‘AND STILL’. KATIE Taylor is getting used to hearing those crucial words and they were greeted with rapture at Headingley Stadium, Leeds, as the daughter of a Yorkshireman made the third successful defence of her crown.
It’s difficult to know how many of the thousands in attendance at Leeds Rhinos’ rugby league ground are aware of the connection despite Taylor’s best efforts to point it out at every turn this week, or how many simply appreciate an objectively great fighter regardless of flags or familial ties. But the noise during her introduction was electric, which is more than can be said for portions of a fight in which Taylor was far from her enthralling best.
That she earned a shutout victory — 100-89 on all three judges’ scorecards, with a knockdown of Han in the eighth (although it looked like a dodgy call by referee Mark Lyson), is a testament to the gulf in ability between herself and opponent Jennifer Han.
Challenger Han, who reigned for five years as the IBF’s featherweight world champion and worked her way into the position of mandatory challenger for Taylor’s lightweight title before giving birth to her second son in February, offered little other than resilience as she suffered her third career defeat.
Taylor began on the front foot, stalking and sniping at her opponent and easing her way into a rhythm. Han immediately backpedaled as she was introduced to speed like she has never experienced before.
The second followed a similar pattern but Taylor began the third with more spite, clipping Han with a thudding left hook and marching forward with a bit more purpose. Han landed a nice left to the body to finish the round but it was unquestionably three to zip in Taylor’s favour entering the fourth.
Taylor smothered some of her own work in that round as she attacked from close range. While Han continued to receive encouragement from her corner — one of whom claimed Taylor was tired — it wasn’t manifesting itself in any success in the ring.
The Irishwoman was in cruise control by the fifth, edging exchanges and punctuating her dominance with five unanswered single punches before the bell at halfway.
Still, it was all a touch flat by Taylor’s standards, the the energy of the crowd having mostly dissipated apart from when they mustered a few choruses of ‘Stand Up If You Hate Man U’.
Both fighters seemed to annoy each other a bit in the clinches in the sixth, Taylor landing one stinging legal right hook from the inside and Han also attempting to rough up the champion from in close.
The best shot of a scrappy seventh was another overhand right by Taylor from longer range.
The fight was fast-paced but somewhat lacking in real intensity, Han gallant but lacking anything resembling the power required to reverse its inevitable course.
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Taylor upped the ante in the eighth, increasing the spite in her shots and firing from more advantageous angles. Han hit the deck on the back of one attack: it was scored a knockdown although it appeared from ringside as though the fighters’ legs had become entangled, with Han also protesting as much to no avail.
The lightweight champ pointedly pursued a stoppage late on, and had she thrown with the same conviction earlier in the fight as she did in the last two rounds, she probably would have gotten it.
Han, though, survived some vicious late assaults to hear the final bell.
In the main event, hometown hero Josh Warrington and his sole career conqueror, Mauricio Lara, were forced to settle for a technical draw after an accidental clash of heads opened a huge cut over Lara’s left eye.
The anticlimactic result was met with deafening boos but it was the only possible verdict after the doctor ordered the fight to be stopped, as four rounds hadn’t yet been completed.