A packed house at Madison Square Garden.
Promotion on the Today Show.
Years of anticipation.
Two fighters at the peak of their powers who had beaten seemingly everyone but each other.
Short of a formal pay-per-view offering, Katie Taylor-Amanda Serrano had all the ingredients of what in boxing is often referred to as a “superfight.” For their side of the sport, it was nothing short. In the United States, women’s boxing has often struggled to find its market.
The market showed up on Saturday.
Boxing fans know every super fight doesn’t turn out super. Like Super Bowls, World Series, or World Cup Finals, sometimes the most fun is had before the sporting gets going. The moments we recall, that keep us coming back even when one game, series, or fight doesn’t live up to the hype, are those that meet and even exceed expectations.
Taylor and Serrano did that. They made magic together on Saturday. Given the near sprint format of women’s boxing, with its two minute rounds, the action was sometimes breathless. An electric crowd made it even better, giving the battlers a roar worthy of the effort.
Taylor survived a hellish fifth round to post a late rally, winning all of the three final rounds on two scorecards including a final round that ended in all out mayhem. Both the fifth and tenth will need to be remembered for round of the year and Taylor-Serrano joins Leigh Wood-Michael Conlan and Sebastian Fundora-Erickson Lubin in the debate for fight of the year.
How it fares in such voting will be about what people like and what else follows this year. The men have arguably provided more concussive, dramatic action. However, no fight so far this year has combined action and event magnitude as well as what we saw Saturday in Taylor-Serrano. The pressure to deliver, the pressure of years of their side of the sport struggling to be bigger, was high and they showed the world the best face of women’s boxing.
As to the outcome, it will cause debate and that’s fine. This corner saw it dead even. 7-3 for either competitor was pretty easy to get to with multiple swing rounds throughout the night. Serrano landed more on the night but it’s a case where punch stats as summary can be deceiving. Almost the entire deficit in landed blows came with Serrano outlanding Taylor by thirty punches in round five. Round to round, based on inexact CompuBox estimates, Taylor landed more in five rounds, Serrano four, and they were even in another.
There’s really only one way to sort out the debate.
Futures: They have to run this one back. In a perfect world, they would run it back and debut three minute rounds for women along with a twelve round limit, a long overdue salve for the sport. There is no good reason championship boxing should be shorter or less between men and women.
Each could pursue other options but it would be foolish. The iron is hot now and a rematch would likely supplant the first fight as the biggest women’s fight of all time. Whether it takes place again in the States, or in Taylor’s native Ireland for what would be a memorable event, this is a case where a sequel is the only thing anyone should be talking about. Both fighters said they’re game.
Everyone who watched on Saturday should be too. Taylor wasn’t the only big winner Saturday.
Stevenson Takes a Big Step
One day, and it might be this one, the graphics and speculation and declarations about a new Fab Four at lightweight are going to look silly because of who wasn’t there. Sure, freshly unified Jr. lightweight titlist Shakur Stevenson isn’t even at lightweight now. He was at featherweight when all that was going on.
It doesn’t matter. Take a look at his frame and it was always obvious where Stevenson is headed.
And Lightweight probably won’t be the end game for Stevenson, Devin Haney, Tank Davis (who has already fought as high as 140), Teofimo Lopez (who is now at 140), Ryan Garcia, lightweight champion George Kambosos or any other of boxing’s youth movement below welterweight. We won’t know who the best of that bunch turns out to be for a while.
Stevenson is going to be a significant part of whatever unfolds sooner than later. He was excellent on Saturday against veteran Oscar Valdez, containing the two-division titlist with precision punching and deft defense. Valdez’s best punch is the left hook. Stevenson took it away completely, even if it meant a tactical decision to take a lot of right hands from Valdez. Valdez may have won the third round.
Valdez tried hard in the other eleven. Stevenson was expected to win and he did, but delivering is part of the deal. Plenty of young fighters make it harder than it has to be when they step in for their toughest test to date on paper. Stevenson didn’t flinch.
Futures: Stevenson talked about more unification at Jr. lightweight. Unification is great but sometimes it’s less interesting than other options. This is one. Is Roger Gutierrez or Kenichi Ogawa a realistic threat? It feels unlikely. If they can get those fights quickly, so be it. Lightweight will still be there and Stevenson might not have a bigger name available immediately.
All eyes should be on the result for Kambosos-Haney later this year. If Kambosos wins, it could set up a defense against Vasyl Lomachenko and one can assume Top Rank might be interested in building Stevenson-Lomachenko down the road.
Valdez will be back and make more fun fights for the fans. It wasn’t his night but, when Stevenson exits, Jr. lightweight will be wide open and he can factor right back in. While visibly frustrated, Valdez never quit on Saturday. He’s a win that should age well for Stevenson.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.