Serrano eyes undisputed title, growth for women’s boxing
By BRIAN MAHONEY Associated Press
NEW YORK — Four years ago, Amanda Serrano decided to only fight at her most comfortable weight.
There would of course be some exceptions. Her fight last year against women’s boxing history-maker Katie Taylor meant she would move up two weight classes, as would a rematch later this year.
Otherwise, the fighter who spent a career hopping between divisions, who once fought for a 115-pound title just four months after winning a title at 140, would only be fighting at the 126 featherweight limit.
Seems like an easy decision. In a sport where you get hurt or hurt, all fighters want to compete with their best feelings.
A boxer didn’t always have that luxury.
“So I did everything because of the opportunities,” said Serrano.
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Sometimes that wasn’t even in boxing. Serrano, like two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa Shields, also took part in mixed martial arts to boost profiles and paychecks.
Nearing the end of her career, 34-year-old Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KOs) is now joined by Jake Paul’s MVP promotions. She can make more of her own decisions. She finally stayed in a division long enough to claim three 126-pound titles and can become the undisputed champion if she beats Erika Cruz at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
“Even as an amateur, I won the Golden Gloves at 125, so I’ve always been a featherweight fighter,” Serrano said. “But as a boxer you have to go where the opportunities are.”
They came to places like Sweden and Argentina earlier in their careers. Now the resident of Brooklyn is back, where Taylor defeated her by split decision last April in the first women’s boxing match to make headlines at MSG.
“Amanda is a seven division world champion because those fights were difficult to get through,” said promoter Eddie Hearn, saying female boxers would think, “Oh, the other champion that’s two divisions up is going to fight me, let’s jump up and fight let’s get down and fight the other one.” Now it’s like the names are big enough to trigger big fights.”
Matches like that between Taylor and Serrano, which saw two of the best against each other and won multiple fights of the year, too often fall apart or come far too late in men’s boxing. His success could help create opportunities for younger female fighters that were unavailable for much of Serrano’s career.
“It’s definitely a stepping stone,” Serrano said. “We had to break that barrier so people can see that networks, promoters and arenas can see that we can sell. We can do all these things that men do.”
Women’s boxing got another big boost later in the year with two marquee fights on the same card in London, where Shields defeated Savannah Marshall and Alycia Baumgardner defeated her American compatriot Mikaela Mayer in a packed O2 Arena at Britain’s first all-female card.
Headlining the biggest venues was obviously a big step for women’s boxing. But Hearn looks to smaller, far-flung places to imagine the sport growing where Serrano hopes.
Taylor had to pretend to be a boy so she could go to the gym because girls weren’t allowed to box in Ireland. It’s another scene where Hearn’s 10-year-old daughter is boxing.
“Now when I go to the gym to see them or to pick them up, there are a dozen young girls there,” he said. “Well, there never used to be a dozen young girls. You wouldn’t see any. Up until five years ago you never saw a woman, a young woman, in a boxing hall and before that, hardly any club had female fighters.”
Card Saturday is packed with women, with Baumgardner (13-1, 7 KOs) taking on Elhem Mekhaled to become the undisputed 130lb champion. After three fights in a row in the UK, the Detroit product is finally back to fight on home soil.
Should Serrano win, a trip to Ireland is on the cards for a rematch with Taylor on the lightweight champion’s turf. Hearn said both made a million dollars for the first fight and would do even better in the second – a far cry from when he said some women weren’t paid at all for their first professional fights.
“That’s money to really set them up for life, and that’s something when you talk to young fighters, you’re like, ‘These girls are making over a million bucks a fight, so don’t tell me there’s no future women’s boxing,'” Hearn said.
Serrano said the Taylor rematch is the only fight that will get her out of a favored division she’s had to leave so many times before in a career that’s nearing its end and said she has no plans to fight past 36 .
Chasing multi-divisional titles for fame and fortune will always be a part of boxing. Serrano hopes it won’t be as much of a requirement for the women who follow her to do so out of necessity.
“We have girls who want to get into the sport and put their name in the sport, so I think it’s moving forward,” she said. “We have great champions that challenge other champions, so I think we have it in us.”