There was a moment during each of Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano’s ring walks on Saturday when both just stopped to take it all in. 

Serrano was the first of the two fighters to walk. For about ten minutes prior, the big screen in Madison Square Garden oscillated between images of the two women. The crowd was seemingly comprised of a slight majority of Irish fans, or at least, those supporting Taylor were more poignantly vocal, booing every time Serrano appeared on the screen in an attempt to drown out the rowdy Puerto Rican fans. Serrano took her first steps into the arena slowly, wearing the steely gaze of a person heading towards the toughest fight of her life. As she did so, the booing stopped. Fans might have been rooting for one fighter or the other, but they were also rooting for the moment, one that was as historic as it was long overdue. As the beat dropped and the horns played during Pepas by Farruko, Serrano’s face burst into a smile and she started to dance and pump her fists. Merely walking that aisle was worthy of a celebration.

Taylor walked to the ring to Awake My Soul by Hillsong Worship, an anthemic Christian song which without vocals sounds like a dramatic movie score. It was the opposite of Serrano’s jubilant entrance. Much like her opponent’s, Taylor’s face started as a cold stare, but midway down the walkway, turned to a look of bewilderment. Taylor’s trainer Ross Enamait began to chuckle happily and grabbed Taylor’s shoulder. For a moment, Taylor’s eyed brightened and she glanced around, perhaps thinking “I did this.” When Taylor began boxing in Ireland, there was no women’s boxing. She had to tuck her hair back and pretend to be a boy to compete. The world that she was now the star of didn’t exist before her. As Taylor continued her walk, Olympian Mandy Bujold, who battled amateur boxing authorities for women’s rights just as Taylor did, found herself in tears while seated in the crowd. 

As the two women met in the center of the ring for their final instructions from referee Michael Griffin, Serrano looked at Taylor and said “this is crazy.” Taylor tried to keep her game face on, but she couldn’t. She shot Serrano a knowing glance and a grin, before looking down at her feet to reset her look of focus once again. 

When the bell rang—well, nobody could hear it. The crowd in Madison Square Garden was so loud that even those seated next to the ring couldn’t hear the bell, an issue that would arise at the end of rounds during the bout (thankfully without disaster). Of all of the magical moments that have taken place in MSG, it’s hard to imagine that any event could definitively have been any louder than the thunderous wall of sound produced by the sold-out audience on this night. 

It’s also hard to imagine there will be a definitively better fight this year in boxing than this one. For ten two-minute rounds, Taylor and Serrano waged a bloody battle that didn’t just match the moment, it exceeded it. We want generationally great fighters to face one another. But as we’ve seen in the past, two legends in the ring do not always mesh to create a great fight. When those two things do combine, boxing is at its most extraordinary. 

Both Serrano and Taylor did things in the ring that are not supposed to be possible. In a video shared by promoter Jake Paul following the bout, Serrano showed that after the fight —after rehydrating, eating, and after a full week leading up to the weigh-in eating bacon, egg and cheeses and burgers to keep weight on—she still weighed a touch over 133 pounds. And yet, she dared to go full throttle against a naturally bigger woman, battering her around the ring in round five and nearly stopping her. Taylor responded by doing something equally as remarkable. It’s one thing to bounce back from being hurt, or to win rounds after being hurt in a fight. It’s another to win rounds while you are still hurt. Though the vacant look that swept across Taylor’s face in the fifth as she was barely hanging on vanished, Taylor was still out of sorts in subsequent rounds and yet found a way to edge more than a few frames. She managed to find the few attributes that were still functioning in her wounded state—her tired but powerful legs and a well-timed jab—to trouble Serrano just enough.

In the final twenty seconds, with Serrano now bleeding the same amount that she’d caused her opponent to shed in the middle rounds, the two women unleashed a frenzied exchange that looked like it was happening on fast forward. With seconds left to go, Taylor’s right knee dipped, inches away from touching the canvas in the middle of the exchange. The tale of the fight, in a nutshell, was Taylor desperately trying to hang on to victory, and this was the most subtle, dramatic way of doing so.

Had her knee touched the ground, the result of the fight would have been different. As it was however, the scores were read and Taylor was announced the winner.

The voices of the crowd were loud, but they were also different. During the decision being announced, and during the fight’s biggest moments, the sound of the crowd was different: the sound of women’s voices cheering was distinct. Theirs were voices that have been ignored in boxing since its creation, but ones that can’t be ignored any longer.

The boxing institution has built centuries’ worth of strawmen and even goofier scientific excuses to exclude women. Women were once made to wear aluminum breast plates to box and were asked to wear skirts in the ring in 2010 (something which was shot down by Taylor). The WBC, the sport’s most recognizable sanctioning body, maintains to this day that “women’s endurance has proven to be less than men” (something disproven by women’s results in ultramarathons), and that women are more susceptible to concussions, and as such, shouldn’t be allowed to fight three-minute rounds. No word on why men don’t need such protections, however. As Erik Magraken wrote on his Combat Sports Law site in 2021, “the WBC are, in essence, assuming that women will have greater injury rate per minute boxing than their male counterparts from non-boxing specific sport studies while ignoring a boxing specific study that concludes the exact opposite.” In turn, length of rounds has long been used as an excuse by sexist fans to dismiss women's boxing as being inherently inferior, and a crutch for people to not pay women fairly.

Women were never incapable of becoming superstars in boxing—they were just never given the chance.

“When I started boxing the obstacles were many and the arguments so laughably flimsy. What about your breasts? If you get hit in the body you won’t be able to have children. It's inappropriate. Women were not built for fighting. Women are too emotional to box,” said Mischa Merz, former fighter, coach and author of The Sweetest Thing: A Boxer's Memoir. “When one by one the myths were dismantled there remained that last resort of the sport, that it was just business. No one wants to pay to watch women fight. All I can say is: You can shut up now. You're out of excuses straw men of boxing. If it is about business, we've got that covered.”

There was an outpouring of admiration for Taylor and Serrano following the fight. Errol Spence Jr. touted it as a potential Fight of the Year. Tony Harrison said it was one of the greatest fights ever. Sergio Mora noted that the male crowd in the cigar lounge he was watching in was going bonkers.

But this night wasn’t about male validation. It was about Claressa Shields, leaving her broadcast position to watch the fight in the third row as a fan, humbly admitting that she didn’t care in which order anyone wanted to rank her, Taylor and Serrano on their pound-for-pound lists. It was about Mandy Bujold, a few rows back in the crowd, and all of the brilliant women’s amateur fighters like her who never saw pro boxing as a profitable venture. And it was about Christy Martin, seated in the second row, watching Taylor and Serrano walk past a photo of her in the hallway before entering the arena.

It was about Taylor and Serrano confirming for them that what they knew should have been possible all along, now finally was.

After the streets surrounding Madison Square Garden had cleared, Christy Martin was still buzzing with excitement, but headed back up to her hotel room. As she rode the elevator back upstairs after watching women’s boxing’s greatest night, one that couldn’t have happened without her, she still couldn’t believe what she’d just seen.

“It was impossible to imagine it was going to be like that,” she said.

Corey Erdman is a boxing writer and commentator based in Toronto, ON, Canada. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman