Firuza Sharipova watching Katie Taylor work out on Wednesday night. Mark Robinson
we don't let this slip

'It feels like we're up against this country-backed fighter who has come in on a mission to dethrone Katie'

With so much on the line for Katie Taylor, Firuza Sharipova and her huge travelling party have spooked Eddie Hearn on Merseyside.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Dec 2021

FIRUZA SHARIPOVA HAS publicly been all smiles since she arrived in Liverpool from her training base in Moscow, but the conduct of the challenger and her huge travelling party behind the scenes has put Eddie Hearn on edge ahead of Saturday’s lightweight championship bout between the Kazakh and Katie Taylor at the M&S Bank Arena.

Sharipova [14-1, 8KOS] has apparently brought with her a 40-something-person entourage, a handful of whom make up her corner, which should dispel any notion that the 27-year-old mandatory challenger is on Merseyside purely to pick up a paycheck.

Indeed, the former Kazakh amateur champion has already received significant, separate financial backing from her legions of fans back home, raising funds for herself and her team through Instagram on which she has 150,000 followers.

And with a career-defining fight versus Amanda Serrano next April on the line for Taylor [19-0, 6KOs], promoter Hearn admits that after a 2021 in which so many of his odds-on favourites have been shocked by previously unheralded opposition, he is looking toward Saturday’s bout with an element of trepidation.

benn-taylor-fighter-workouts Firuza Sharipova and some of her team at Wednesday's media workout. Mark Robinson Mark Robinson

“They’re very serious people,” Hearn said of Sharipova’s crew. “And they’ve been quite difficult to be honest with you.

“They’re not particularly happy about everything.”

On what has left them dissatisfied, Hearn elaborated: “Just that they’re not in the same hotel as Katie Taylor. ‘It’s cold.’ Gym facilities — and they have a point, there. It’s very difficult now because of Covid: gyms are shut in hotels.” (Sharipova is instead staying sharp at the Masda Gym and, earlier in the week, stated her intentions by nailing a Kazakh flag to the wall).

“The worrying thing is they’re taking it very seriously,” Hearn continued. “You see a lot of people turn up, ‘Oh, thank you so much for the opportunity.’ They (Sharipova’s team) are like: ‘We have to get this right. We’re winning this fight and we can’t have anything get in the way of our preparation.’

“That’s a bit worrying. They’re not just here to make up the numbers.

“And there’s a lot unknown about her. Like, if you watch her, she can punch, she’s quite unorthodox, very tough… I don’t know…

She’s either just a solid fighter or really, really good and really dangerous. I hope it’s just the first one to be honest with you. Katie wants the second one!

“But we just want to get through this fight and then, obviously, Serrano looms. It’s just that you see so many banana skins — non-stop now — where people are losing because they’re thinking [beyond the fight in front of them]. Katie’s not that kind of fighter but it’ll certainly be a sigh of relief if her hand can get raised on Saturday and we can move forward to that Serrano fight.

I’m actually very nervous for Saturday because I just don’t know, really, what we’re up against and the whole thing seems quite strange; it feels like we’re up against this sort of country-backed fighter who has come in on a mission to dethrone Katie. That’s what it feels like.

benn-taylor-press-conference Eddie Hearn speaking to The42's Gavan Casey and Seán McGoldrick of the Irish Independent in Liverpool. Mark Robinson Mark Robinson

Though it all naturally depends on Taylor holding up her end of the bargain on Saturday night and seven-weight world champion Serrano following suit versus former Taylor opponent Miriam Gutierrez on Saturday week, Hearn said their prospective superfight is “really close.”

“Contracts aren’t signed but we certainly have a position with both teams where we’re saying, ‘We’re ready to go.’”

“That’s the defining fight. But they’re the fights that we’ve wanted for a long time.

“We’ve never seen Katie in a 50-50. Maybe in the [Delfine] Persoon rematch from the point of view of people saying… [Taylor was fortunate to win the original fight]. But Serrano is the one.

I think Katie, in her mind, thinks she’s got another five, 10 years — and she may have. I see it more like — I don’t even like saying it because she gets really angry with me, but — three years. It could be six, seven, eight fights or whatever that is — but the Serrano one is one that leaves you with not many things to achieve. And they may do it twice. It’ll be such a good fight, you’ll probably end up seeing it twice.

Hearn also explained why he doesn’t intend to put Michael Conlan’s bout with British beltholder Leigh Wood on an eventual Taylor-Serrano bill — despite the fact that a doubleheader involving two Irish former Olympic stars would likely fill the big room at New York’s Madison Square Garden, particularly around St Patrick’s Weekend.

vladimir-nikitin-in-action-against-michael-conlan Michael Conlan is scheduled to face Leigh Wood in the new year, but it won't be on a potential Taylor-Serrano bill. Emily Harney / INPHO Emily Harney / INPHO / INPHO

Hearn, who promotes Wood (whereas Conlan is signed to Bob Arum’s Top Rank), won the purse bid for their sanctioning-body-mandated scrap and said he remains unsure as to where he will stage it, but that the relatively neutral ground of Manchester might be the imperfect solution.

“I mean, MSG, Belfast or Nottingham… Or I might just go to Manchester and keep everybody happy!

“Because I represent Leigh Wood. So, Leigh Wood’s saying, ‘Nottingham! We’ll sell out the City Ground!’ — which I think he probably could.

“And obviously Conlan is saying: ‘MSG!’

“So, I might just do it in Manchester.”

Asked by The42 if he was ever inclined to stage it as part of a bumper Taylor-Serrano bill, Hearn replied: “Not really because I paid a lot of money for that fight.

I know it’d be an incredible night of boxing but when Katie fights Serrano, I just want the absolute and full attention of the world media on that fight. If I’m pushing that kind of profile and coverage for a fight, the co-main event — which Wood-Conlan would have to be — doesn’t become irrelevant but it should be a bigger fight in its own right as well, so…

Consequently, Hearn with a laugh confirmed that Serrano’s new representative, the YouTube sensation and attempted boxer Jake Paul, “won’t be on the card” if or when it does take place.

First published today at 17.09 

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