In sports, the difference between winning and losing can be as vast as the Atlantic Ocean. No matter the sport, all athletes train and play to win to have their hands raised in victory. However, not all victories are created equally.
On April 30th at the Madison Square Garden, women’s boxing was triumphant as a whole. The fight between Ireland’s Katie Taylor (21-0) and Puerto Rico’s Amanda Serrano (42-2-1) exceeded expectations in the ring and as a financial success. The match drew over 19,000 fans in attendance at Madison Square Garden and set a women’s boxing viewership record of 1.5 million for streaming app DAZN.
The match has been lauded as the leading candidate for the fight of the year in 2022 and unquestionably had one of the loudest, most energetic crowds in years. Taylor persevered through some treacherous rounds to keep her undisputed lightweight crown with a split decision. The loss for Serrano signified her first defeat in 10-years, but there was a measure of solace in participating in a fight that delivered on such a grand level. For her part, a large contingent of fans feel Serrano did more than enough to earn a win and that the fight may have best been scored a draw.
However, Serrano did gain something significant even in defeat. “It was a great fight,” said Serrano in the post-fight press conference regarding the scoring of the fight. “That’s all I wanted to do was put on a great fight, show that women can sell, and I’m glad that I put on the performance I did. I gave it all I had on Saturday. It is what it is.”
The island of Puerto Rico has a rich history in boxing. The 100-mile-long island paradise has produced over 60 world champions, with 11 fighters in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Over the last decade, the Brooklyn-based southpaw has been the most consistent fighter on an elite level, carrying Puerto Rico on her back. “From my very first fight, I always went up in that ring with my Puerto Rican flag because I am truly a proud Boricua, a proud Latina,” said Serrano to ESPN. “And just to have Puerto Rico backing me up, it means everything.”
While she has always been well received on the island, the adulation towards the Brooklyn-based Puerto Rican wasn’t on the level of someone like Miguel Cotto or Felix Trinidad. This may have changed for Serrano after her fight with Taylor. In the fifth round of the match, the seven-division champion was able to get the Irish Olympic Gold Medalist against the ropes, badly hurting her to the point that it looked like she was headed to the canvas. Through hundreds of videos online, it seems the entire island of Puerto Rico was hanging on to every punch, cheering on Serrano as she came so close to stopping her foe. A round in which one of three judges scored 10-8 for Serrano, and she landed 44 out of 114 punches.
The moment was the equivalent to Miguel Cotto stopping Zab Judah in front of raucous Madison Square Garden, Wilfredo Gomez putting down Carlos Zarate, or the entirety of Felix Trinidad’s massacre of William Joppy in May 2001. “People knew, ‘Wow, these guys made it; they went to the Garden,” said Serrano’s trainer, Jordan Maldonado, in an interview with ESPN. “That’s a big thing, and they kind of lost that when these guys retired. They’re looking for the next Miguel Cotto. They’re looking for the next Felix Trinidad. Then to be able to give them that through a woman, Amanda Serrano.”
Almost as significant as those two minutes in the fifth round is the pain of defeat. Serrano losing the decision felt like a low blow. Not because Taylor didn’t deserve to win, but because Serrano had come so close. And that’s when you know you have made it. Only pain can bring forth such passion when the fan base feels just as much of the defeat as the fighter.
To this day, some fans can’t watch Trinidad’s losses to Bernard Hopkins or Winky Wright. That cringe at seeing highlight videos of Cotto taking a beating at the hands of Margarito or Pacquiao. Boxing, like soccer, can be a nationalistic sport, and in a place like Puerto Rico, the boxers are at times placed at the highest pedestal.
Serrano has likely punched her ticket to Canastota as a seven-division champion when she decides to hang up the gloves. But, in the hearts and minds of Puerto Rican boxing fans, she has now etched her name along some of the best the island has produced. One night at the Garden put all eyes and hopes on her, and she didn’t disappoint. “It was truly amazing to have all my Puerto Rican people flying out from Puerto Rico coming to support me,” stated Serrano after the fight. “I felt like I was Tito Trinidad, Miguel Cotto; this is their home. And to have all the Irish people out there, even if they were booing me, it was just a great turnaround. It was an amazing feeling, and you had two women main eventing a sold-out MSG; who would have thought that?”