Firuza Sharipova takes on one of the most feared faces in women’s boxing this weekend as she steps into the ring with undefeated Irish star Katie Taylor – but the Kazakh fighter is not daunted by the challenge.
Undisputed women’s lightweight champion Taylor puts her titles on the line against mandatory WBA challenger Sharipova at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool on Saturday night, with the Irish Olympic gold medalist heavily fancied by the bookmakers to extend her unblemished professional record to 20-0.
But despite her underdog status, the 27-year-old Sharipova is not unfamiliar with breaking the mold and defying expectations.
The Kazakh pugilist was the first woman to turn professional in her country, and following a baptism of fire against Russia’s Sofya Ochigava in her first fight in 2016 – which ended in a unanimous decision defeat – Sharipova has since reeled off an impressive 14 straight victories.
The Kazakh puncher captured the Women’s International Boxing Association (WIBA) world lightweight title in just her eighth pro outing in 2017, before adding the vacant IBO and WBC silver super feather titles to her collection in the same year.
In September of 2019 it was feared that Sharipova’s fighting career could be over after she announced her retirement due to funding issues.
However, she returned the following August to claim the vacant IBA world female super lightweight title in a dominant victory over Tanzania’s Happy Daudi.
She’s since notched three more victories – including a second-round TKO of Russia’s Liubov Beliakova in September – to set up her shot at Taylor.
According to Sharipova, she has a secret weapon heading into the contest thanks to former foe Ochigava.
Ochigava was an opponent for Taylor in the amateur ranks, and the Irishwoman prevailed in their biggest bout when they battled for Olympic gold in London in 2012.
Sharipova has called on Ochigava during her training to plot the downfall of the 35-year-old Taylor.
“I am eight years younger than Katie Taylor, I am stronger than her and Sofya Ochigava helped me to prepare for this fight,” Sharipova said.
“No one else knows how to fight Taylor like Sofya Ochigava. Therefore, not only I, Firuza Sharipova, will be in the ring against Taylor, but the intelligence of Sofya Ochigava, who has prepared me very well for this fight, will be with me.
“Sofya has been in my camp from the very beginning, has passed on all her knowledge to me and has done her best to help me defeat Katie Taylor.”
Taylor was feted as a national hero for her Olympic success in London, but Sharipova attempted to needle her opponent with claims that she was an undeserving gold medalist.
“I watched their fight in the final of the Olympic Games and I’m sure that the judges helped Taylor. Sofya knocked her down, which wasn’t counted. Sofya was better in the fight, she won it,” Sharipova said.
“Taylor is usually not afraid of anyone, but in that final fight, Sofya saw fear in her eyes. Even now, Taylor refuses to fight Sofya.”
Saturday night will be the first time Sharipova has fought outside of her homeland or Russia since her second professional bout back in 2016.
The photogenic fight queen – who was married to fellow boxer Denis Rybak before their divorce in 2017 – is among the most popular female sports stars in her homeland and was once voted her nation’s sexiest athlete in a poll.
Bizarre betting markets even opened on whether Sharipova could one day take on the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin on the judo mat, or pose nude for Playboy.
“Of course I would love to conduct a joint training session with Vladimir Putin,” Sharipova told RT Sport back in 2019.
“It wouldn’t be full contact or hard sparring. It would be a friendly joint training session and not full blooded in any way.
“As for the Playboy shoot – I’d be against taking part in any nude photo shoots! If the photos are decent and beautiful, the I will be ok with that. Otherwise no,” said Sharipova.
While Playboy is off the cards, it will certainly be maximum exposure for the Kazakh ring queen this weekend in Liverpool as she aims to pull off what would be one of the biggest upsets women’s boxing has ever seen.