Both Amanda Serrano and Erika Cruz defied reason and logic to even begin boxing in the first place. From then on, the universe gave them many reasons to walk away at various points, and not only would no one have blamed them, it would have been viewed as a prudent thing to do.
The two women will meet on Saturday night in an undisputed featherweight title bout at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. The bout will main event a DAZN broadcast—the second time each woman has accomplished that feat. It’s a position that was unfathomable for both women in their teenage years as boxers, but one they had the audacity and perseverance to imagine nonetheless.
Serrano first developed an interest in boxing through her sister Cindy, who turned pro as a fighter in 2003.The early 2000s were, relative to times preceding it, a boom period for women’s boxing. Laila Ali, Christy Martin and Mia St. John had all penetrated the mainstream audience in the United States, and the three of them faced off in broadcast bouts, seemingly portending a wave of momentum for women in the sport and fruitful opportunities for new participants. Those days would come eventually, but after 2007, no women’s bout would be televised in English nationally in the country for another ten years. For one of Cindy’s early pro bouts, she made $50. For a world title-winning performance, she made $2500. Amanda has said that Cindy told her this and told her boxing wasn’t worth it. She didn’t listen.
The caution Amanda received from her sister would turn out to be justified. Serrano was the one who broke the decade-long streak of no women’s boxing on English language television in 2017 with her win over Yazmin Rivas on Showtime, a bout that was also the network’s first women’s fight since 2000. For that bout, she collected $17,500, according to ESPN. By that point, Serrano was already a four-division world champion. The leaps in weight were no doubt driven as much by ambition as they were necessity. Fights were hard to come by, and fights for even low-five figure paydays were harder to come by unless they were for a world title. Up and down the scale she went, conquering division after division, but economic anxiety persisted. As recently as 2020, Serrano and her coach Jordan Maldonado were openly discussing the possibility of retirement, or a full-time move to MMA after moonlighting in cage fighting to make additional money.
At any point in the mid-2010s, Serrano could have left the sport with a spectacular resume and simply sought out a new chapter in her life. But what would that have been? Serrano gave up everything for boxing, removing everything that could have been even a momentary distraction from her craft. She doesn’t date, she doesn’t drink, she doesn’t party, she doesn’t even own a cell phone.
A little over year after those thoughts of retirement, Serrano signed a promotional contract with Jake Paul, who promised he would help her make a million dollars. He fulfilled his promise and then some. Serrano and Katie Taylor shattered the glass ceiling in the sport in 2022, headlining at Madison Square Garden in a bout that was viewed by 1.5 million people on DAZN. Although Serrano dropped a razor-thin decision, the fight was so good and the event so compelling that many outlets named it Fight of the Year, Event of the Year, or both. The night and the payday were life-changing.
"My dreams all came true," Serrano tweeted in July of 2022. "I bought my dream truck, two Rolexes and now my new house. And yes, I still have a huge bank account. Now I just save."
Erika Cruz’s dreams were a tad more modest, which must have made it even more frustrating that the sport couldn’t provide a path to them on its own.
Unlike Serrano, who had a family member warning her about the sport, Cruz had a father who desperately wanted her to fight. Her father, former boxer Guillermo Cruz, who was known as Memo, beat former world welterweight champion “Pipino” Cuevas at the Arena Coliseo in 1973. Memo retired with a record of 5-5, and wanted to pass his knowledge along to his daughter. Erika initially said she felt forced into it, but fell in love with the sport soon thereafter.
The sport, unfortunately, didn’t initially love her back. Being a second-generation fighter didn’t give her any tangible privileges whatsoever. Without many opportunities for women in boxing available at the time in her region, Cruz’s fighting career began on the unregulated circuit, taking part in nine “no rules” fights at local fairs which she says were refereed by people plucked off the street. She told the San Diego Union Tribune last week that it’s in these fights that she learned her pressure fighting style and how to come forward even while under duress.
Eventually, she did find her way to the legitimate amateur ranks, balancing fighting with motherhood and her studies. At the age of 18, Cruz said her son told her to “stop wasting her time” and to focus on boxing. She did, while simultaneously earning a Bachelor of Law degree and a position in the Mexican National Guard, a job she still holds to this day.
"At least I already had my job and that gave me a little more support. To live from boxing alone, the truth is, it would not have been possible,” Cruz told AS Mexico in May of 2022. “There is still that discrimination. I see it, for example, when a man is paid more. It's wrong because we fight the same as them."
Cruz's father was not in her corner for her title-winning effort, as he was unable to travel due to COVID-19 restrictions at the time. Cruz actually said that two or three days prior to that bout, she considered not fighting, not wanting to have that moment without her father at her side. She went through with it however, defeating Jelena Mrdjenovich for the WBA featherweight title in April of 2021 in a bout aired on NBC Sports. Her father was present for the Mrdjenovich rematch last year though, watching his daughter make her second defense of a world title. A year prior, Cruz signed her own life-changing deal, a contract with Matchroom, providing her with a level of security she’d never had before as a fighter.
"Today I can invest in my family, and even in improving my life, my house,” Cruz said. “I feel good, I think it was worth the wait."
Both Serrano and Cruz stayed the course, even when the path was littered with obstacles. They dreamt of and manifested a future for themselves, and for women in boxing that was without precedent—and their lives and their sport are better because of it.
Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman
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