Serrano eyes undisputed title, growth for women’s boxing

Feb 1, 2023, 7:25 PM | Updated: Feb 2, 2023, 9:27 am
FILE - Amanda Serrano punches Ireland's Katie Taylor during the fourth round of a lightweight champ...

FILE - Amanda Serrano punches Ireland's Katie Taylor during the fourth round of a lightweight championship boxing match on April 30, 2022, in New York. Serrano's next fight comes Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, where she can become undisputed featherweight champion with a victory over Erika Cruz, the main event on a female-filled card at Madison Square Garden. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

              FILE - Amanda Serrano punches Ireland's Katie Taylor during the fourth round of a lightweight championship boxing match on April 30, 2022, in New York. Serrano's next fight comes Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, where she can become undisputed featherweight champion with a victory over Erika Cruz, the main event on a female-filled card at Madison Square Garden. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Amanda Serrano decided four years ago to only fight at her most comfortable weight.

There would be certain exceptions, of course. Her match last year against Katie Taylor that made women’s boxing history meant moving up two weight classes, as would a rematch later this year.

Otherwise, the fighter who spent a career bouncing between divisions, who once fought for a 115-pound title just four months after winning one at 140, would only fight at the featherweight limit of 126.

Seems an easy enough decision. In a sport that’s about hurting or getting hurt, all fighters want to go in feeling their strongest.

A female boxer didn’t always have that luxury.

“So, I was going all over because of the opportunities,” Serrano said.

Sometimes, those weren’t even in boxing. Serrano, like two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa Shields, also competed in mixed martial arts in an effort to boost profiles and paychecks.

Nearing the end of her career and now backed by Jake Paul’s MVP Promotions, the 34-year-old Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KOs) can call more of her own shots. She finally stuck around long enough in one division to pick up three 126-pound titles and can become the undisputed champion if she beats Erika Cruz on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

“Even as an amateur, I won the Golden Gloves at 125, so I was always a featherweight fighter,” Serrano said. “But as a female boxer, you have to go where the opportunities are.”

They came in places such as Sweden and Argentina earlier in her career. Now the Brooklyn resident is back where Taylor edged her last April by split decision in the first women’s boxing match to headline at MSG.

“Amanda is a seven-division world champion because it was hard to make those fights,” said promoter Eddie Hearn, saying female boxers would think, “‘Oh, the other champion like two divisions up will fight me, let’s jump up and fight her. Let’s go down and fight the other one.’ Now it’s like, the names are big enough to create big fights.”

The fights like the one between Taylor and Serrano, which matched two of the best and garnered multiple fight of the year honors, too often fall apart or happen way too late in men’s boxing. Its success could help create chances for younger female fighters that weren’t available during much of Serrano’s career.

“It’s definitely a steppingstone,” Serrano said. “We needed to break that barrier so people can see, for networks, for promoters, for arenas to see that we can sell. We can do all of these things that the men do.”

Women’s boxing got another big boost later in the year with two marquee matches on the same card in London, where Shields beat Savannah Marshall and Alycia Baumgardner edged fellow American Mikaela Mayer at a sold-out O2 Arena in Britain’s first all-female card.

Headlining the biggest venues was obviously a huge step for women’s boxing. But Hearn looks at smaller, faraway places to envision the sport growing to where Serrano hopes.

Taylor had to pretend she was a boy so she could get into gyms, because girls weren’t allowed to box in Ireland. It’s a different scene where Hearn’s 10-year-old daughter boxes.

“Now when I go down to the gym to see her or pick her up, there’s a dozen young girls in there,” he said. “Well, there never used to be a dozen young girls. You wouldn’t see one. You’d never see a female, a young female in a boxing gym, up until five years ago, and before that hardly any clubs had any female fighters.”

The card Saturday is filled with women, with Baumgardner (13-1, 7 KOs) facing Elhem Mekhaled in a bid to become the undisputed 130-pound champion. After three straight bouts in Britain, the Detroit product finally gets to fight again on home soil.

Should Serrano win, the plan is a trip to Ireland for a rematch with Taylor on the lightweight champ’s turf. Hearn said both made a million dollars for the first bout and would do even better for the second — a far cry from when he said some women didn’t get paid at all for their initial pro fights.

“That’s money to set them up for life really and that’s something, if you talk to young female fighters, you say, ‘These girls are out there making over a million bucks a fight, so don’t tell me there’s not a future in women’s boxing,'” Hearn said.

Serrano said the Taylor rematch is the only fight that will get her out of a preferred division she had to leave so many times earlier in a career that is nearing a close, saying she doesn’t plan to fight past 36.

Chasing titles in multiple divisions for fame and fortune will always be part of boxing. Serrano hopes doing it out of necessity won’t be required as much for the women who follow her.

“We have girls that are coming up into the sport and they want to leave their name in the sport, so I think it’s coming along,” she said. “We have great champions calling out other champions, so I think we got it in us.”

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