IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks ahead to a landmark year for women’s boxing, headed by the super-fight between decorated champions Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano.
With the announcement that Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano has had the second highest ticket pre-sales in Madison Square Garden history, we can now safely say that women’s boxing has truly arrived.
Years ago it would have seemed impossible that two female boxers would be headlining a promotion at the iconic Garden — and we’re talking about the “big room” here, not the downstairs theatre.
If you’d told this to Jack Dempsey, who headlined at an earlier incarnation of the Garden back in 1920, he would have thought you’d taken leave of your senses.
But Taylor vs Serrano proves that people simply want to see good, well-matched boxing at the highest level, regardless of the participants’ gender.
In Taylor we have the undefeated two-time Olympic gold medallist who holds all the major women’s lightweight titles, while Serrano is a multi-weight champion, from 115lbs to 140lbs. And it hasn’t been a progression from the lowest to the highest weight for Serrano. For instance, she won a 140lbs belt in 2018, a 115lbs championship in 2019, while last year she was winning title bouts at 126lbs.
It’s little short of astonishing how Serrano has been able to move up and down in weight with seeming ease. It speaks of dedication and single-mindedness.
Taylor is 35, Serrano is 33. They have just one defeat between them in 64 bouts, Serrano having lost a points verdict in Denmark back in 2012. Taylor is the solid, reliable technician with the storied amateur career who has shown she can tough it out when she has to, while Serrano is the exciting southpaw with the aggressive, coming-to-hurt you style. It’s about as perfect a match-up as you could wish for. The meeting on April 30 is a true women’s superfight.
But hold on, that’s not all. We have another women’s superfight in the making, this one in the middleweight division, between Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall. Both are undefeated. Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medallist, but Marshall outscored her when they met as amateurs.
This would be a meeting of women with contrasting personalities. Shields calls herself the greatest woman boxer of all time and she’s into self-promotion, Marshall is laid back but has let her fists do the talking, with nine opponents stopped in 11 wins, which is quite a remarkable KO total for a female boxer, and of course she was world amateur champion.
Shields introduced herself to the British boxing public with a routine win over tough but outclassed Ema Kozin last Saturday. Her post-fight verbal onslaught on Marshall was most likely just Shields trying to pump up interest in the potential showdown but, even so, we have almost a bad girl, good girl vibe, with Shields, on the surface at least, angry and arrogant while Marshall is low-key and unassuming.
Taylor vs Serrano is going to be the biggest women’s fight in history, and Shields vs Marshall wouldn’t be far behind, but there’s much more. The talent pool among women boxers is deeper than it’s ever been.
Last weekend we saw the 37-year-old Jamie Mitchell retain her bantamweight title by destroying Liverpool’s game but overmatched Carly Skelly in four rounds. If there were three-minute rounds in women’s boxing and not two minutes, Mitchell would have scored a first-round KO.
And Alycia Baumgardner, who does modelling when she isn’t boxing, revealed serious punching power when stopping Terri Harper in the fourth round last November to become 130lbs champion.
Mitchell and Baumgardner appeared so good, one looks forward to seeing them again.
Seniesa Estrada is another exciting female fighter. The 105lbs champion from East Los Angeles brings fast pressure. In her last fight she rolled right over unbeaten but outgunned Maria Santizo in four rounds to take her record to 22-0 (9 KOs). Estrada vs US Olympic representative Marlen Esparza in a rematch would be a big women’s fight. Estrada pretty much dominated the first fight between the two but that was more than two years ago and Esparza has since won a title in the flyweight division, meaning a rematch would be a battle of champions.
And talking of exciting women’s fighters, Britain’s Chantelle Cameron is right up there when it comes to providing high-calibre action. The unbeaten 140lbs champion can box and she can fight, and she’s hardly lost a round in her 15-0 record.
Welter champion Jessica McCaskill is tough and gritty and she knows how to fight. Two wins over the much more experienced “First Lady of Boxing” Cecelia Braekhus were triumphs of the will. Underdog McCaskill wouldn’t be denied. McCaskill gave Katie Taylor all she could handle in their London meeting four years ago and she’s come on as a fighter since then: bigger, stronger, more seasoned.
Then we have Mikaela Mayer, the US Olympic representative, a champion at 130lbs. Tall, poised, cool and classy, Mayer seemed to reach a new level when outscoring fiery French slugger Maiva Hamadouche last November. Mayer against Belgium’s gutsy, busy-punching Delfine Persoon would be a high-level women’s bout if it could be made.
There are obviously other worthy women fighters out there — but the ones mentioned will do for a start.
When I watched Christy Martin outpunch Deidre Gogarty in a spirited battle on the Mike Tyson vs Frank Bruno II undercard in Las Vegas back in 1996 I could see that women had a place on pro boxing promotions, because if it’s a good fight you don’t really think about whether it’s men or women in there, you just go with the flow of the contest. Now women are topping the bill at Madison Square Garden. That’s what I call progress.
Main image: Taylor vs Serrano is taking women’s boxing to another level. Photo: Michelle Farsi/Matchroom Boxing/MSG.