Monday 27 May 2019

Katie Taylor's Garden Party: Irish star to take next step towards unification bout

Katie Taylor and Eva Wahlstrom of Finland face off during the official weigh-in at Madison Square Garden ahead of their IBF & WBA lightweight showdown. Photo: Getty Images
Katie Taylor and Eva Wahlstrom of Finland face off during the official weigh-in at Madison Square Garden ahead of their IBF & WBA lightweight showdown. Photo: Getty Images

Sean McGoldrick

As she closes out her second full year as a professional boxer, Katie Taylor is on the threshold of achieving greatness.

So long the 'First Lady' of women's amateur boxing, she is poised to do likewise in the less competitive, though far more lucrative world of professional fighting.

But as she counts down the hours to her historic debut in New York's Madison Square Garden (MSG) tonight, she ought to be mindful of what the late Albert Reynolds said in the Dáil in his final hours of being Taoiseach in November 1994.

"It's amazing. You cross the big hurdles, and when you get to the small ones, you get tripped up."

The outcome of Taylor's 12th professional fight against Finland's Eva Wahlstrom looks a foregone conclusion, even though the 38-year-old is the current WBC world super-featherweight champion and is unbeaten in her 23 professional fights. Taylor is 1/40 with the Irish bookmakers.

Rogue

But it only takes a momentary lapse in concentration or a rogue punch to change a fight and Taylor must be on her guard against an opponent she had the measure of when they met as amateurs.

It is a tribute to her consummate professionalism though that despite her success her standards never drop.

Former Irish coach Billy Walsh once remarked that if the male boxers in the IABA high-performance programme had showed as much dedication as Katie they would have also won Olympic gold medals.

Taylor's life revolves around boxing, her family and faith. There are no outside distractions, which impressed Matchroom's Eddie Hearn when she became the first female boxer to link up with his organisation in late 2016.

For most of the year she is based in a nondescript Connecticut town called Vernon, whose most notable claim to fame is that the singer Gene Pitney was born nearby.

Taylor's trainer Ross Enamait, who has coached her since she turned professional, is based there.

In Ross Whitaker's excellent documentary 'Katie,' which charted her progress since turning professional, we got a glimpse of just how solitary her life is.

She lives alone in an apartment and other than training, eating and sleeping does little else. She eschewed her usual trip home to Bray after her facile victory over Cindy Serrano in October and went straight back to Vernon to prepare for her much-heralded debut in arguably the most iconic boxing venue in the world.

As six-weight world champion Oscar De La Hoya declared at the final press conference: "If you haven't fought at the Garden you haven't made it."

De La Hoya's company Golden Boy are promoting the show which is headlined by Mexican superstar Alvarez who is also making his MSG debut. They are not hyping the Taylor-Wahlstrom fight.

It is the sixth-last fight on a packed programme which begins at 8pm Irish time with Katie likely to be in the ring shortly after 11.30pm Irish time, which facilitates Sky Television who are showing the fight live in the UK and Ireland.

The original plan was for a clash against WBC lightweight title-holder Rose Volante which would have seen Taylor challenge for a third world belt in the lightweight class.

However, the Brazilian wanted more time to prepare for the biggest challenge of her career and Wahlstrom stepped into the breach.

All the pressure is on Taylor, who is defending her WBA and IBF lightweight titles for the third time. Regardless of the outcome, Wahlstrom will keep her world belt as well as securing the biggest pay-cheque of her career to date.

"This is really a case of 'nothing to lose, world to win," said her manager Petri Paimander.

Much has changed since Taylor and Wahlstrom last shared a ring in Dublin's National Stadium in 2007.

The only recent form guide is that they beat the same fighter, Argentinian Anahi Esther Sanchez, to win their respective world belts.

In 2016, in Helsinki, Wahlstrom - who will be fighting outside Finland for the first time tonight - beat Sanchez on a unanimous points decision to secure the WBC super-featherweight title.

Unanimous

A year later in Cardiff's Principality Stadium Taylor won the IBF lightweight beat with an unanimous points win over Sanchez, who failed to make the weight and would have surrendered her belt regardless of the result.

Incidentally Sanchez is now the WBA super-lightweight champion while two more of Taylor's previous opponents, Jessica McCaskill and Victor Noelia Bustos, also hold world belts in this weight category.

On the plus side for Wahlstrom she is an inch taller than Taylor and is a more experienced fighter, boxing 173 rounds to Katie's 75. But the latter's 45pc knock-out rate overshadows Wahlstrom's 13pc record.

Taylor's range of shots, the speed of her punches and her excellent footwork will likely see her dominate the 10-round contest, though the decision may go to the judges.

  • Katie Taylor v Eva Wahlstrom, Live, Sky Sports, 11.30pm

The lowdown on Katie Taylor v Eva Wahlstrom

What's at stake?

Katie Taylor defends her WBA and IBF lightweight world titles for the third time against Finnish boxer Eva Wahlstrom who is unbeaten in her 23 professional fights and is the current WBC super featherweight world champion.

Taylor is the first Irish boxer to defend world titles in the iconic Madison Square Garden and it's on a show headlined by newly-crowned world middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez who is bidding to become a two-weight world champion against current WBA super-middleweight title-holder Rocky Fielding from Liverpool.

Who is Eva Wahlstrom?

The 38-year-old Finnish fighter boasts a 22-0-1 record in professional boxing.

Just three of her wins have been achieved inside the distance and all have been in the super-featherweight division - a weight division below the 60kg lightweight category. This is her first fight outside her home country.

During her amateur career, when she fought as a lightweight, she lost to Taylor on four occasions including the European championship final in 2005 - when the Bray boxer won her first gold medal in an international championship.

What channel is the fight on?

Sky Sports Main Event at 11.30pm tonight. It is expected that Taylor v Wahlstrom will be the first to be shown live.

What Taylor says:

"I have been lucky enough to fight in some iconic venues since turning pro two years ago, but I'm not sure there's any more iconic in boxing than Madison Square Garden.

"I think every fighter dreams about stepping into the ring there and I'm no different. To get the opportunity to defend my world titles there is really very exciting."

What Wahlstrom says: "I have the greatest respect for Katie, who has remained her respectable, nice, down-to-earth personality despite all the success and fame. Thus, I am not going to do any trash-talking, but I am very ready to do some thrashing in the MSG ring."

What the bookies say:

Taylor is 1/40 to maintain her unbeaten record and make it 12 wins on the spin while Wahlstrom is the complete outsider at 12/1.

What's next for Taylor:

Assuming she keeps her titles, she is set for have some mega contests in 2019, beginning with a possible unification fight against WBC lightweight belt-holder, Rose Volante from Brazil and a clash against Amanda Serrano, a six-belt world champion.

Irish Independent

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