Friday 18 January 2019

Wahlstrom not facing into unknown after sparring battles with champ Taylor

Finnish Boxer Eva Wahlstrom. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Finnish Boxer Eva Wahlstrom. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Seán McGoldrick

Eva Wahlstrom is unique among the 12 fighters who have faced Katie Taylor in her two years as a professional. Not only have the pair clashed on four occasions at amateur level, they have sparred each other.

There are striking similarities between their careers, though Taylor made a bigger impact in the amateur ranks than the Finnish fighter, who is six years older.

Whereas Taylor ended up winning 18 championship gold medals including the 2012 Olympic lightweight title and five World titles, Wahlstrom had to be content with two European silver medals and one bronze.

They both began boxing before it was officially sanctioned in their native counties. "I went to the gym at the age of 15 due to the influence of my then boyfriend and got hooked on the sport because it felt so difficult at the start," Wahlstrom said.

"I was talented in most sports but it surely didn't feel that way when I hit the boxing gym. Funnily, when I started the actual boxing, contests were still not allowed in Finland for females although the rule was changed soon afterwards."

Walhstrom persisted and won the first of numerous Finnish national titles in 2000 when she was 20. In April 2001, Wahlstrom won a bronze medal at the inaugural European amateur women's championships in France in the super lightweight category.

Wahlstrom first encountered Taylor at a prestigious women's tournament in Italy in the summer of 2004. They clashed in the semi-final with Taylor winning comfortably (39-25).

Later in 2004, both fighters competed at the European Championships in Riccione, Italy. It was Taylor's championship debut and she was eliminated in the preliminary round by a Russia fighter Yulia Nemtsova (27-12).

Meanwhile, the Finnish fighter went on to contest the final, losing to Turkey's Gulsum Tatar, then the undisputed queen of the lightweight category and the only fighter to beat Taylor on three occasions.

"By then I had noticed how talented Katie was. I actually contacted Katie afterwards about having a sparring camp together and I travelled to Ireland to work with her," explained Wahlstrom (above).

The pair clashed for the second time in the 2005 European lightweight final in Norway with the Bray fighter winning a tight contest 19-17. It's a result which Walhstrom still has regrets about.

Nagging "The most nagging of my defeats against Katie was the 2005 Euro where I was fast closing the points gaps when an accidental elbow from Katie broke my nose and she managed to retain her narrow lead."

By the time they next clashed at the 2006 World Championships in New Delhi, the gulf between the pair had widened considerably and the referee stopped the contest in the second round.

Now Wahlstrom is set to earn the biggest pay cheque of her pro career when she moves up from super featherweight (130lbs) to the 135lb lightweight category to tackle two-belt world champion Taylor.

"Everyone who follows boxing understands the magnitude of this event and the challenge I face," she said. "I truly enjoy and don't feel any pressure being in the position of the challenger for once. There is no problem making the weight so I am stronger and better hydrated than ever. But I won't speculate about the outcome."

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport