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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 16 December, 2018

Katie Taylor dominates brave Jessica McCaskill to retain her world title

Taylor was heavily tested by the impressive Jessica McCaskill, but passed with flying colours.

And still...
And still...
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Gavan Casey reports from York Hall, London

IN SPITE OF Eddie Hearn’s concerns, Katie Taylor walked into a heavily tricolour-draped York Hall as the overwhelming favourite to retain her WBA World lightweight strap in an eagerly-anticipated contest with America’s Jessica McCaskill.

British prospect Conor Benn’s see-saw battle just three fights beforehand offered a timely reminder to those present that even 100-to-1 gimmes aren’t guarantees, and Ireland’s boxing icon was in no mood to mess around as she defended her title for the first time.

McCaskill, described as a ‘born fighter’ by trainer-manager Rick Ramos at Monday’s final press conference, is exactly that, but it was pure pugilistic pedigree which saw Taylor best her in London.

The Windy City native was creative in her choice of entrance song – the opening bars of stereotypical Irish fight tune ‘Shipping Up To Boston’ a fake of sorts, leading into a belter from her fellow Chi-town smash-hitter Kanye West.

Jessica McCaskill in action against Katie Taylor Taylor connects with a right. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The champion emerged to her usual fare and to a hero’s reception, and Taylor kept the 1,500-strong crowd on their toes as well as McCaskill with a couple of razor-sharp combinations in a tentative opening stanza.

Taylor’s left hook was finding its range but, crucially, fleet footwork took her out of dodge on most of the occasions McCaskill tried to respond; the champ did touch down in the second but it was correctly ruled a slip by referee Howard Foster.

McCaskill wasn’t discouraged, however, marching forward through gritted teeth in the third and attempting to rough up the Irishwoman in close.

Taylor responded with a monstrous one-two, the left hand in which stopped McCaskill in her tracks briefly. Seconds later, an overhand right sealed Taylor’s third verse on the bounce.

The fourth was a messier affair though the quality again came from Taylor, who spent much of it boxing off the back foot as McCaskill again stormed forward, her chin tucked neatly between a tight guard.

A round later, Taylor, now cruising, flirted with the idea of showboating before thinking better of it: McCaskill responded by beckoning her forward – an invitation the Bray woman kindly accepted with a three-punch flurry.

At the start of the seventh, however, McCaskill finally lived up to her big-punching reputation: a vicious counter-left off the ropes rocked Taylor in her boots, giving her a career-first scare as a professional.

The 31-year-old former Olympic champion recovered reasonably well, boxing carefully into the seventh. And then it all kicked off.

Having absorbed a sustained assault against the ropes with little damage, Taylor – with a smile and a playful shake of her head – waved McCaskill towards her once more. As the American briefly caught her breath following her subsequent barrage, Taylor responded with aplomb in what would become the bout’s most pulsating round.

Seconds later, however, the champion was deducted a point for hitting McCaskill while she had the American in a hold. It was a decision which drew boos from the crowd, but arrived after several warnings from referee Foster.

Katie Taylor celebrates with her mother Bridget after the fight Embracing her mother after the victory. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Likely sporting a healthy lead on the judges’ cards, Taylor scarcely panicked, returning to her boxing in an eighth which more closely resembled an earlier round than the war which had been waged three minutes prior.

Nine was again quiet, defined by Taylor’s defensive prowess as much as anything, but the 10th and final entry was again compelling: one centre-ring exchange saw both fighters trade two nuclear hooks each, sparking the unperturbed Taylor to goad McCaskill forward once more.

Sharper shots overall – particularly her potent counter-right hand – saw Taylor finish the stronger as a chorus of ‘Olé Olé’ took both fighters and a captivated audience to the final bell.

Taylor was given the nod and deserved her unanimous decision victory, though while two scores of 97-92, 97-92 were about fair, 98-91 might have been a touch harsh on the US number one.

McCaskill deserves enormous credit: her first ever fight outside of the States was a hum-dinger, her spirit never wavering throughout, and we’ll likely see her back on this side of the pond, if not for a Taylor rematch – itself hardly unfeasible – then at least as a litmus test for a British up-and-comer such as Natasha Jonas.

Though victory would have sent her career on a skyward trajectory, an admirably game display in defeat will certainly do her no harm.

Taylor, meanwhile, moves toward unification battles next year after a stellar 2017, with a Dublin homecoming being earmarked for April.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘Imagine the atmosphere when Katie walks out in Dublin. I think that’s where we take it to the next level’

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