The past informs the present
With negotiations complete, it’s time for all the work behind the scenes. For both fighters, it involves high quality sparring along with reviewing tape and game planning for the fight.
Virani’s main sparring partner for this big fight is a former champion in Yenifer Perez. With Yenifer’s own comeback after her loss to Emma McGale happening in the near future, she’s happy to test herself against a champion of Virani’s quality.
Virani’s time with Yenifer is well spent, as the Colombian has a similar adaptable style as the Englishwoman. Perhaps a little below ‘The Fluke’s standard, given the result when the two fought.
Highly motivated, Virani and Yenifer engage in round after round of back and forth sparring. Two world champions working to improve themselves.
Virani does well in the first part of the sparring, getting Yenifer to commit to punches before firing in shots of her in – luring the Colombian into the kind of fight she wants. A good example is shown as Virani lands a clean hook to the head as Yenifer knifes in a blow to the body. A good trade for the Canadian.
Yenifer adapts well to get her own rhythm back. She retreats and plays it more coy, making the Canadian champion make the first move.
Towards the end of their final sparring session, Yenifer lands the most impactful punch of the entire spar, beating Virani to the punch as she tries to throw her left hook. Yenifer’s overhand right counter both takes her away from Virani’s hook, and allows her to launch a big shot of her own, which draws a big groan from the champion. That one hurt.
Sandra: “Too obvious! Everyone keys off your left hook, and this time she did the damage. Can’t afford that mistake.”
Reviewing the Fluke
After sparring is finished, Virani and Sandra sit down to watch footage of Kayleigh’s past fights. Particular attention is paid to the more recent fights.
Sandra: “I don’t need to tell you this but Kayleigh truly has the most talent in the division. She doesn’t have a meaningful weakness. So how does she win fights?”
Virani: “She can fight any style. So her adaptability is high. Good chin, so she can make a mistake or two and get away with it.”
Sandra: “All true. But she wins primarily through her confidence – keeping hers high and taking yours away. At her best, she’s always playing a mind game with you, reminding you that she can hit you but you can’t hit her, and drawing you into making that critical mistake. And then she pounces and she puts opponents away.”
Virani: “True. Her power is perhaps her most underrated aspect. Nine KOs in 11 wins is a crazy percentage. She’s not a huge puncher, but she hits with good timing.”
Sandra: “She’s a complete boxer. Her blueprint looks like what she did to Sybil Graves. Take her out of her gameplan and then make the fight her own.”
Virani: “But she’s not unbeatable, as we’ve seen.”
Sandra: “Michaela sparked her out in one round. What lesson can we apply from that?”
Virani: “When you get your opportunity, take it.”
Sandra: “Yes. But there’s a more profound answer – it was overconfidence. Only an idiot would try to fight a brawl against Michaela Sommer. But she did. If she loses her mental edge in a fight, she’s vulnerable.”
Virani: “What about what Kasandra did to her?”
Sandra: “Kasandra used her best attributes and took a lead in the fight. Kayleigh was chasing for most of it, and that is when Kasandra hurt her. She’s not used to being behind. And that made her desperate. Vulnerable. It’s what we need to do to her.”
Virani: “So, get out to a lead and make her commit.”
Sandra: “Yes. We know her natural inclination is to try to beat her opponent at her own game. We need that to be her only option.”
On the other side of the Atlantic, Kayleigh Parsons brings in Isabella Ortega to be her main sparring partner. The undefeated Mexican is a puncher in a similar mould as Virani and has drawn strong reviews for her talent level. She also doesn’t mind travelling to London to spar with such a high quality opponent. She knows that part of her growth will be exposure to this level of ability.
Kayleigh and Isabella keep things rather professional. There’s no room for friendship, only a focus on the task at hand. ‘Thunderbolt’ imitates Virani’s style as best as she is able, and Kayleigh is given good work to ensure that she keeps herself save from red leather delivered by the Mexican.
Advanced tactics are put in place, including constricting the space and using a clever arm to the body to disrupt Isabella’s balance as she punches.
Jim: “Good but dangerous – it’s not a game you really want to play, babe!”
Timing. That is what Kayleigh’s biggest weapon is. It’s at the core of what she does. Part of working in camp is establishing that timing before the fight beings. Isabella is coy enough to not walk into anything, but she can’t stay safe forever.
In an exchange, as Isabella throws a right hand, Kayleigh’s left hook is there first, black leather sending sweat flying from the Mexican’s head as the Englishwoman makes a big connection. The Mexican is able to shake it off after a bit, but she certainly got caught big time.
Kayleigh keeps the pressure on but throws light punches, almost miming what her intent would be in real life. Allowing Isabella to recover while training her own muscle memory for the fight.
After sparring, it’s time for film review with Jim. In the Parsons household that usually means the time after the kids go to bed.
Kayleigh: “I think there’s such a thing about watching too much film on Virani. Watching her land those power punches would make someone crap their pants about facing her in the ring.”
Jim: “Don’t be silly. What can you learn from her victories?”
Kayleigh: “She hits really bloody hard?”
Jim: “Yes, she’s a fighter that can spark anyone out with one punch. But her victories often have a pattern.”
Kayleigh: “Which is?”
Jim: “Do you notice any dramatic comebacks in her career?
Kayleigh: “She’s won fights after being hurt or being dropped.”
Jim: “But never a fight where she’s been down on the scorecards late in the fight. What I’m getting at is she’s a front runner. When she’s ahead, she’s nearly impossible to beat, because it means putting yourself right in her clutches. I think the truth of it is, it’s impossible to get 10 rounds with her and win. The fact that all her defeats are by knockout is not a coincidence. She gets ahead, she wins. She’s behind, she loses. That’s how she trounced Kasandra.”
Kayleigh: “But she’s always been chinny. Five losses by knockout.”
Jim: “I detect another pattern. In many of her losses, Virani is hurt to the body. Alesia dropped her with a body shot. The Empress went confidently to the body in the middle rounds. Even Masae landed blows to the body which slowed her down. People avoid going to the body against Virani because it puts them in the line of fire, but I think it’s the path to victory. You sap her strength and you make that chin vulnerable.”
Kayleigh: “It’s a strategy with risk. If I land to the body and Virani counters to the head, it could be all over.”
Jim: “The truth is, durability’s Virani’s only true weakness now. She used to be more of a brawler, but against Kasandra she showed she can think tactically through multiple rounds. With Sandra Blohm, she’s way more of a complete fighter than she was when she fought you.”
Kayleigh: “She’s still primarily a puncher.”
Jim: “You have to admit she improved.”
Kayleigh: “She did. Going to the body. Hmm. I did some good work to the body in the second fight. But I always hurt her to the head.”
Jim: “I’m just saying it’s a trend. Don’t be afraid of doing what needs to be done. Go to the body, sap her power and then you can go for that KO.”