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'After they raised her hand, I asked Katie and her coaches how much her medal was worth'

Sofya Ochigava – remember her? – is back on the radar, and plans to avenge her ‘political’ defeat to Katie Taylor in their 2012 Olympic final.

Sofya Ochigava looks on as Katie Taylor kisses her Olympic gold medal at London 2012.
Sofya Ochigava looks on as Katie Taylor kisses her Olympic gold medal at London 2012.
Image: Alamy Stock Photo

THEIR FIRST ENCOUNTER in the ring, at the semi-final stage of the Usti na Labem Gran Prix in the Czech Republic in March 2010, sent a shockwave through Irish boxing.

Not only had Sofya Ochigava ended Katie Taylor’s nigh-on three-year unbeaten run, but she had dished out a bit of a lesson to Ireland’s golden girl.

The judges scored their fight 8-1 in favour of the Russian, a two-time world champion at lower weights. This was under the old scoring system — meaning, yes, Taylor was adjudged to have landed just one clean blow on Ochigava across four two-minute rounds.

It was probably a fair assessment of things.

Two years out from the London Olympics at which the Irishwoman seemed destined to top the podium, she had met her foil.

katie-taylor Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

By the time she and Ochigava met again in the final of the European Championships in Rotterdam 18 months later, Taylor had made the necessary adjustments with her father and trainer, Pete Taylor, to reverse the arrears. She won a technical fight 10-5 to take her fifth European title.

In May of 2012, they ran it back in the final of the World Championships in Qin Huangdao just 10 weeks out from the London Games. It was apparent despite Taylor’s subsequent 11-7 win that if she had managed to establish a sliver of daylight between them in the Netherlands, Ochigava had all but closed it in China. Taylor described the decider afterwards as “such a tense fight, so close all the way through, a real game of patience and nerves.”

Clearly, the nature of her two defeats didn’t sit well with Ochigava. When she and Taylor booked their places in the 2012 Olympic final, their third meeting in as many major-tournament showpieces, she went on the offensive.

“When you fight Katie you are already minus 10 points,” she told the assembled press. “You are fighting the judges and the whole system and they will try to give her too many points.”

irelands-katie-taylor-reacts-as-she-is-declared-the-winner-over-russias-sofya-ochigava-rear-after-their-womens-light-60kg-gold-medal-boxing-match-at-the-london-olympic-games-august-9-2012 Source: Alamy Stock Photo

Taylor, pushed by a practically feral Irish audience at London’s ExCel Arena, edged the most unbearably tense contest 10-8 to take the biggest prize of all. In truth, the fight could probably have finished 0-0 and while, in this writer’s judgement, Taylor did just about enough to shade it, there are plenty out there — including people in Ireland — who believe Ochigava was unfortunate not to get that nod nine years ago.

One of them has been busy recently training Kazakhstan’s Firuza Sharipova [14-1, 8KOs] for her shot at Taylor [19-0, 6KOs], now an undisputed lightweight champion in boxing’s professional ranks, in Liverpool on Saturday.

“In general, nothing has changed fundamentally since London,” Ochigava, 34, tells The42. “I train, train, work.

“I train young athletes, and in my free time I train myself,” she says.

The Moscow native, an 11-time major international medal winner, disappeared from the amateur scene following a bronze at the 2014 Europeans in Bucharest (won by Taylor) before resurfacing in the pros two years later — when she beat none other than Sharipova on both of their debuts. “I thought I wanted to change something. With age, professional boxing is more interesting than amateur boxing. I wanted a new dynamic.”

Ochigava went 2-0 in August 2016, three months before Taylor’s own professional debut, but then ostensibly retired from the professional ring to focus on ambassadorial work and her role as a trainer.

moscow-russia-21st-july-2019-moscow-russia-july-21-2019-lightweight-boxer-sofya-ochigava-takes-pictures-of-an-open-training-session-for-participants-in-the-international-boxing-day-events-in Source: Alamy Stock Photo

However, she exploded back onto Irish-boxing radars with a spectacular return in March 2020, has won twice more since to bring her record to 5-0(1KO), and will fight for a sixth time as a pro in Russia on Christmas Day (which means she can’t travel to Liverpool to accompany Sharipova this week).

