By Jake Donovan
Some prospects on the way up enjoy the careful matchmaking, whether or not it’s televised. Others demand the spotlight, but with the caveat of showcase appearances rather than risking a loss early in their career.
Raymond Serrano wants his fights to matter. That is why the unbeaten Philly prospect jumped at the chance to face another undefeated fighter in Karim Mayfield. The two collide this Friday in the main event of ESPN2’s Friday Night Fights live from Albany, New York.
The play selection has been hit or miss on Friday Night Fights this season, which is a step backwards from the strong schedule posted last year even in the face of a slashed budget.
A battle of unbeaten 140 lb. prospects this weekend is a great way to get the series back on track.
“Boxing needs a fight like this,” insists Serrano (18-0, 8KO, who hasn’t had the easiest time securing opponents in recent times. “This is what the sport is supposed to be all about. I’m ready for it. I hope my opponent is, too.”
The level of competition has progressed for Serrano over the course of his young career, five years and running. The 22-year old (who turns 23 on May 30) has enjoyed several televised showcases, as well as serving as the lead attraction on an Azteca America broadcast last year.
The showing was designed to launch a series by Joe DeGuardia’s Star Boxing outfit, who has promoted Serrano since his pro debut in Oct. ’07. The series itself turned out to be a bust – lack of creative matchmaking and shows that were not only delayed by at least one hour but often going up against premium networks HBO and Showtime.
Serrano’s headlining act against Mayfield this weekend was already conflict-free. With the cancellation of the previously scheduled rematch between Lamont Peterson and Amir Khan one night later on HBO, Friday’s card essentially has the floor to itself.
Given the stage, Serrano plans to take advantage and shine.
“I’ve had my best training camp so far for this fight,” says Serrano. The line sounds cliché, but is accompanied by thoughts on what’s at stake. “I know a win over Karim Mayfield puts my career into a new light. I’m taking this fight very serious and hope that he is as well.”
That Mayfield took the fight at all is of a big surprise to Serrano, though his opponent’s resume is hardly littered with soft touches. Recent fights haven’t revealed much – a stoppage win over faded Steve Forbes and a points win over Patrick Lopez.
However, Mayfield cut his teeth early in his career with several wins over unbeaten fighters, in fact four out of a five fight stretch. Also noteworthy was his Nov. ’09 knockout win over Francisco ‘Chia’ Santana in a fight that turned heads and put the now 30-year old on the map.
Still, Serrano points to his opponent’s relatively inactive run – having not fought since last October – and leveled off competition as a suggestion that the Bay Area fighter is hoping to coast to contention.
“To be honest, I’m surprised he even took this fight,” Serrano believes. “He looks like he’s a good fighter, but really hasn’t done much lately. But I’m glad he accepted this challenge.”
This challenge will be the biggest of Serrano’s career to date, though no stranger to fighting at the top level. A boxer since the age of eight, Serrano was a highly decorated amateur who won several championships in his teens and enjoyed a run on the U.S. national team.
With the 2008 Olympics a bit too far away for what Serrano was looking to accomplish at the time, the Philly native instead opted to turn pro at age 18. High accolades have since followed, though ESPN2’s Teddy Atlas seemed sour on him during a televised points win over Ronnie Warrior Jr.
Serrano took it all as feedback, but still refuses to too greatly alter his in-ring style. Groomed early as a boxer-puncher, Serrano has since developed into the consummate boxer, brilliantly practicing the fine art of hit and don’t get hit. His efforts are made without running, but instead offering enough lateral movement to throw his opponents off rhythm.
The tactic has perhaps cost Serrano a few knockouts along the way. Six of his past eight fights have went to the scorecards, including his last three contests. His last bout required a bit of drama, surviving a flash knockdown in the third round to take a unanimous decision over Kenny Abril this past February.
Despite the dropoff in highlight-reel endings, Serrano couldn’t be more pleased about his career to date and also the people who have helped reach that point.
“I can’t say enough good things about my promoter Joe DeGuardia,” Serrano insists. “He and matchmaker Ron Katz have been there for me since the beginning and have moved me along the right way.”
Even with the steady climb, Serrano still finds himself the betting underdog heading into this weekend. That doesn’t mean he has to play the part.
“I’ve never cared about being the underdog,” Serrano says. “All I worry about is fighting the best. I don’t know why fighters stress out over stuff like that. Those are the fights that will make me that much better in the ring.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]