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Is Taylor vs. Serrano Really the Biggest Women’s Fight Ever?

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Is Taylor vs. Serrano Really the Biggest Women’s Fight Ever?

Some of the highest-grossing boxing matches ever were artistic duds, but that is not to diminish the importance of revenues generated in establishing some sort of pecking order. Financial gender equity with elite male fighters remains a goal far, far away from being achieved by women, if it ever is to be, but that is not to say history won’t be made Saturday night when arguably the top two current female practitioners of the pugilistic arts square off in the first card in the 140-year existence of Madison Square Garden headlined by fighters born with two X chromosomes.

Money is just another way of keeping score, and regardless of what transpires during the 10 scheduled rounds (or less) pitting undisputed women’s lightweight champion Katie Taylor (20-0, 6 KOs) and seven-division titlist Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KOs), a landmark scrap that will be streamed via DAZN, a milestone will be achieved. Taylor, from Bray, Ireland, and Serrano, the Brooklyn, N.Y., southpaw of Puerto Rican descent, are each down for purses of $1 million, making them the only fighters of their sex to join the seven-figure club that previously had been an all-male preserve.

It remains to be seen whether Taylor and Serrano justify their record-breaking paydays with the sort of exhilarating, two-way action that will come to be viewed as the distaff equivalent of the best work some of the legendary guys have had to offer. Becoming an instant millionaire for one night’s work, however, does and should come with certain perks. Don’t think that Taylor, a gold medalist at the 2012 London Olympics and the Boxing Writers Association of America’s 2019 and 2020 Female Fighter of the Year, and Serrano, the 2021 BWAA Female Fighter of the Year who comes in on a 10-year, 28-bout winning streak, aren’t aware of how much responsibility they are shouldering not only for the enhancement of their own professional futures and legacies, but for women hopeful of following in their footsteps.

“This is just a special occasion for me, to headline a huge fight like this at Madison Square Garden,” said Taylor, 35, whose WBC, IBF, and WBO 135-pound titles will be on the line. “It’s being billed as the biggest fight in female boxing history. This is just incredible and a real privilege for me.

“Amanda Serrano is a fantastic fighter. She deserves this opportunity as well. She’s been pioneering her own way and that’s why this fight is the best in female boxing history. We have champion vs. champion, the best vs. the best, and this is why this fight is so special. I think years and years from now people are still going to be talking about Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano.”

Said the 33-year-old Serrano: “I don’t need to talk bad about my opponents. I do all (my) talking inside the ring. I respect Katie Taylor and what she’s done. We’re changing the sport. I am excited to be opening doors. We have to prove who the pound-for-pound best is, because everybody has been asking for it.”

How open the doors are to which Serrano has referred is still a matter of some discussion. Yes, the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, N.Y., has gotten around to granting admittance to female fighters, beginning with the 2020 recognition of Moderns Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker, along with Barbara Buttrick in the Trailblazer category. They will be officially welcomed during the IBHOF’s four-day induction festivities from June 9-12, the past two ceremonies having been postponed by COVID-19. The 2021 Class includes Moderns Laila Ali and Ann Wolfe and Trailblazer Marian Trimiar, with the Class of 2022 adding Moderns Holly Holm and Regina Halmich and Trailblazer Jackie Tonawanda.

Regardless of whoever emerges victorious Saturday night in the Garden, it is a safe bet both Taylor and Serrano will someday join the aforementioned women with plaques hung on the hallowed walls of the IBHOF. Taylor and Serrano currently are rated Nos. 1 and 2 on the women’s pound-for-pound lists of the BWAA, ESPN and DAZN, with Taylor and Serrano first and third as cited by The Ring and Sports Illustrated, sandwiched around two-time Olympic gold medalist and self-proclaimed “greatest woman of all time” Claressa Shields. But the talent pool of women of comparable achievement is still relatively shallow, and the fact that both Taylor and Serrano are in their 30s suggests that their exemplary careers likely have as much or more past than future. The incursions of Father Time and Mother Nature further ratchet up the necessity of Saturday night’s main-eventers to put on a show capable of inspiring a new generation of girls and women to tug on padded gloves and climb inside the ropes.

Jake Paul, the YouTube sensation whose ballyhooed entrance into the fight game has met with both praise from new devotees to the sport and criticism from stodgy traditionalists, is outspoken in his support of women’s boxing, and most specifically Serrano, whom he signed to a contract with his Most Valuable Promotions and featured on his own highly profitable cards. When the prospect of a superfight pairing of Taylor (who is promoted by Eddie Hearn) and Serrano was initially raised, the dollar amount pitched to Team Serrano was an almost-unheard-of $300,000, which Serrano’s trainer/manager, Jordan Maldonado, rejected as being insufficient for his fighter.

“You have to know your worth at times,” Serrano said of her determination to ascend to a monetary summit never previously scaled by a female fighter, but will now have those figurative flags planted by herself and Taylor. Still, the dream fight did not only face contractual hurdles; the originally proposed date of May 2, 2020, was postponed, as were numerous other bouts, by the lingering effects of COVID-19. As more and more time slipped away, representatives of both fighters feared the matchup desired by many would never advance beyond the theoretical.

