Undisputed Lightweight champion Katie Taylor soundly defeated Delfine Persoon in their thrilling rematch at Fight Camp Week 4. Some simply refused to see it.
A little over a year ago, June 6, 2019, then WBA/WBO/IBF Lightweight champion Katie Taylor and WBC Lightweight champion Delfine Persoon battled to a close majority decision that crowned Taylor as women’s boxing’s third active undisputed champion. Ireland’s 2012 Olympic gold medalist won the 10-round bout six to four on two of the three cards. Many at Madison Square Garden had a different verdict after watching then 34-year old Persoon show why she, figuratively, brought her lunch pail to the ring.
Personally, in addition to what appeared to be perceptible based on Taylor’s body language and energy level to start the 10th round, I thought Persoon’s pressure warranted the nod – by split decision or otherwise. Moreover, just over five months later Taylor moved up to Super Lightweight to challenge ferocious Christina Linardatou for her WBO crown. She won another hard-fought battle unanimously, but I began thinking out loud that the 33-year old face of women’s boxing – maybe if only internationally speaking – might not really be all that special.
How did Taylor respond?
She went on to schedule a March 2020 showdown with the hard-hitting seven-division champion Amanda Serrano. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic scratched the bout, attempts were made to renegotiate a new date, but the sides couldn’t reach a new agreement with the compensation changing due to crowds not being in attendance. With Serrano out I wondered if I’d get to see if my theory about Taylor was incorrect. Then Persoon was named as the opponent, and I figured I’d still get my wish.
Taylor-Persoon 2 was the chief support for the WBC Heavyweight championship elimination bout between mandatory challenger Dillian Whyte and veteran Alexander Povetkin on Saturday, August 22. The event was also the fourth and final week of Matchroom Boxing’s outdoor Fight Camp series. The rematch closely resembled the first fight, but Taylor often fought with various tricks up her sleeves for Persoon’s frantic pressure. And, in the 10th and final round this time the undisputed champion looked ready to complete accomplishing her stated goal of earning a clear victory over the dogged Belgian.
Taylor stood in the pocket over much of the fight’s final 120 seconds and for her efforts she was rewarded with the decisive victory via cards of 96-94 from two judges, and then Victor Loughlin’s 98-93. I don’t know if the performance confirmed whether Taylor is special, but I tipped my cap to her for walking into the fire against a seemingly unstoppable force in one of her toughest opponents.
How Could Anybody Diminish Taylor’s Big Moment?
Women’s boxing – despite doing the most at times during the recent returns to the sport by its leading promoters and their broadcast partners – continues to have to prove itself. Collectively female fighters, and those who organize it, have to deal with a litany of knocks against it. Common complaints include the lack of KOs, the fact they are limited to fighting 2-minute rounds, a need for depth across the most popular divisions, and displeasure towards the skill level displayed in a lot of fights. Some detractors even slam women fighters for voicing their demand for improved or equal pay. We won’t get to that one here.
There was a bit of a two sides of the fence in the aftermath of Taylor-Persoon 2. Talk of Fight of the Year popped up in online chatter. Other groups countered with jabs at the action that played out in the ring. Again, action that was condensed into 2-minute rounds for 10 rounds – not 12 like men’s title fights. Fortunately, what couldn’t be determined by watching the fight was clarified by the CompuBox Punch Stat tallies.
Fans are entitled to feel how they want to feel concerning the perceived shortcomings of women’s boxing. However, I’m choosing to savor a quality championship fight between professional combatants. Here are three reasons why the fight should be viewed no differently than any other world championship fight.
Taylor overcame a 4-inch height advantage from the relentless stalking Persoon who stands at 5-feet 9-inches. The effect of the height difference was noticeable, and Persoon’s range in conjunction with her motor combine to make a highly formidable challenger. Taylor appeared to wilt, and completely burn out late, in the face of the Belgian’s constant pressure last June. In the rematch she easily countered her opponent the first few times she attempted to enter the front door. The champion appeared to run out of solutions to mitigate or neutralize Persoon’s major tactical advantage, but some stern late-round encouragement from her corner rekindled Taylor’s reliance on her boxing.
