Katie Taylor ready to go distance in tough unification bid
Controlled approach key to New York contest
World lightweight champions, Katie Taylor and Victoria Noelia Bustos embraced at the end of their final press conference in Manhattan on Thursday ahead of their showdown for the unified 135lb belt. It is a measure of how much they respect each other.
But when face each in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in the early hours of tomorrow morning they will be trading leather rather than hugs in a world title fight which seems destined to last the scheduled ten rounds.
Katie Taylor is on a twin mission. She has already partially achieved the first leg - being remembered as a great boxer, not just a great woman boxer. Part two of the plan is to unify the lightweight category as soon as is humanly possible.
"Last year was huge for me but it was only the start and I believe that 2018 will be even bigger. Unifying the lightweight division was a goal of mine from day one in the pros and I want to have all the belts by the end of the year," Taylor said.
But she respects the Argentinian, who is fighting for the first time outside her native country, where she is just one of nine women who are reigning professional boxing world champions.
"She is a great opponent and one of the longest reigning champions. But I know I can deliver a big performance and put on the fight of the night," promised the 2012 Olympic gold medallist.
Only the undisputed world welterweight title holder, Norwegian Cecila Braekhus - who has held two of her belts since 2009 - has been a reigning world champion longer than 29-year-old Bustos.
But given that women's professional boxing is only beginning to take root across all the weight divisions these statistics can be misleading. Bustos, for example, first fought for the WBC version of the world lightweight crown in 2012, in only her eighth professional fight, but lost on a unanimous points decision.
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But in September 2013 she secured the IBF world belt in her home city of Rosario - which is also the birthday place of Lionel Messi - and has defended it successfully on five occasions. But the only non-Argentinian fighter she beat in those contests was 37-year-old American Kimberly Connor.
Arguably her most significant career statistic is that all her 18 wins have been on points and though she has lost four times - including twice to another Argentinian lightweight Natalia Vanesa del Valle Aguirre who is rated as the country's number one in the category - she has never been stopped.
But she is unlikely to possess the same punching power as her compatriot Anahi Esther Sánchez, whom Taylor beat to secure the WBA lightweight belt after a memorable showdown in Cardiff last October. Sánchez - who last month bounced back to win the WBA super lightweight title - had won nine of her 17 bouts via knockout when she faced Taylor.
The Bray pugilist took a lot of punishment that night and for the first time in her pro career had a number of facial gashes afterwards.
Her team opted for a different approach when she defended her title for the first time against American Jessica McCaskill in London's York Hall just before Christmas. She did most of her boxing on the outside as she secured another unanimous points win.
There has been criticism of how she defends herself as well as her unwillingness to box at a more measured pace.
At times she boxes as she did when she was an amateur where the key requirement was to deliver the maximum number of punches in three rounds. A more controlled approach is required in the pro game. But then she is still a novice in the paid ranks.
Boxing in the Barclays Center ought to bring back sweet memories for Taylor. On her first visit to the Brooklyn venue last July she achieved her last knockout win. Jasmine Clarkeson retired after the third round.
There is little prospect of Bustos - who does the books in her father's painting company to supplement the meagre income she earns from professional boxing - retiring tonight, though regardless of the outcome she will pick up the biggest pay-cheque of her career.
Taylor-Bustos contest is on the undercard of a middleweight clash between Brooklyn native Daniel Jacobs - who was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer, in 2011 but made a full recovery - and Maciej Sulecki. Taylor and Jacobs are both managed by Eddie Hearn's Matchroom organisation.
Disappointingly, the Taylor-Bustos bout is not being screened live in the US but the Irish champion is still beginning to gain some traction in the US as evident by an interview/feature on her in this month's edition of Ring Magazine, arguably the most famous boxing publication in the world.
As his her wont, Taylor was the soul of brevity when it came to answering the questions of the writer Thomas Gerbasi, though pointedly she acknowledged that she loves being a completely anonymous figure in her new training base in Connecticut.
"I can go for walks and stuff like that. I definitely lived a very quiet life when I was at home in Ireland as well but I do love that I can just be my myself over here."
But for half an hour tonight in the Barclays Center Taylor gets an opportunity to do what she loves and does best - box.
Given the speed and power of her shots combined with her exceptional footwork, she should win comfortably and join Carl Frampton and Ryan Burnett as the only Irish boxers to win unified world belts.
Also fighting on the 'Straight Outta Brooklyn' show is Monaghan-born light-welterweight Larry Fryers, who is now based in East Durham in upstate New York. He is bidding to extend his unbeaten professional record to 7-0 when he challenges Russian Nikolay Buzolin.
- Katie Taylor v Victoria Bustos, Sky Sports, 2.0am tomorrow