By Michael O’Neill
Ireland’s Katie Taylor is through to the 60kg final of the inaugural European Games in Baku as a result of this morning’s dramatic win over Azerbaijan’s Yana Alekseevna but the local fighter came closer than anyone has yet done to defeat the 2012 Olympic champion at the Crystal Hall in Baku. Dramatic, yes! Pulsating yes! Heart stopping yes!
It was a brilliant contest throughout with ‘no quarter asked or given’ and the pair could only be split by the judges on “countback”.
All three judges scored it 38-38 and were then asked to nominate their ‘preferred winner’ – based on who they believed showed more aggression and intent to win.
Two of them selected Taylor as the ‘better fighter’ and one opted for Alekseevna.
“It was a close fight,” said Taylor. “It was always going to be. She’s a top boxer. It was close, but I don’t care, I’m through to the finals. I know I was down after three rounds so I had to go out and put the pressure on and try to win the round clearly.”
Taylor went on to recall when she had a loss or two albeit some years ago : “I know how it feels to lose. I think it’s important to feel those losses because I never want to feel like that again.
“I knew I was down after the third round so I had to go out and put the pressure on her and try to win it clearly. The last round was all about heart and thank God I pulled through.”
The Bray woman had dropped the first round on two of the three judges’ cards but levelled it after an exciting second in which her cleaner, more aggressive work paid off.
In an exciting third, Taylor’s greater aggression was not rewarded as once again the sharp work of Alekseeva edged her ahead on the cards, paving the way for Taylor’s fine last round.
Taylor admitted she endured some anxious moments in the aftermath especially as the Azerbaijani coaches celebrated as if they fully expected the verdict to go their way.
“It was always going to be a close fight because she’s a top boxer but I felt I won a lot of those rounds quite clearly.
“I always go into a fighting thinking the decision is going to be fair and I relish these fights where the atmosphere is so fantastic.”
Had she ever feared that the verdict would go against her?
“Well no, I was always hopeful, and just praying. It was close, as I expected, and I’m just happy to get through.
“I Thank God for a great performance, and a great victory. Everyone at home has been praying for me, and I’m strengthened by that, encouraged by that.
I wouldn’t be anywhere in life without God in my life, so I just have to give him all the glory.
I think experience is everything is these big fights. You can’t buy experience, and I’ve been in this situation so many times before. “
Taylor, the most decorated athlete in women’s Boxing, will face Estelle Mossely in Saturday’s final, after the Frenchwoman beat Germany’s Tasheena Bugar (3:0)in a unanimous decision in the other semi-final.
Hard though Bugar tried – and she did – she was no match for the much improved French woman . It would be unfair to criticize the German as some sections of media did – she gave of her all and remember she is NOT ranked in the AIBA top 15 (only 15 are ranked in that division) so getting to the semi-final was a big step up and she will have learnt from the experience gained.
So how do the protagonists feel the fight will go?
“I’ve boxed her a few times,” said Taylor. “I’ll have a word with my dad (her coach, Peter Taylor) about the fight. It’s going to be a tough fight.”
The French boxer too predicted a close contest in the final. “I have boxed with Katie two times and each time I lost, the second time close,” she said. “I hope tomorrow I’m going to win. I think this one will be the closest of all our meetings.”
Should she emerge victorious on Saturday it will be her 18th major championships Gold medal since the 28-year-old Taylor’s medal haul currently stands at 17 golds, including her Olympic title, five consecutive world championships, six consecutive European championships and five European Union championships.
For news of that ‘grand finale’ and all the rest of the boxing news, Amateur and Pro, join us tomorrow on Irish-Boxing.com