Leaving a lasting impression on the judges is always a positive. In the last two rounds Taylor quit moving away or accepting being bull rushed and sometimes cornered. In response to Persoon tenaciously walking her down, the gold medalist either connected with a good shot on the way in, or she stood her ground and slipped under a shot from Persoon then resettled to punish her with a punch to an exposed opening.
CompuBox Stats aren’t 100 percent accurate, but they often help to validate the details ones eyes can’t easily confirm while watching a hotly-contested fight with a lot of inside fighting. Taylor’s measured attack, or counter-attack, relied on precision punching and she was credited for landing 42.5 percent or 85-of-200 power punches. Persoon only managed to land 77-of-503 power punches for a clip just over 15 percent. Overall, Persoon needed 528 more punches in order to land just a dozen more total punches per CompuBox. Even if Persoon actually landed 20-30 more punches – a mix of jabs and power punches – there is still reason to question the effectiveness of her aggression. However we value the punch stats, credit has to be given to Taylor’s defense and ring generalship, as she affected Persoon with her movement, reaction, timing and her legs.
Persoon’s pressure is a major focal point of her fighting style and game plan. However, can pressure alone win a championship fight? The aforementioned CompuBox Stats speak to the shortcomings of stalking an opponent and rapidly firing shots at all times – in all directions. In contrast, Taylor showed success fighting off of her back foot, she sealed the win while disrupting Persoon’s rhythm by moving forward late in the bout. Plus, she also skillfully set traps and landed solid counter punches as the older opponent tracked her at times. Barring a knockdown or causing visible signs of major damage, Persoon’s case for a victory is tougher to make, while she fought an extremely competitive fight.
Grit is a favorite attribute for boxers. And while Persoon’s display of hers was admirable, she did need a round or so to rev up, but in many spots Taylor’s heart of a champion shone equally as bright. Taylor’s own determination to prove she was the better fighter, and to accomplish her objective of a decisive win, helped influence me to (at least) feel comfortable with Taylor’s hand being raised in victory. Through the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds the challenger appeared to gain momentum and her pressure started to recreate the optics observed during the fight at MSG. But in round nine, and definitely in the 10th, we didn’t see a fighter no longer singularly concerned about retaining her title. Instead we saw a champion more than willing to figure out a way to disallow her opponent from looking like the better woman on that night.
I agreed with the “And still…”
Ever gracious in defeat, after the grueling bout Persoon agreed too when she stated, “This time I respect the result.”
After alluding to her opinion she may be best suited for Super Lightweight Persoon also said, “I didn’t feel like I had enough power to hurt her this time…”, before also adding, “And if you don’t hurt her, it’s technical and she’s good at moving around. You have to hurt her otherwise she gets away. The power was not enough. I’ve got no problem with this decision and my respect she deserves.”
Women’s boxing isn’t going to win the adulation of the sport’s die-hard fans overnight. But any individual’s lack of an effort to check the technique isn’t the truest reflection of the status of women’s boxing. That individual is just showcasing his/her limited range or intolerance for change. In addition to Taylor-Persoon 2, excellent women’s bouts like Super Featherweight championship Terri Harper vs Natasha Jonas and Rachel Ball’s exciting upset of Shannon Courtenay added great value to Fight Camp’s 4-week run. Also on DAZN, on August 15 in Tulsa, Okla., Chicago’s unified Super Lightweight champ Jessica McCaskill boldly went up a division, and wrestled all four of the major belts away from long-time champion Cecilia Brækhus in a nail-biter headlining bout.
Don’t hold the 2-minute rounds against what the women are trying to accomplish. They didn’t request that restriction, nor do they embrace it. Similarly, some committee elected to decide the outcome of big-time college football games that end regulation with a tied scored by starting possessions in overtime on the opposing team’s 25-yard line. No fans have ever turned off a tied Ohio St. versus Michigan or Alabama vs LSU game because it isn’t the same rules as the NFL.
You want pros to pros? In the 2019 Men’s Singles Wimbledon championship match Novak Djokovic defeated Roger Federer in the-best-of-5 sets. Simona Halep beat Serena Williams 6-2, 6-2 for her same Wimbledon title.
While waiting for some of the elite men fighters to even agree to face one another, celebrate some of the women who are eagerly fighting the best fighter available – wherever the fight needs to happen. If you can’t find it in you to appreciate their style of boxing, at least don’t deny them when they truly do leave it all in the ring.
All photos by Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing