NOBODY could have predicted that what would really help women’s boxing receive more mainstream exposure in this country was a global pandemic. In a boxing landscape where the age-old currency of ticket-sellers is just about defunct, and the idea of gate receipts a thing of the past, women’s boxing has provided a relatively cheap method of filling cards with high-level bouts. After staging barnburners like Terri Harper’s draw with Tasha Jonas and Katie Taylor’s successful rematch with Delfine Persoon during the summer, Matchroom boss Eddie Hearn has now crafted an unprecedented women-led card including both of those champions in world title fights.
Rachel Ball, another big winner as part of Matchroom’s Fight Camp series, completes the triumvirate of women’s world title fights at the (empty) Wembley Arena as she takes on late replacement Jorgelina Guanini for the vacant WBA bantamweight title.
It is fewer than three months since Taylor was awarded a unanimous decision on Hearn’s lawn after 10 all-action rounds with Belgian policewoman Persoon, which ensured she retained all four of her world lightweight titles. On Saturday, she puts them on the line in the main event against Miriam Gutierrez.
It is four years ago this month that Taylor made her professional debut at the very same venue, albeit when it was packed with fans, blowing away Karina Kopinska and ushering in the new era of women’s boxing. She has been at the vanguard of it ever since, racking up a perfect 16-0 record and unifying the lightweight division in the process.
A mouth-watering encounter with another unbeaten legend of the sport Cecilia Braekhus was looming large until the Norwegian great was outpointed by Jessica McCaskill in August. Now a rematch between Taylor and the American, whom she beat at York Hall in 2017, could be on the cards. Meanwhile, big fights with the likes of Amanda Serrano and Chantelle Cameron could also be made should Taylor come through unscathed against Gutierrez.
The undefeated Spaniard worked her way into the mandatory position for Taylor’s WBA belt as a result of her victory over Keren Batiz for the sanctioning body’s interim title 12 months ago. She has not boxed since.
The 13-0 Madrid resident will make Taylor uncomfortable at times and her aggressive style should help produce an entertaining clash but it remains to be seen whether or not Gutierrez will be able to cope with the class of the unified champion in full flight.
Gutierrez boxes with the poise of someone who has endured far greater challenges outside the ring. Indeed, during an interview with WBA president Gilberto Mendoza, the mother-of-two revealed that she suffered a ‘facial bone injury’ in a domestic attack while eight months pregnant with her first daughter Zaira.
She has since battled towards the top of the sport, and like many before her, a crack at golden girl Taylor represents something approaching the pinnacle for her. The 37-year-old will give her all but is unlikely to return to Spain with any hardware.
Another visitor from Iberia in action is highly rated super-featherweight Katharina Thanderz who challenges Harper for her WBC title. Harper, still only 24, is one of Britain’s great success stories having gone from working in a chip shop to the world championship in a matter of years. She clinched the belt by defeating Eva Wahlstrom in February and successfully defended it, just, as a result of her contentious draw with Jonas in August. A rematch with the Liverpudlian has been mooted but first Harper must take care of the 32-year-old Norwegian, who currently lives in Spain. The challenger’s 13-0 (2) record contains a majority decision victory over Ball last year and, like Gutierrez, she has been out of action since claiming the WBC interim belt in November 2019. Assuming she has fully recharged in the three months since those 10 hard rounds with Jonas, expect Harper to live up to her pre-fight billing as favourite by edging out Thanderz on points. The ‘Belter’ from Denaby, Yorkshire is improving with every fight and would have learned so much from such a nip-and-tuck encounter with southpaw Olympian Jonas.
Ball, meanwhile, has been rewarded for beating Shannon Courtenay on August 14 with a shot at the vacant WBA bantamweight title that speaks of the shallow talent pool that remains in certain weight classes of the women’s code. Ball was supposed to face Ebanie Bridge until the Australian pulled out with an injury meaning 9-1-2 (1) Guanini has made the trip from Buenos Aires to the Wembley bubble.
Guanini, a former IBF champion at super-fly, is giving away seven inches in height and may struggle to get inside against the rangey Midlander. If she does, she can cause problems but Ball, in only her eighth fight, can box her way to the world title if she stays clever.
In addition to the women, there are also two men’s boxing matches taking place too. Super-middleweight Jack Cullen was supposed to be facing Jamie Cox in an intriguing crossroads bout until the Swindon man was cut in sparring deep into camp. Now ‘Little Lever’s Meat Cleaver’ will face a different southpaw in late replacement John Docherty, the talented and undefeated Scotsman, over 10. Both men featured at Matchroom Fight Camp with Cullen drawing with Zak Chelli on August 22 while Docherty stopped Anthony Fox in seven a week earlier. Elsewhere, Liverpool light-heavyweight Thomas Whittaker Hart, who is managed by Tony Bellew, has his first fight since signing for Matchroom in October when he takes on 7-1 Jermaine Springer.
The Verdict The appetite for women’s boxing has never been greater and if this draws in the viewers, we will see more cards like this.