Ireland’s Katie Taylor and Puerta Rico’s Amanda Serrano meet at Madison Square Garden on Saturday in a fight that just might be worthy of its hyperbolic billing as the biggest female boxing match in history. Luke G. Williams previews the action…
Female boxing has come a long way since – almost exactly three hundred years ago in June 1722 – bare-knuckle ‘championess’ Elizabeth Wilkinson issued a challenge in the pages of a London newspaper, declaring: “I, Elizabeth Wilkinson, of Clerkenwell, having had some words with Hannah Hyfield and requiring Satisfaction, do invite her to meet me on the Stage, and Box with me for three guineas.”
Hockley-in-the-Hole in Clerkenwell Green – where the Wilkinson-Hyfield bout took place – was a far cry from the glitz and glamour of 17,000 fans being in attendance at Madison Square Garden. The female pugilists did battle clad in jackets, petticoats and white stockings, both clutching half a crown in their fists to prevent them from succumbing to the temptation of eye gouging or scratching.\
Three hundred years later, women’s boxing’s journey towards mainstream acceptance has been long and circuitous. Indeed, it’s a process that was – for almost three centuries – painfully slow (the first officially sanctioned female boxing match in Britain did not take place until November 1998 and women’s boxing only joined the Olympic programme in 2012). However, the journey will arguably become symbolically complete on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, New York, when Ireland’s undisputed lightweight world champion Katie Taylor meets Puerto Rico’s seven-weight world title sensation Amanda Serrano in a genuine super-fight and headline attraction.
This week the 33-year-old Serrano and the 35-year-old Taylor have perfectly articulated the significance of the contest, for both themselves and women’s boxing as a whole.
“When I turned professional, I never thought I would be someone who is breaking down barriers for women,” Serrano said. “I kept pushing, I kept fighting and slowly but surely, it’s coming along. We have to fight ten times harder than the men because we’re just not fighting for ourselves. We are fighting for the recognition, we are fighting for the acknowledgement, we are fighting for equality.”
As for Taylor she remarked: “The atmosphere is always electric at MSG. You can almost feel those iconic moments from the past when you are there. There’s going to be a lot of Irish fans in the building. I think it could easily be a 50-50 crowd with a lot of Amanda’s fans too, so it’s going to make for an amazing atmosphere.
“You think of Madison Square Garden, and you think the likes of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier these kinds of fights. It’s years and years later we’re still talking Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier kind of fights. I think years and years later from this fight people are still going to be talking about Katie Taylor versus Amanda Serrano. … This is just a special occasion for me. This is just incredible and a real privilege for me.”
For once, promoter Eddie Hearn’s pre-fight spiel has also possessed the ring of truth rather than hollow exaggeration.
“This is like the [Floyd] Mayweather-[Manny] Pacquiao of women’s boxing, but at the right time,” the Matchroom supremo said. “This fight is an inspiration for young girls and women and, as someone with two daughters, I can say to them, ‘Look at what these two have done.’ It should inspire everyone, male or female, that anything is possible with hard work.”
Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KOs) is a marginal favourite with most bookmakers, but in Taylor (20-0, 6 KOs) she faces a formidable challenge. The Bray native is making her sixth defence of her undisputed 135lbs crown and possesses a stellar amateur pedigree that incorporated five world championship golds, five first places at the European championships and Olympic glory at London in 2012.
Taylor’s indomitable will to win and aggressive ethos has thus far carried her to a perfect professional ledger of 20-0 (6 KOs), but there are signs that she may have just passed her peak. Many observers, including this writer, felt she was extremely fortunate to be adjudged the victor against Belgium’s awkward and indomitable Delfine Persoon in her last visit to MSG in June 2019, and Taylor also struggled to subdue Natahs Jonas in a close fight in May last year. It must also be a concern for her supporters that the Irishwoman has not won a fight by stoppage since her victory against Rose Volante in March 2019. Last time out she also had a tougher time than many expected against Kazakhstan’s Firuza Sharipova.
While Taylor has reached the peak of women’s boxing via a garlanded stint in the amateur ranks and a professional career masterminded from the get-go by Hearn’s influential Matchroom outfit, Serrano has had to take a tougher route to the top, often fighting for peanuts on anonymous fight cards in anonymous towns and arenas since turning pro in 2009.
Thanks to her formidable determination and pugilistic skills that have steadily improved, Serrano has gradually come to be seen as one of the best female fighters in the world, and one with a remarkable facility to move up and down weight divisions, having won world titles of varying legitimacy at super flyweight, bantamweight, super-bantam, feather, super feather, lightweight and light welterweight.
Serrano certainly has the skillset to disconcert and topple Taylor. She customarily uses her sharp jab well to create openings and can throw excellent and well-timed combinations to head and body. The Puerto Rican also possesses concussive power in both fists.
Taylor is the more aggressive fighter, and on her day is a formidable pressure fighter, but she is often too easy to hit, her handspeed may be in decline and she surely lacks the dig to take Serrano out.
One area, however, where Taylor has a distinct advantage over Serrano is in big fight and big arena experience. She has fought at MSG before and is used to competing high up the bill in front of large and expectant crowds in pressurised situations. After all, this is a woman who has often fought – and nearly always won – while shouldering the weight of an expectant and adoring Irish nation.
Although Serrano has fought on two well-attended Jake Paul cards in her last two contests, a question mark surely hangs over how well she will adjust to the pressure of participating in such a huge bout at such an iconic venue.
In the final analysis, Serrano winning via a clear points decision would not surprise me, but my hunch is that Taylor’s big fight experience will see her scrape her way to a narrow and possibly debatable points victory, although surely a draw – available with most oddsmakers at around 12-1 – is a distinct possibility too.