Katie Taylor described her 2017 as “perfect” after a successful first title defence over Jessica McCaskill on Wednesday.
But it was not a completely faultless display from the WBA women’s lightweight titleholder, who was caught at times in a unanimous points win at the York Hall in east London.
The Irish boxer had too much quality, speed and precision for her American opponent in what was another display of her fighting finesse that earned her scores of 97-92, 97-92 and 98-91.
But Taylor’s sixth fight of the year was perhaps her hardest yet.
“This is the perfect end to a perfect year,” said Taylor.
“It’s probably the toughest fight of my career. I was expecting that because she’s a tough opponent and I expected it. I thought I boxed well on the outside because I knew she was tough.”
McCaskill (5-2, 3 KOs) felt the scores did not reflect how close she pushed Taylor (8-0, 4 KOs), who had a point deducted in the seventh round for holding.
“I definitely thought it was closer than that and I rocked her a couple of times,” said McCaskill.
“I rocked her a couple of times. It’s my fault for heaving it up to the judges. I thought Katie ran a lot and pot shotted a lot.”
On the agenda for Taylor in 2018 will surely be a first appearance in her native Ireland and there are some exciting, potential match-ups against the likes of Chantelle Cameron (5-0, 4 KOs) and Natasha Jonas (3-0, 3 KOs), who are both from England, American Mikaela Mayer (3-0, 2 KOs) or with rival world champion Delfine Persoon (39-1, 16 KOs), Belgium’s WBC titleholder.
Taylor’s ultimate goal is to unify the titles by beating her rival world champions.
“That [fighting in Ireland] has always been on the radar and this sets me up for big 2018,” said Taylor.
“I want to unify the division and be involved in the biggest fights possible.
“This is what I was born to do. I was created to box and every time I step in here I know this is what I was supposed to do. I live the life of my dreams and I’m so grateful for that.
“Who ever has got the other belts — the WBC, the IBF, the WBO — I want them all really, I want to make history in this sport.”
There has also been speculation about Taylor fighting American Holly Holm, the 36-year-old UFC fighter from Albuquerque who had a successful boxing career until 2013. But Holm (11-3 MMA; 4-3 UFC; 33; 33-2-3, 9 KOs boxing), who is in UFC action on Dec. 30, has recently said she has no interest in swapping the octagon for the ring.
Taylor, one of the biggest global names in women’s boxing, only won the the WBA belt with a unanimous points win over Argentina’s Anahi Sanchez for the WBA belt on Oct. 28.
The 31-year-old, who is from Bray in Ireland but trains in Connecticut, made a composed start and was able to land a few combinations on target as McCaskill struggled to get a foothold in the contest.
McCaskill, 33, who works in an investment bank in Chicago by day and trains in the evenings, could not cope with the speed of Taylor’s punches before the Irishwoman darted out of range.
But McCaskill was able to land a left hook at close range in the second and she was successful again in the third with a left during a furious exchange.
McCaskill upset Taylor’s rhythm in the third round, when the Irishwoman was warned by referee Howard Foster for holding early on.
Taylor had more space to throw combinations in the fourth as she tried to avoid getting drawn into any toe-to-toe exchanges.
Taylor was brilliant in the fifth. McCaskill walked forward with intent looking to land with big hooks, but was continually picked off by the fast hands of Taylor, usually with single right hooks.
But in the sixth, Taylor had a minor crisis when she was wobbled by a left hand.
The Irishwoman recovered quickly enough to instantly duck under another shot from McCaskill, but there was more trouble for her in the seventh round.
After being warned by Foster for holding in the third round, Taylor lost the seventh after she was docked a point for holding and hitting McCaskill.
There did not seem much in it after the point deduction, despite Taylor showing the classier boxing. Taylor sensibly returned to her boxing to ensure she got the decision and was masterful in the ninth and final rounds.
On the undercard, Conor Benn — son of former world middleweight and super-middleweight champion Nigel — looked fortunate to earn a 57-54 points verdict over Cedrick Peynaud in a see-saw six-round welterweight bout.
The England-born boxer, who was raised in Australia, had stopped eight of his previous ten opponents after turning professional with little amateur experience in April 2016 and was expected to improve his record against his French opponent.
But Benn (11-0, 8 KOs), 21, started disastrously and was floored twice in the first round. Benn was floored by a straight right after being caught square footed in the first minute of the first round and then again later in the round.
Peynaud (5-5-3, 3 KOs), 31, had another good round in the second in a thrilling slugfest, before Benn came storming back in the last two rounds.
Benn sent the Paris boxer tumbling from a right hook in the fifth round for a count and then scored another knockdown in the sixth and final round with a classy right hand to the chin.
“The only thing I showed in that was heart, I don’t know what happened, but I’m only 21 and I will learn from it,” said Benn.
“I’ve got a lot of learning to get to the higher levels.”
Benn’s stablemate Martin J Ward stopped Juli Giner in the sixth round to lift the vacant European super featherweight title and move closer to the world’s elite.
British and Commonwealth champion Ward (19-0-2, 9 KOs), 26, floored former European titleholder Giner (21-3-1, 8 KOs), 34, twice in the sixth round in an impressive display. Giner was sunk first from a left hook and then by a right straight through his guard.