Irishwoman faces stern test on Saturday against 22-year-old Kazakh Firuza Sharipova
On first appearances, the mild manner of Katie Taylor belies the fact she’s at her happiest when “knocking blocks” off her opponents.
The 35-year-old undisputed women’s lightweight champion is aware she’s approaching the twilight of a stellar career inside the ring but remains insistent that “plenty of big fights” lie ahead.
The Irishwoman faces another stern test on Saturday night against 22-year-old Kazakh Firuza Sharipova ahead of a potential mega-fight with multi-weight champion Amanda Serrano in 2022.
Taylor, unbeaten in 19 contests since turning professional following her Olympic gold medal nine years ago, heads into her third contest of 2021 in Liverpool on Saturday night acutely aware that Sharipova comes with major ambition to usurp the queen of the 135lb throne.
“This is a perfect buildup to the fight with Serrano. I think that fight will happen next year,” said Taylor of 33-year-old Puerto Rican Serrano, who has held nine championship belts in seven weight divisions. “And the fact she has teamed up with Jake Paul is even more of an incentive. We both have to get past our next opponents within the next few weeks and once we do that we can start speaking seriously about the next fight. But right now it is looking very likely that that will happen.”
“It’s the perfect time for it to happen, so if it doesn’t happen next year it will be so disappointing for the sport as a whole. If it doesn’t happen next year it wouldn’t be my fault, put it that way. We’re ready for it.
Taylor has become a target for all-comers as a figurehead in the exponential growth of women’s boxing. “I’ve never found it hard to get up for fights or keep myself motivated,” explained Taylor.
“I’m sure it’s because I understand these girls are coming for my belts and you’re going to see the best of these opponents every time they step in the ring with me. You see it all the time in boxing where a fighter has a flat performance and they fail to hold on to their belt. I can never ever get complacent in that way.”
“But there’s so many big fights out there for me it’s hard to focus on one.”
“Jessica McCaskill obviously has all the belts at 147 [welterweight] but there are so many big names that have been thrown at me over the last year. Amanda Serrano, Chantelle Cameron, Jessica McCaskill, Mikaela Mayer… I just have to take one fight at a time. It’s hard to focus on too many names. I have a huge desire and am more than willing to step in the ring with all those girls.”
“It’s been an exciting few years, that’s for sure,” added Taylor. “I just look at the progress women’s boxing has made in that time as well. We’re seeing fights people are really interested in and the fan base is growing. There are so many female fighters out there now who are genuine household names and that’s absolutely incredible”
Taylor ascribes so much of her success to the sacrifice of her parents Peter and Brigitte.
“I couldn’t imagine as a 15-year-old where I am now. It’s been a dream. I was very lucky to be surrounded by a family that was so encouraging. My parents always made me believe that nothing was too big for me and that if I worked hard and got my head down nothing would ever be too big for me. Those encouraging words sustained me during the times where I wasn’t sure if this was going to happen. They made me believe and they made me the fighter I am today.
For now, though, all thoughts turn to the ambitious Sharipova, an aggressive combination puncher, with one defeat in fifteen contests.
“I’m obviously expecting the best from her and am expecting a tough fight. I’m also expected to win the fight and come out with a dominant victory and I hope that will be the case. I’ve been preparing hard and I look forward to performing at my best. I think it would be unusual for me if I wasn’t the favourite going into a fight, but I do enjoy the pressure.”
At 35, the clock is ticking for Taylor. And the bruiser from Bray knows it.
“It’s great being 19-0 but people haven’t seen the best of me yet and I believe these final few years of me in the ring will be my absolute best. I’m very aware I can’t do this forever.
“But I definitely feel like I still have a few years left in me and there are plenty of big fights out there as well. I’m not thinking about my retirement right now but I guess everyone else is.
“I don’t feel like I’m slowing down. I just want to be the best I can be. I want to leave a legacy behind me. You haven’t seen the best of me yet.”
This is a tough fight for Taylor, who I expect to come through on points in a hard-fought battle.
Also on the Liverpool fight card, welterweight Conor Benn takes the next step in his career facing tough 37-year-old veteran Chris Algieri, the former light welterweight world champion whose three defeats in a 28-fight career came against elite world championship opponents Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao and Errol Spencer. Benn, the son of British boxing legend Nigel Benn, unbeaten in nineteen contests with twelve knockouts, will be looking for a statement performance and is likely to call out the winner of Khan and Kell Brook should he finish victorious. I’m picking Benn to win by stoppage in the late rounds, or claim a wide decision victory.