UNDISPUTED: Katie Taylor edges Delfine Persoon to make history

Katie Taylor is the undisputed lightweight champion of the world.

The Bray legend captured the final quarter of the crown tonight in New York, making history in the iconic Madison Square Garden Arena in dramatic fashion.

Taylor edged Delfine Persoon on a majority decision to add the WBC to the WBA, IBF, and WBO belts she already possessed on a special night in the Big Apple

A close – and controversial – clash, Taylor sustained more damage than any previous fight and was forced to dig deeper than ever but emerged with a narrow victory to make history as Ireland’s first undisputed champion in the multi-belt era.

A fight which will be rewatched and discussed for some time to come, the London Olympic gold medallist endured the sort of toil which fans are not accustomed to but managed to squeeze out a famous win.

Taylor’s name had been linked to Persoon from the moment she turned pro with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom Promotions in the wake of the disastrous Rio Olympics. The Flemish fighter was already an established champion at that point and, when surveying the landscape, always looked likely to be the final hurdle to climb on the ascent to undisputed status.

South Americans Anahi Sanchez, Victoria Bustos, and Rose Volante all duly fell as Taylor grabbed the WBA, IBF, and WBO belts respectively to set up tonight’s clash for ‘all the marbles’ – and Persoon would not go down easily, even winning the fight in the eyes of some.

Another major achievement to add to the catalogue, tonight was quite different to previous processional triumphs with Taylor just about getting the win following an enthralling contest.

34-year-old Persoon is a consensus pound-for-pound fighter that had a genuine belief that she would win – and certainly felt she did. The Belgian had her backers, with her pro experience and mastery of the dark arts being pointed to – and these did play a part as Taylor struggled for the first time as a pro.

There was spice as well. Following and arduous period of negotiations – with both parties accusing the other of not wanting the fight – fight week brought ‘hotelgate’. Belgian sports media was awash with claims from Team Persoon that they had been unceremoniously removed from their fight hotel by a diva-like Taylor who did not want to share the building.

The Irishwoman’s manager, Brian Peters, would note that it is common practice for opponents to be placed in different hotel’s and that Persoon’s new surroundings were more plush, if slightly further away from the venue, than Taylor’s.

Then there were some claims, laughably weak ones, that Taylor has had an easy journey in boxing but, on the whole, it was always a match-up more about the ten rounds of action than the ten weeks of build-up.

Taylor was said to have gone into lock-down in the build-up due to the scale of the fight and the pedigree of her opponent and tonight was undeniably, on paper, her toughest test. Having previously held the IBF belt, Persoon began her WBC reign in 2014 with a win over Erica Farias and would defend the green strap a further nine times, including some impressive name-taking of Maiva Hamadouche and, most recently, Melissa St Vil.

A more than worthy opponent, Persoon pushed but was unable to do enough as Taylor gained a gruelling win in something of a smash-and-grab affair..

Taylor had worn black throughout her whole career in a homage to her idol Kostya Tszyu but tonight entered decked in purple.

Her ring attire was different and Taylor was faced with an opponent that was quite different too. The Wicklow woman attacking the body from the off. Persoon began aggressively and was perhaps the busier but was missing rather wildly.

It was more controlled to start the second, Taylor popping off jabs and a nice right hand counter before getting her head rocked back by a sharp left from her opponent. This seemed to signal a surge from Persoon who would land plenty of big, unorthodox shots down the stretch.

Taylor, ponytail unkempt, looked to go back to her boxing at the start of the third. Persoon, who weighed in a full four pounds lighter, remained aggressive and wild with her range and awkwardness causing problems.

The Matchroom favourite began well again in the fourth, landing well to body and head but, in what was becoming a pattern, Persoon finished strong. A clash of heads also opened a cut on the scalp of Taylor who was being confronted with the toughest fight of her career.

Taylor, hair plastered to her face, went to war in the fifth, calling Persoon on multiple times. The Belgian suffered a cut of her own over her right eye as we descended into the trenches in an ugly encounter.

Two right hands jolted the head of Persoon back as we entered the second half of the contest. Finally finding a groove, Taylor made her opponent miss massively in the sixth, her best round thus far.

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Looking to fight smart, Taylor evaded much of Persoon’s attacks in the seventh but was not throwing eough herself to stake a strong claim on the round as the punching policewoman continued to march forward.

Taylor kept it simple in the opening minute of the eighth but midway through Persoon established a good range, landing straight shots and taking the round.

While she was enjoying far more success than any of Taylor’s previous pro foes, Persoon’s eye was beginning to look rather gruesome with the swelling continuing to expand. Blown on by a second wind, Taylor did damage at the start of the penultimate stanza with some huge shots but the relentless Persoon dug in and landed some thudding blows of her own, with Taylor giving the Irish fans a bout of minor heart failure with a brief slip to the canvas.

Into the tenth – with it possibly all to play for – it was a toe-to-toe round of the year contender. Both stood in the pocket but it was Persoon who rocked Taylor a number of times to finish extremely strong.

Going to the cards with uncertainty for the first time since her amateur career, Taylor looked unsure but was confirmed the winner by the narrowest of margins – a 95-95, 96-94, 96-94 majority decision.

Distraught, Persoon stormed out of the ring as Taylor was decked out with belts following the fight, and fright, of her life.

The win sees Taylor improve her perfect professional record to 14(6)-0 while the first defeat in nine years means the impressive Persoon drops to 44(17)-2(1).

Next up had looked to be the ontroversial seven-weight champion Amanda Serrano. The divisive Puerto Rican has been identified as the perfect opponent for a headline fight at the Madison Square Garden Theater in September.

However, considering the drama of tonight, a rematch with Persoon now looks to be the obvious option.


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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