KATIE TAYLOR is the new unified lightweight champion of the world: just about.
But it was a far from a convincing display from the Bray woman who edged Belgium’s Delfine Persoon on a controversial majority decision at New York’s Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
The Wicklow orthodox put her IBF/WBA/WBO belts on the line against Persoon’s WBC strap, but the Flanders orthodox, who stormed out of the ring in disgust and in tears after the decision was announced, almost walked off with the lot and has a clear case for a rematch.
New York’s Allen Nace and New Jersey’s John Poturaj both scored it 96-94 to Taylor, but Don Trella of Connecticut, where Taylor trains, marked it 95-95.
However, many pundits, included Taylor’s former Irish team-mate Carl Frampton, Carl Froch and Paulie Malignaggi reckoned that 34-year-old Persoon did enough to become the undisputed 135 lbs champion.
"In my opinion, the judges have got it wrong," said Frampton who sparred Taylor when both fighters were part of the IABA High-Performance team. “It is heartbreaking to see Delfine Persoon in tears. I thought she won that fight by miles and that was a disgraceful decision."
Saturday’s ten-rounder was probably Taylor’s worse performance since she lost to Mira Potkonen in the quarter-finals of the Rio 2016 Olympics.
The new unified champion took the first round, but from that point on the fight developed into a see-saw war of attrition and the London 2012 gold medalist never really established herself and looked spent going down the final stretch.
On quite a few occasions, Persoon, her left eye badly swollen from taking punishment for her endeavours, rocked the London 2012 champion. She finished the stronger, particularly in the last two rounds.
A police officer by trade, Persoon asked the first serious questions of Taylor’s paid career, but the undefeated Irishwoman, bearing the scars of battle under her right eye, nose and forehead, reckons she deservedly had her hand raised in victory.
“I definitely felt I did enough, especially earlier on in the fight. I knew she was going to come on strong but I thought I did enough in the end. Thank God for a great victory, she said after her 14th win," she said.
“I stand there and fight a little bit too much, I probably should have been a bit more disciplined tonight. I showed great heart. It was a close fight, but I definitely felt I did enough in the fight to win.” Persoon will now almost inevitably call for a rematch but whether Taylor’s team, having survived this scare, will risk their investment is another matter.
Money talks in pro boxing and a mega-bucks showdown with Norway’s Cecilia 'First Lady' Braekhus, the unified welter champion, is in the offing, although that would be at a catch-weight with Braekhus moving down to light-welter and the Bray woman moving up.
The unbeaten 37-year-old Norwegian has won 35 fights and indicated that she’d welcome a showdown with Taylor but warned Eddie Hearn (Taylor’s promoter) that if she gives up her belts that he will have to come up with "something good".
England’s Chantelle Cameron, who acrimoniously split from Barry McGuigan’s Cyclone Promotions in February, is another possibility as is a rematch with Chicago’s Jessica McCaskill.
Taylor beat the Windy City puncher on points in London in 2017 but got uncharacteristically dragged into a firefight in the middle rounds with the American earning plaudits for her gutsy display and refusing to back down.
They could meet again, but for now, Taylor, who has fought 104 rounds since her pro debut in November 2016, joins Braekhus and her fellow London 2012 champion Claressa Shields of the USA as one of only three women to unify an entire weight class.
However, Persoon, who hadn’t been beaten in nine years up to Saturday’s fight, could get another shot at Taylor in a rematch and her performances over the weekend suggests she won’t be leaving the ring in tears next time.
Taylor and Persoon met on the Anthony Joshua versus Andy Ruiz Jr. undercard at MSG. California-native Ruiz, a late replacement, caused a massive upset after claiming Joshua’s IBF/WBA/WBO heavyweight titles on a 7th round stoppage.
Joshua, like Taylor a London 2012 gold medallist, was dropped four times in the biggest shock since Mike Tyson lost to Buster Douglas in 1990.
Elsewhere on the undercard, Cameroon-born middleweight Hassan N’Jikam, who was once managed by Cork’s Gary Hyde, was TKO’d by England’s Callum Smith in the third round of a world title fight.