Serrano expects undisputed title, growth for women’s boxing

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

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

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

Seems like an easy enough solution. In a sport that involves injury or damage, all fighters want to feel the strongest.

A female boxer hasn’t always had that luxury.

“So I’ve been going all over the place because of the opportunities,” Serrano said.

Sometimes they weren’t even in the box. Serrano, like two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist Claressa Shields, also competed in mixed martial arts in an attempt to raise 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 take more than her own chances. She finally stayed in one division long enough to capture three 126-pound titles and could become the undisputed champion if she defeats Erykah Cruz on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

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

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

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

Fights like the one between Taylor and Serrano, which pitted two of the best and won multiple Fight of the Year honors, too often fall short or come too late in men’s boxing. His success could help create opportunities for younger female fighters that weren’t available for much of Serrano’s career.

“It’s definitely a springboard,” Serrano said. “We had to break that barrier for people to see, for networks, for promoters, for arenas to see that we could sell. We can do all these things that men do.”

Women’s boxing received another big boost later in the year with two bouts on the same card in London, where Shields defeated Savannah Marshall and Alicia Baumgardner defeated fellow American Mikaela Meyer at a sold-out O2 Arena in the UK’s first all-female card.

Topping the biggest halls was obviously a huge step for women’s boxing. But Hearn is looking to smaller, far-flung places to envision the sport growing to where Serrano hopes it will be.

Taylor had to pretend to be a boy to get into gyms because girls weren’t allowed to box in Ireland. It’s a different scene where Hearn’s 10-year-old daughter is boxing.

“Now when I go down to the gym to see her or pick her up, there’s a dozen young girls there,” he said. “Well, there never were a dozen young girls. You wouldn’t see one. You would never see a woman, a young woman in a boxing gym until five years ago, and before that almost no club had female fighters.”

Saturday’s card is loaded with women, as Baumgardner (13-1, 7 KOs) takes on Elhem Mehaled in a bid to become the undisputed 130-pound champion. After three consecutive bouts in the UK, the Detroit product will finally fight again on home soil.

If Serrano wins, the plan is to travel to Ireland for a rematch with Taylor on the lightweight champion’s turf. Hearn said both made a million dollars for the first fight and will 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 dollars from fighting, so don’t tell me there’s no future in women’s boxing,” Hearn said.

Serrano said a rematch with Taylor is the only fight that will get her out of a favored division she’s had to leave so many times earlier in a career that’s coming to an end, saying she doesn’t plan to fight after 36 .

Chasing titles in multiple divisions for fame and fortune will always be a part of boxing. Serrano hopes to do so by necessity so that not as much is required of the women who follow her.

“We have girls coming into the sport and wanting to make a name for themselves in the sport, so I think it’s coming,” she said. “We have great champions calling other champions, so I think we have it all.”

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