By Rory Hickey: Katie Taylor (20-0-0, 6 KO) and Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KO) will face off on April 30th inside Madison Square Garden for the undisputed lightweight championship in arguably the biggest fight in women’s boxing history.
Katie Taylor is from Bray, Ireland, and was a highly decorated amateur boxer before turning professional. Taylor is so revered in her native Ireland that she was the flag bearer for Ireland at the 2012 London Olympics opening ceremony. She went on to win a gold medal at lightweight in the debut of women’s boxing as an Olympic sport.
The reverence Taylor receives from fight fans is a testament to her skill and determination; and a far cry from when she started her career literally as a complete unknown. As she began her career as a teenager in the late 1990s, Taylor had to pretend to be a boy under the pseudonym Kay.
“When I started, women’s boxing wasn’t allowed in Ireland. That was a huge barrier I had to break down. One of the best things about my journey is seeing so many female fighters now and the opportunities that are out there,” Taylor said in a recent interview. Katie Taylor has come from fighting in complete anonymity to co-headlining a card that has sold out the 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden.
On the other side of the ring will be Amanda Serrano, who was born in Puerto Rico and moved with her family to New York at a young age. Amanda Serrano’s sister Cindy is also a professional boxer. Amanda’s boxing career began when she responded to an ad in the New York Daily News and signed up for the Golden Gloves when she was eighteen, attempting to follow in her sister’s footsteps. Though her sister and mother were initially against her decision, Amanda’s determination won them over, and the rest is history. Serrano is a bonafide boxing legend, having held nine major world titles across seven different weight classes. She is currently on a 28-fight winning streak, with her only career defeat coming in 2012.
Initially, this women’s boxing super fight was to happen in 2020. In early March of 2020, the two had agreed to fight on May 2nd, 2020. However, within a week of that announcement, COVID-19 began to shut down the world as we knew it, and Taylor-Serrano was no exception. The world has changed in immeasurable ways in the roughly two years between that original May 2020 date and April 30th, 2022, when Taylor and Serrano will finally square off. One measurable change in that time is the level of compensation Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano will receive for squaring off.
Eddie Hearn has been Katie Taylor’s promoter for her entire career. She has had multiple fights on the undercard of Anthony Joshua’s title boots, and Taylor has benefited immensely from Hearn’s marketing savvy and belief in Taylor’s star power. Amanda Serrano did not have many of the advantages Taylor had when she was coming up the ranks– she did not possess either the Olympic pedigree or promotional backing that Taylor enjoyed. The difference in how Taylor and Serrano got to this position is reminiscent of when Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler fought.
Jake Paul of YouTube fame has helped promote Serrano recently; he had Serrano featured on the undercard of his boxing matches and then started promoting her in the more traditional sense. She will make over twice as much money on Saturday night than in any other fight in her career. Serrano also became the first boxer to sign a sports gambling partnership with FanDuel.
One interesting subplot in the leadup to the fight was when Serrano publicly called for the bout to consist of twelve three-minute rounds as the men do. Taylor was not interested in changing the format of the match. As with all championship women’s boxing matches on Saturday night, Taylor vs. Serrano will be ten two-minute rounds.
No matter the length, the fight itself should be exciting and competitive. Serrano is one of the few women’s boxers who possesses true knockout power, sporting a 68% knockout percentage with 30 knockouts in 44 fights. Her style of fighting is exciting, much like Katie Taylor’s. Though Taylor’s six knockouts in twenty victories do not jump off the page, Taylor throws a lot of punches and puts skillful combinations together. Given Serrano’s power and Taylor’s polish, the bout between the top two pound-for-pound fighters in women’s boxing should be exciting and tactical. Oddsmakers feel the fight is a tossup with Serrano installed as a slight -130 betting favorite.
The Taylor-Serrano fight is not the only big boxing match on Saturday night. Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez will compete in an anticipated lightweight unification bout. Unfortunately, the two fights on Saturday night are not a part of the same event. Taylor and Serrano will face off at Madison Square Garden on DAZN. Later in the evening, Stevenson and Valdez will compete in Las Vegas on a Top Rank card on ESPN and ESPN+. Usually, too much boxing is never a bad thing. But on Saturday night, we have a potentially groundbreaking moment for women’s boxing— and instead of celebrating, ESPN is counterprogramming it.
Bob Arum is likely not losing any sleep over this. A few months ago, the legendary promoter and head of Top Rank Boxing criticized the Taylor-Serrano fight and women’s boxing. “As good a fight as [Taylor-Serrano] is, come on, for whatever reason it is, people don’t particularly pay attention to the women’s fights. The answer is ESPN made the schedule, and they couldn’t care less. I don’t wanna denigrate fights, I don’t wanna be accused of being anti-women in sports, but I’m telling you, this is like the Premier League against women’s football.”
Nearly fifty years have elapsed since Title IX, the federal civil rights law, was signed into law on June 23rd, 1972. Title IX states that: No person in the United States shall, based on sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
In the fifty years since Title IX became law, things have generally moved in the right direction for women’s sports. But in recent years, the pay discrepancy between the men’s and women’s US soccer teams and the difference between the men’s facilities and women’s facilities during the 2021 “bubble” NCAA basketball tournament are just two examples showing that we have a long way to go. That is the true shame of Bob Arum’s comments: a landmark night in women’s boxing built on decades of incremental progress could do nothing to move Arum off his preconceived notions.
The Amanda Serrano vs. Katie Taylor bout could be the biggest in the history of women’s boxing; and hopefully a springboard for women’s boxing as a whole. While boxing is a much older sport than mixed martial arts, female boxers have not reached the levels of notoriety that their counterparts in the UFC have. In the last decade, Ronda Rousey, Amanda Nunes, and Miesha Tate have all achieved a crossover appeal that female boxers have not. Laila Ali was a unique case, as being the daughter of Muhammad Ali, combined with her skills in the ring, allowed her to break through into the public consciousness despite competing in the early 2000s, a generation before women’s boxing started to hit its stride.
The fight between Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor will be a significant event. The top two pound-for-pound women’s boxers facing off against each other in front of a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd filled with Puerto Rican and Irish fans is an exciting prospect. The atmosphere, skill level, and social significance of Taylor vs. Serrano foreshadow April 30th, 2022, as a rare moment where viewers will recall where they were when they witness it decades from now. The best-case scenario is that Taylor-Serrano will be that kind of cultural moment. At the very least, it is going to be a great fight.