“My return to boxing was influenced by the fact that I had a goal: a fight with Taylor and the opportunity to avenge an unfair loss in the final of the Olympics,” Ochigava says.

“I am still convinced that I won this fight. I knocked Katie down, which didn’t count. But they raised her hand, not me.

Of course, I think that the decision to win Katie was political. Ireland had not won a gold medal in any sport for 20 years.

“And Taylor is English by her father,” Ochigava adds, intimating her belief that the Irishwoman received a home decision in London.

After they raised her hand, I asked her and her coaches how much her medal was worth. After all, AIBA at the time, led by Mr. Wu (Wu Ching-kuo) and his team, was often accused of corruption.

Ochigava stresses that her saying this to Taylor and her team was an emotional response, adding, “I would like to leave that fight in the past.”

irelands-katie-taylor-red-commiserates-with-sofya-ochigava-blue-of-russia Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“I believe that we need to move forward”, she continues, “and I set myself new goals.

“Fighting Taylor in pro boxing and getting all the belts is my goal for today.

Katie has a chance to prove that she really won by fighting me as a professional. This fight has a long history. For the fans, it is very intriguing and anticipated. Therefore, I would like Katie and her team not to bypass the fight with me. I will win my next fight on 25 December and, after that, Taylor’s team can set any date – I’m ready. Is Katie ready? I think she is.

“She wants big fights, says that she is interested in the fight with Amanda Serrano, but she still owes me a favour. And I would like to receive it.

“Even if Katie loses the undisputed title, this fight will still be big and lucrative. I want to get even for the Olympics by getting an independent judges’ decision.”

Believe it or not, Ochigava and Taylor have always been quite cordial in person — although the Irish icon noted many years ago that they began to keep their guards up more, figuratively speaking, when they realised they were going to be world-leading rivals.

13147294_1004049946352268_781177918076243424_o Taylor and Ochigava training together in Dublin in the spring of 2016.

Ochigava is friendlier still with the new queen of her and Taylor’s 60kg division, Kellie Harrington, whom she has met at several international training camps in her capacity as a coach in recent years. “I love the Irish team,” Ochigava says.

Kellie is a wonderful, soulful person and a very good boxer. I was very worried about her at the Olympics. She was very happy about her gold medal, she wanted it for a long time.

Somewhat ironically, Ochigava last met Harrington’s Irish predecessor at a multi-nations camp in Abbotstown in 2016 when Taylor, training for the Rio Olympics, helped the Russian to prepare for her professional debut versus Sharipova.

Ochigava has in recent weeks been “instrumental” to Sharipova’s prep for the Kazakh’s bout with Taylor at Liverpool’s M&S Bank Arena. Sharipova [14-1, 8KOs] told The42 last week:

Sofya is in my camp from the very beginning. She passed on to me all her knowledge about this opponent, and therefore in our battle Katie will experience a double horror: with me will be the intellect of Sofya Ochigava and my power. And even now, Taylor refuses to box with Sofya. But Sofya passed on all her knowledge to me, and in the ring opposite Katie there will be the two strongest boxers at once.

WhatsApp Image 2021-11-30 at 15.15.20 Ochigava (L) and Firuza Sharipova (R).

Though she stops short of making a direct prediction, Ochigava says of Taylor-Sharipova: “Firuza is relatively young and has good speed. She will not stand still and take punches, unlike other athletes. I think the fight can turn out as tight as with Natasha Jonas.

We worked on combos against a fighter like Katie. I know Taylor’s fighting style like no one else and was able to transfer my knowledge to Firuza. I would bet this is a 50-50 fight. But you have to understand that boxing is a very unpredictable sport.

“In any case, I want to box with Taylor – regardless of the outcome of their fight.”

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