Amanda Serrano is on top of the world – that’s how it feels, anyway, standing on the 86th-floor observation deck of the Empire State Building on a misty Tuesday afternoon. As the seven-division champion from Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood poses for photographs, the city unspools behind her, offering an evocative glimpse of Madison Square Garden. In the storied venue’s 140 years of hosting boxing, a women’s fight has never headlined a card – until Saturday night, when Serrano will climb through the ropes to challenge Ireland’s Katie Taylor for the undisputed lightweight championship.
The fight has been billed as the biggest in women’s boxing history – perhaps in recent boxing history, period. Serrano and Taylor are the world’s top two female boxers regardless of weight. The last time the pound-for-pound No 1 and No 2 squared off was more than a decade ago when Manny Pacquiao defeated Juan Manuel Márquez by split decision in 2008.
Such a long-awaited showdown marks an unparalleled height in Serrano’s already lofty career. “It means everything, you know, I worked so hard,” Serrano told the Guardian. “And I couldn’t ask for a better partner than Katie Taylor – she’s well-deserving, she’s an Olympic gold medalist and undisputed champion. You have pound-for-pound No 1, No 2, going at it. I’m excited to see who’s the best. ”
At 33, Serrano has achieved almost everything a fighter could hope for. With a professional record of 42-1-1, the heavy-handed southpaw has captured nine major world titles across every weight from 115lbs to 140lbs. Only Pacquiao, an eight-division champion, held belts in more. Serrano’s 30 career knockouts is thought to be second in women’s boxing history to Christy Martin’s 32.
Yet Serrano has spent most of that decorated career unknown to all but hardcore boxing fans, pushed to the shadows by the same obstacles facing countless other female fighters. “Getting promoters, getting networks wanting to promote us and taking chances with us, it was unheard of,” Serrano says. “People didn’t want to help us.”
Routinely, a woman fighter might make a few thousand dollars where – with comparable accolades, for a comparable matchup – a man netted nearly a million. That has led many female boxers to pivot to mixed martial arts, which boasted superior parity in both pay and promotion. Serrano herself made the switch temporarily, starting with a draw in 2018 then winning twice in a row – including once by submission – before returning to the boxing ring.
The debut of women’s boxing at the Olympics in 2012 was a major boon for female fighters, the world stage offering newfound visibility and respect – winning gold in London in the lightweight event, Taylor emerged as an immediate star. Serrano, however, had turned professional three years prior, so was unable to compete under the sport’s then-amateur requirement, which remained in place until 2016.
That has all changed in recent years as promoters have started to throw their weight behind female boxers, none more than Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn, who promotes Taylor.
“Katie Taylor, she made sure Eddie Hearn put her on Dazn, so that was an opener,” says Serrano. “And we had more of that… we had Showtime putting women on, and Top Rank and all these promoters starting to play women little by little. A lot more people support women, are going out there. ”
Serrano’s promotional boost came from a less traditional benefactor. An improbable partnership with internet-provocateur-turned-boxer Jake Paul has led to a new chapter in Serrano’s career. In September, she became the first – and so far only – fighter to sign with Paul’s nascent Most Valuable Promotions.
The two first crossed paths in January 2020, when they happened to fight on the same card in Miami: Serrano knocking out Simone da Silva in round three, Paul also winning by stoppage in his first-ever professional bout against YouTuber AnEsonGib. Then in August 2021, still undefeated after several fights but looking to gain legitimacy among boxing’s skeptics, Paul invited Serrano to share a card in Cleveland – where she convincingly defended her unified featherweight titles against Yamileth Mercado. A few weeks later, she became the company’s first signee.
“Working with Jake Paul has been a great help,” Serrano said. “Not just for me, but for boxing and women in general. Now people know who I am, more are wanting to tune in to see what else women’s boxing has for the future. ”
Although the pairing may seem strange – hyper-focused Serrano doesn’t date, drink, or own a cell phone, while the extremely online Paul puts the “social” and “media” in social media – they have proven a powerful complement. Serrano lends Paul credibility as an athlete and casts him in a new, benevolent light as a champion for women in sport. Meanwhile, he has helped elevate her profile beyond boxing circles and given her unprecedented leverage in securing fights such as this one.
Paul assessed Serrano’s social media presence and gave her targeted ways to amplify her brand: what and when to post, how to engage online with fans, getting professional photographs taken. Her Instagram and Twitter following have swelled. “It’s definitely a big help,” Serrano said. “Now I got Jake Paul behind me and promoting me, shining that light and writing about me on social media and giving me that push.” It has paid off. Along with the history and the glory, this will be the first seven-figure purse of Serrano’s career.
Then there is the fight itself, which was initially made for May 2020 but scuppered due to the pandemic. It is somehow bigger now. The 35-year-old Taylor, who has unified all four major title belts at 135lbs, has only consolidated her place atop the sport’s pound-for-pound list.
But Serrano, who was born in Puerto Rico and now lives in New York, enters with an even deeper, more extensive resume – and will no doubt enjoy hometown advantage. “I just got to stick to the game plan and listen to my corner, and make sure that I go out there, do and be Amanda Serrano. And that’s how I secure the victory. Katie, she’s Katie Taylor, but you know, styles make fights, she might come a different way when she gets punched in the face fighting me. ”
On Saturday, we’ll see the biggest women’s bout ever. And what does Serrano hope for out of it? Beyond a victory, beyond becoming the first Puerto Rican unified champion regardless of gender, Serrano hopes that viewers come away from the contest knowing one thing:
“That women can fight. That we can sell tickets – the Garden’s almost sold out. I mean, it’s incredible to see that. And that was definitely my goal for the newer generation of females in the sport. I never thought that I would be able to see this, but I’m seeing it, and I just hope this is not the end. ”