They are who we were told they were: the two greatest female boxers ever. Last night, in a jam-packed Madison Square garden—that venue, which had never headlined a card with two female fighters at the top of it—was electric.
The lead up to the fight did a fine job of building enthusiasm for this historic occasion, and that tingle you got when the two women entered the ring confirmed the enormity of the moment—but it was the women themselves who made the event. There is no “arguably” anymore as to where these two women sit in the pantheon of female boxers; the order in which you place them may depend on how you feel about the split decision victory awarded to Katie Taylor over Amanda Serrano, but one way or another, these fighters are clearly 1 and 1a.
Of course, the two women brought more into the ring than their considerable boxing skills and massive hearts. They brought their incredible life stories with them.
Serrano, a Puerto Rican immigrant who came to Brooklyn at just eight months old. As she came into adulthood she began to make a life out of this most masculine-run sport by fighting in dingy clubs not so much better than where one might find a dark alley brawl. That is to say, Serrano scratched and clawed her way to this moment, earning her way with every step, and winning world titles in seven different weight classes (a Guinness record). So devoted to her sport is Serrano that she doesn’t drink, date, or even own a cell phone. She is all boxing, all the time.
Serrano’s story is a hard one to beat, but Taylor’s story may even be more remarkable. The native of Ireland grew up at a time when women’s boxing was illegal in her home country. As a youth she cut her hair, changed her appearance, and pretended to be a boy so that she could fight… other boys. Ultimately, Taylor became Ireland’s catalyst for legalizing the sport for women in her country and single-handedly convinced the International Olympic Committee that women’s boxing should be an olympic sport. Taylor went on to become the most decorated amateur female boxer in the history of the sport, a distinction consecrated by her winning gold at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. After going pro in 2016, she reeled off twenty consecutive victories, winning titles in two weight classes and becoming the undisputed lightweight champion of the world. She is an icon at home, in her field, and all over the world.
After Saturday night, Serrano should be an icon too. This was truly the best of both worlds: two evenly matched fighters with extraordinary personal backgrounds meeting at the perfect moment in history at a fabled venue with a huge crowd that embraced them with open arms. Everything was in place. But to make this sports-defining moment worthy of the spectacle, Taylor and Serrano had to do one thing: give us a fight that would live up to the occasion.
And so they did. For ten incredibly heated and action-packed rounds.
The first four were the kind that makes judges pull out their hair (and then split the hairs) trying to figure out who to award the round to. Then came the fifth, where Serrano connected on a whopping 44 punches against Taylor, all of which seemed to land with menace, after which Taylor was wobbled and barely holding on. While it’s fair to wonder if the women’s boxing standard of two minute rounds may have saved Taylor from being knocked out—or at least going down—for the first time in her career, the legendary Irishwoman did survive. And not only that, but in the sixth, she nearly matched Serrano by landing 18 blows to Serrano’s 19.
But by this time the feeling in the fight had changed, and the bout now looked like Serrano’s to lose. Taylor’s eyes weren’t clear in her corner, and her legs often betrayed more than a little wobble. Yet, somehow Taylor started turning the fight back in her favor, inch by inch. Her opponent’s output slowed, and Taylor was able to clear the fog created by the heavy-handed Serrano, becoming sharper with her punches, quicker with her counter shots, and by the tenth round we had just what we started with: a pick ‘em fight.
Before the bell rang for the tenth you could feel what was at stake, and it wasn’t just Taylor’s lightweight belts. It wasn’t just the status that a victory would have brought to either woman. The entire weight of women's boxing rested upon their shoulders. Of course, that’s where it had been all night.
The tenth and final round was an absolute melee, with both women swinging freely, toe-to-toe, in the proverbial phone booth. Taylor had been battered early, but the blows the Irishwoman landed to Serrano’s face had finally caught up, and as the bell (mercifully) rang to close out the fight, both women wore bloodied but unbowed expressions.
It’s something you always know when you see it: history being made. Hell, you don’t see it so much as you feel it. There are those who will forever take issue with the outcome of this fight. One judge scored the bout 96-94 for Serrano. The other two took Taylor’s favor with cards of 96-93 and 97-93. Personally, I had the fight at a draw and don’t see how anyone could have scored the match any wider than 96-94 for either fighter.
Still, this was not a case of the judges ruining the fight. A split decision victory for Taylor was not an irrational call. I think far too many at ringside were a bit too swayed by Serrano’s one devastating round and forgot how close nearly every other second of the fight was. (All those in attendance or watching at home should understand that you don’t judge a match by your feelings, you judge it by who you thought won each round, and then you add it all up in the end.)
The mathematics found this night to be, ever so slightly, Taylor’s. And I don’t think it takes anything away from her accomplishment (in fact, arguably it adds to it) to say that last night meant much more than one athlete’s victory. You could hear it in the noble way that Serrano accepted the loss. In her post-fight speech, she embraced women looking out for women, and spoke of herself and Taylor doing everything they could in the ring to legitimize their version of the sweet science for all the young women who may one day choose to lace up a pair of gloves and take part in a sport that was once closed off to them. Serrano and Taylor weren’t just fighting each other, they were fighting for each other.
One of DAZN’s announcers shouted at the end of the bout, “That was the female fight of the year!”
Oh, no… fuck that. This was THE fight of the year.
This fight was so far above gender. This was a fight for the ages. This was history, and what a privilege it is to have witnessed it.