Katie Taylor now facing her toughest fight of all

After a five-year unbeaten run, Katie Taylor tasted defeat for the eighth time yesterday afternoon. And so, the inevitable inquest will begin.

The Irish public had become so used to the Olympic champion winning, that a common reaction to her victorious run was a blasé shrug of the shoulders. In stark contrast, her defeat yesterday was greeted with bemusement.

In a sport ignored by many in between Olympic Games, a ‘won’t-somebody-think-of the-children’ hysteria often accompanies surprises such as this, much like what transpired during the Billy Walsh saga. While the result was surprising, it may not have been as shocking as many claim.

Representing Azerbaijan, Yana Alekseevna emerged victorious from her semi-final bout against Taylor at the European Olympic qualifiers in Samsun, Turkey, and upset the bookies’ pre-fight odds of 11/2 in doing so. Those odds were somewhat generous, however, when considering the fact that she had pushed Taylor so close in last year’s European Games semi-final.

The Bray woman said after that 2015 bout: “I know how it feels to lose fights as well, and I never want to feel that way again.”

Taylor has not felt that way since February 19, 2011 when suffering a highly-contentious points loss to Denitsa Eliseyeva in the Bulgarian’s backyard. Yesterday’s loss will, paradoxically, be both more worrying and less bitter.

In 2011, the questionable three-blind mice judging standards that AIBA so often deem worthy of calling a fight were to blame. This time, a worthy opponent inflicted the loss.

On the plus side, Alekseevna is among a new wave of female talent capable of challenging the five-time world champion. They are slowly silencing the dismissive suggestion that women’s boxing is not a competitive sport — a dubious criticism which has sometimes been cited to counter Taylor’s great achievements.

On the negative side, Taylor’s performance was not up to scratch, as she appeared to struggle with her southpaw opponent and looked uncomfortable with the more aggressive approach of Alekseevna (once known as Yana Sydor, when fighting for Ukraine).

It is not a challenge Taylor is unfamiliar with, as she previously defeated Alekseevna in the 2014 world final, but yesterday Taylor did not look as cool and composed as usual.

In past bouts against the likes of Russian adversary Sofya Ochigava — another southpaw — Taylor has come from behind on the scorecards and showed clinical precision to regain control.

Many will question the absence of her father, Peter, who no longer works her corner. That question could linger as the Taylors tend to be media shy around big tournaments.

Others will look to the departure of Billy Walsh, but Walsh did not work Taylor’s corner so that point is void.

Irish interim head coach Zaur Antia remains an invaluable coach for the 29-year-old and, along with fellow coaches Eddie Bolger and John Conlan, there is a wealth of tactical acumen in her corner.

Did she have enough preparation for the tournament? It would seem so — as much as she ever normally has, that is, as Taylor’s rivals remain reticent when it comes to taking on keep-busy bouts against the Olympic champion outside of tournament action.

A novel domestic final appearance at the 2016 national finals (held last November) saw Taylor defeat Clonmel’s Shauna O’Keeffe to claim her first Irish Elite title in the ring. Two months ago, in keeping with her preparation in recent years, a pair of warm-up fights against former foe Queen Underwood of the USA and Serbia’s Jelina Jelic in Cork had appeared to help her shake off the rust.

A speculative analysis might suggest the hand injury that ruled Taylor out of the 2015 national championships may have upset her yesterday.

The Bray native opted against surgery on that injury last year, but she will need to take a different type of corrective action in the ring against Bulgaria’s Svetlana Staneva in tomorrow’s box-off. Tomorrow’s winner increases her chances of booking an Olympic place via the world championships. With such an achievement, Taylor’s latest loss may yet become a mere footnote in her career.


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