So much at stake as Katie Taylor returns to the ring

THE history of professional boxing is littered with major upsets. Take your pick from Sonny Liston losing to Cassius Clay, Lennox Lewis’s loss to Hasim Rahman, Mike Tyson’s defeat to Buster Douglas or Anthony Joshua falling to Andy Ruiz.

hould Katie Taylor surrender her status as the unified and undisputed lightweight champion of the world in Liverpool’s M&S Arena tonight it would also be a seismic moment in boxing annals. There is no logical reason why the 35-year-old Bray fighter ought not to chalk up her 20th professional win on the spin against Kazakhstan’s Firuza Sharipova. Yet there is an unmistakable sense of foreboding in the wider Taylor camp about the contest.

Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown. The 27-year-old challenger has not been a regular on the European professional scene; she has done her training outside Moscow away from the gaze of her 150,000 followers on Instagram and the presence of government officials in their entourage suggests this a national enterprise.

Of course, it could all be a charade. The majority of her 14 victories – eight inside the distance – have been achieved against unheralded opponents. She has never faced a fighter of Taylor’s calibre and it will be interesting to see how she reacts when on the receiving end of the champion’s body shots. But Sharipova does possess a powerful punch and if she gets within striking distance of Taylor she has the ability to cause damage.

She has been tutored by 2012 Olympic silver medallist Sofya Ochigava who is still moaning about the judges’ decision in her gold-medal fight against Taylor in London. Pro boxing is far more cut-throat than even the Olympics.

The Sharipova camp knows that unless their fighter wins by knockout, stoppage or is so overwhelmingly the better fighter for the 10 two-minute rounds, the chances of getting the verdict are slim.

The nervousness of Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn, whose commercial nous and genuine admiration for her achievements have moulded Taylor into a world star, owes much to the fact that he’s on the brink of securing the biggest fight in women’s boxing history.

Provided Taylor gets the decision, and her long-time foe Amanda Serrano wins her warm-up fight next weekend against former Taylor opponent Miriam Gutiérrez in Tampa, then the stage will be clear for the long-anticipated multi-million-dollar showdown between Taylor and Serrano.

It has already been pencilled in for New York’s Madison Square Garden in the second half of April 2022. Were Taylor to lose her 100pc record, or if Serrano slipped up next week, it would be the equivalent of Devon Loch’s infamous collapse when within sight of winning the 1956 Grand National.

Sharipova does have two advantages over Taylor – she is seven years younger and has less boxing mileage on her biological clock. The Bray fighter has literally been on the road 20 years and at some point it has to take its toll.

She is an assiduous trainer who is dedicated to her craft and has the rare ability to distance herself from all the noise that surrounds her fights. Instead, she focuses on what she has to do once the bell sounds.

Her favourite comment during the last few days was ‘it is what it is’. She relishes being tested in the ring and has always risen to the challenge. Her performances have flatlined this year, however. It could be just that her three opponents, Jennifer Han, Natasha Jonas and Gutiérrez, didn’t challenge her enough to get the best out of her or it could be that Father Time is beginning to catch up with her.

Hearn acknowledges she gets angry anytime he brings up retirement and there is absolutely no sign of Taylor quitting. Indeed, she suggested recently her fans have yet to see her best. This may be wishful thinking on her part.

But before she returns home to Bray for a well-deserved Christmas break with her family she would dearly love to achieve a win via knock-out for the first time since stopping Rose Volante in Philadelphia in 2019. However, she may have to be content with another shut-out points win.

In the first of the show’s live televised bouts, Belfast middleweight Caoimhín Agyarko is seeking to win the WBA international middleweight belt when he puts his unbeaten record on the line against American Noe Larios, who had difficulty making the 160lb weight limit.

This is a defining moment in the career of Agyarko, who has just signed a promotional deal with Matchroom.

Katie Taylor v Firuza Sharipova,
Live, DAZN, 9.30

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