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Taylor holds off bruising challenge of Sharipova to defend lightweight title

Taylor moves to 20-0(6KOs) after a unanimous-decision win against the tough Kazakh.

Katie Taylor lands a left hook on Firuza Sharipova.
Katie Taylor lands a left hook on Firuza Sharipova.
Image: Mark Robinson

‘AND STILL’, BUT the clock is visibly ticking.

Katie Taylor retained her undisputed title in Liverpool tonight, holding off the rough-and-tumble challenge of Kazakhstan’s Firuza Sharipova who grew into their 10-round contest.

For the third time on the trot, however, Taylor looked below-par, and a superfight versus Amanda Serrano next April suddenly looks a far more daunting prospect for Irish sports fans than it did even a year ago.

Taylor, 35, was scarcely ever in danger of losing tonight’s fifth defence of her five lightweight belts but despite moments of typical brilliance, her attack was below par. It’s a testament to her two decades of greatness that she still emerged a deserved winner: 98-92, 97-92, and 96-93 on the judges’ scorecards.

While Sharipova, 27, never came close to beating the woman whom she has on several occasions described as her “idol”, she gave a good account of herself in making the night wholly uncomfortable for the Irish icon.

It was harsh to see the challenger enter the ring to boos — she hasn’t been especially abrasive this week — but the extent to which this was a Taylor house was revealed when the champion appeared on stage before making the long walk from the back of the arena to the ring.

Soundtracked by ‘There She Goes’ by The La’s, which was belted out by the six or seven thousand Liverpudlians present, it was a spine-tingling moment to witness.

The noise with which Taylor was received — and again when introduced in the ring by MC David Diamante — was piercing, and made for the loudest reception of her professional career to date.

benn-taylor-fight-night Katie Taylor makes her entrance. Source: Mark Robinson

The opening exchanges of an otherwise inconsequential first round played out to ‘Olé Olé Olé’ and a chorus of ‘There’s Only One Katie Taylor’. The Irishwoman closed the gap from the off and landed a couple of sharp lefts as both women felt each other out early. Sharipova, though, asked a couple of questions of her own. She retreated to her corner with a look that suggested she was scarcely overwhelmed by the generational talent in front of her.

Taylor cracked Sharipova with a straight left and the end of a four-punch combination in the second, leading the dance, although Sharipova did respond with a tasty-looking right uppercut which checked Taylor’s chin.

The champion opened the third with a powerful left which bounced the head of Sharipova, the best shot of the fight to that point. Another Taylor round ended with some mild scorn from the crowd as Sharipova threw a shot fractionally after the bell.

Taylor was in control but there wasn’t a whole lot happening. She upped the ante to begin the fourth, getting through with a couple of flurries. Sharipova again looked to utilise her right uppercut, sneaking it through during one clinch, but apart from another tidy Sharipova right around the guard, Taylor again landed most of the shots of note.

benn-taylor-fight-night Katie Taylor and Firuza Sharipova exchange. Source: Mark Robinson

Onto five, and the pair traded at close quarters, bumping heads, drawing some blood from around Sharipova’s already marked-up right eye — although it didn’t seem to be anything to worry about. In a round in which both fighters spent most of the two minutes attempted to sting each other around the side of the head from almost never-ending clinches, Taylor did force enough separation to sting the challenger with a peach of a straight right over the top.

Sharipova was docked a point for another late shot in the sixth — this time after the referee John Latham had already called break. It was clear that she had decided that she needed to push boundaries if she was going to unsettle Taylor, and the fight was becoming messy as a result. The Kazakh, though, produced some decent-looking work from range at the end of the round.

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She landed a couple of nice shots to start the seventh, too, and might have won what was Taylor’s worst effort from an offensive point of view. Taylor landed a couple of jabs towards the end of the round but only after looking sloppy, and mostly missing, for the minute and a half beforehand.

benn-taylor-fight-night Sharipova is docked a point. Source: Mark Robinson

It’s not inconceivable that some of Sharipova’s earlier body work had slowed Taylor down a step, and the Central Asian was proving herself a live opponent. The eighth was again messy but close, and the champion felt the urge to put her stamp back on her fight at the start of the ninth.

This penultimate round saw Taylor box more sharply throughout, using the ring to her advantage rather than getting caught up in clinches. She punctuated her control of the round with a strong right down the pipe a split second before the bell, drawing a wry smile from Sharipova.

The Kazakh, though, started the final round like a woman possessed, ripping Taylor to the body and ostensibly attempting to bulldoze her. Sharipova marched forward, landing mostly to the body and clearly winning the final round despite Taylor landing arguably the best shot, a beautiful left hook.

The champion ended looking somewhat ragged, although purely as a result of Sharipova’s ostensible wrestling rather than any damage shipped during the bout.

Speaking afterwards, she and promoter Eddie Hearn adjusted their respective gazes towards New York in April and the biggest women’s fight of all time versus seven-weight world champion Serrano.

Judging Taylor’s 2021 as a body of work, it will also be an extremely close fight, and one in which Serrano will now be favoured by many.

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