Katie Taylor remains undefeated, she remains the undisputed queen at lightweight, but the Irish icon was pushed to her absolute limit by Natasha Jonas in a gripping 10-round contest.
A razor-tight decision, which saw Taylor triumph (96-94, 96-95, 96-95) on the cards, deserved a raucous crowd in Manchester, as both women displayed immense desire alongside their skills, with each round providing back and forth action.
Taylor’s 12th consecutive world title fight, with her quartet of belts on the line in a rematch of the 2012 Olympic contest, was one of her most enthralling to date thanks to the Liverpudlian challenger’s thudding arsenal of shots and strength to last the distance.
The fight caught fire from the opening bell, with an intense opening bringing both women close enough to fit inside a phone booth. But it was Taylor’s speed and subtle movement that saw her take the initiative.
But the margins for error were evidently slim, as Taylor ducked in with her head in the second round, grazing Jonas’ forehead to prompt a cry in protest.
Despite Taylor’s busy approach, Jonas rallied quickly, unloading the heavier shots in the third, with a thudding left put behind her clever southpaw jab.
It prompted encouragement from Jonas’ trainer, Joe Gallagher, who screamed: “She’s all over the place, Tasha”.
Boxing is always at its best when the styles fit just right, and this was a prime example where one of Taylor’s strengths, her eagerness to get off early and take control of the exchanges, played into Jonas’ hands, handing her opportunities, with the 36-year-old finding her composure to counter beautifully.
Jonas started to sit down on her shots in the seventh, too, slipping to the right and digging to the body, but Taylor incredibly persevered with the output rarely dipping.
Belief was growing in the challenger’s corner though, with uncertainty growing as to how the judges might be interpreting the contest.
And while Taylor’s class has been apparent for years, it was her toughness that shone through here. It deserved a roaring crowd in recognition, but the quality exchanges, deep into the fight, prompted louder and louder cries from each corner.
Both women’s variety of shots kept each guessing: Jonas turned to the uppercut late on as Taylor found a home for the left hook alongside a textbook straight right.
With the fight up for grabs entering the final two rounds of this contest, Taylor crucially found a second wind, which ultimately proved vital to the outcome of the fight. A flurry of shots closed the ninth round and 10th rounds.
She needed it, too, with Jonas committed to the body and piling on the pressure, only for Taylor to pin her to the ropes, unloading the tank as the final bell sounded.
A rematch surely awaits down the line, with Taylor conceding afterwards that her rival “has everything that it takes to win a world tile”. The legendary career of Taylor marches on though, this time her grit and determination enabling her to overcome one of her toughest challenges yet.