in Finland up until this point and tonight she was transported to the most famous venue in boxing.

Here, at the original ‘Mecca of Boxing’, Taylor was very much the ‘home’ fighter and, like Mick Conlan earlier this year, was presented with a New York Knicks basketball jersey by Madison Square Garden officials.

After walking in, of couse, to ‘Fairytale in New York’, Taylor tageted the body in the opener before switching upstairs with left hooks that looked to have caused early damage to the face of Wahlström.

Helsinki’s Wahlström made a better start to the second, trying to keep it long and establishing a nice jab, but Taylor soon began bringing in combos and solid-looking right hands in a close stanza which she shaded with a late push.

Opening up in the third, both landed clean shots early but the power of Taylor looked to be telling alongside her superior timing and a gut-wrenching left hook to the body was definitely felt by her old rival.

The fighter – now, apparently, known as ‘The Bray Bomber’ – was really starting to show her handspeed in the fourth with some electric combos which roused the early crowd in the famous New York venue.

Wahlström seemed frustrated at the close of the fourth and came out in the fifth aggressively but her war wish was granted by Taylor who, standing toe-to-toe hurt her with a big right hand and seemingly punched the fight out of the Finn. Stepping on the gas, Taylor teed off on an increasingly gun-shy Wahlström and, when held, fired in succession of bodyshots to the exposed mid-drift of her disheatened opponet.

Going into the second half of the contest, 32-year-old Taylor, fighting in her fourth world title bout of 2018 and just 56 days on from her scrap with Serrano, was showing no signs of slowing. Forcing the action, the former amateur legend was obviously keen on the stoppage as Wahlström crept deeper and deeper into survival mode.

Bodyshots from Taylor, again, did damage in the seventh but Wahlström, to her immense credit, came out firing for a second time in the eight, bringing the fight to the Matchroom star.

Taylor again stood firm, lashing in left hooks to the body and getting on top and relishing in the sort of fight that she has been calling for. A clash of heads during the round opened a deep gash on the hairline of Wahlstrom and crimson began to flow down the forehead of the Finn.

Seemingly excited by the blood, Taylor went for the kill in the penultimate round, stunning Wahlström with a sensational combo at the start of the stanza and, for a moment, it looked like the bout would be stopped but the brave Nordic fighter was able to survive.

Going toe-to-toe in the final round, the pair raised the volume in The Garden once again. Wahlström, now also cut to the outside of her left eye, slugged away but the quality was coming from Taylor and a right hand near the end caused another stagger but we would go to the cards.

Heading to the cads with little doubt, Taylor was confirmed the unanimous winner with a trio of 100-90 scorelines.

The impressive victory sees the Irishwoman improve her flawless professional record to 12(5)-0 while the game Wahlström drops to 22(3)-1(0)-1 following her maiden career defeat but leaves the Big Apple with her standing substantially increased..

While she will return home to Ireland for the first time since the Summer, a big 2019 is planned for the Connecticut-based Taylor as she seeks to become the consensus greatest female pro of all time.

First up looks to be, finally, the unification with Volante in March, with talks already well underway. An undisputed fight with WBC champ and pound-for-pound rated Belgian Delfine Persoon would then be next on the agenda before legacy fights with soon-to-be seven-weight champ Amanda Serrano and undisputed welterweight queen Cecilia Braekhus.


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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