But now it’s here, and its possible ramifications for women’s sports history have yet to be fully determined. The crusading Billie Jean King years ago won her fight for pay parity with men in big-time tennis, and Title IX nudged many women’s college sports out of the shadows into a spotlight, albeit a somewhat less brightly lit one than the men in basketball. Another victory was achieved recently when the United States’ National Women’s Soccer Team received a new contract that paid its members the same as the men’s team.

How much is a million dollars for a single fight to Taylor and Serrano? It is an imagined fantasy come true, with the possibility of more such bouts shimmering ahead like so many oases. But the pay gap between top-tier men and women remains Grand Canyonesque. The combined purses of Taylor and Serrano are mere chump change when compared to the reported $240 million Floyd Mayweather Jr. received for his May 2, 2015, fight with Manny Pacquiao, who had to “settle” for $120 million or so. As is the case with American professional basketball, where WNBA superstars are virtual paupers in comparison even with NBA bench-warmers, boxing will never represent a level playing field for women who can only hope for more and tastier scraps falling off the men’s banquet table.

“Equity is really how we redistribute power,” Temple University Sports Psychology professor Leeja Carter said after the U.S. women’s soccer team finally got the major pay hike its players figured they had earned on the pitch. Soccer, however, is not boxing; the redistribution of power in the ring is not likely to ever resemble anything even remotely equitable for women whose acceptance in a sport mostly populated and dominated by men is, at best, a work in progress.

It is incumbent upon Taylor and Serrano to give fans and non-fans of women’s boxing reason to believe that their brand of the sweet science is deserving of a longer look. For every undeniably entertaining fight, such as Christy Martin’s bloody stoppage of Deirdre Gogarty and Taylor’s first meeting with Delfine Persoon, there are other potential breakthrough bouts that don’t rise to that level. When Claressa Shields turned pro after her two Olympic golds, some predicted that she would establish herself as the female Mike Tyson, a skilled boxer with the sort of power that would surely make her a make-see attraction. But while Shields has a key to the throne room, the fact remains that, undefeated and dominant in her 12 bouts, she has scored only two victories inside the distance and no longer is being referred to as the same sort of power source as was Tyson. Even her most significant victory, a one-sided unanimous decision over Germany-based Christina Hammer, was not competitive enough to live up to the hype.

My first exposure to the “biggest female bout of all time” was the June 8, 2001, matchup of celebrity daughters Laila Ali and Jacqui Frazier-Lyde at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, N.Y. It was a global media event, but more so given the identity of the fighters’ even more celebrated fathers, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, a major factor in the reported $250,000 which went to each woman. The 23-year-old Laila scored an eight-round majority decision over Jacqui, 39 and a mother of two, and drew some positive comments.

“Both women showed grit and determination,” said Al Bernstein, who did the post-fight interviews. “They are in the embryonic stages of their boxing careers, but they gave it everything they had and you can’t ask for anything more than that. Are there better women boxers? Yes. Would I just as soon see Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker fight? Yes. But this was fun, it was competitive and it was hardly a travesty.”

Interestingly, Martin and Rijker were to have swapped punches on July 30, 2005, at Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay in what was being touted as the first women’s million-dollar fight. But that description was only partially correct; in a matchup of 37-year-olds, Martin (45-3-2, 31 KOs) and Rijker (17-0, 14 KOs) were guaranteed $250,000 each, with promoter Bob Arum providing an additional $750,000 to the winner. The fight was canceled and never rescheduled after Rijker ruptured her Achilles tendon in training on July 20.

“I would not be telling the truth if I didn’t say that, without the movie (2004’s Academy Award-winning Million Dollar Baby, in which Rijker played the role of a female villain who fought Hilary Swank’s character trained by the veteran cornerman played by Clint Eastwood), we wouldn’t be doing this,” Arum admitted. “The movie highlighted women’s boxing and made it seem very exciting. Clearly, it was the impetus for me to put on this event. Without Million Dollar Baby, I didn’t think there was much future in women’s boxing. After seeing that film, I had second thoughts.”

Frazier-Lyde, after hearing Arum’s thoughts on the matter, railed against the notion that women’s boxing needed a Hollywood tie-in to make women’s boxing interesting enough to merit much public interest. “I would like all fighters to make the money they deserve, but it all boils down – or should – to making great fights,” she said. “Whether its women or men, you shouldn’t need a movie to sell a great fight. Genuine boxing matches sell themselves. Lucia and Christy have made great contributions to the game. They don’t need something fictitious to get the recognition they already should have had.”

Nearly 17 years after Martin-Rijker went by the boards, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano – real million dollar babies — will attempt to verify Frazier-Lyde’s heartfelt contention that truly meritorious matchups, including those involving women, don’t need fake bells and whistles.

Bernard Fernandez, named to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in the Observer category with the  Class of 2020, was the recipient of numerous awards for writing excellence during his 28-year career as a sports writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. Fernandez’s first book, “Championship Rounds,” a compendium of previously published material, was released in May of 2020. The sequel, “Championship Rounds, Round 2,” with a foreword by Jim Lampley, is currently out. The anthology can be ordered through Amazon.com and other book-selling websites and outlets.

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Former World Bantamweight Champion Richie Sandoval Passes Away at Age 63

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Richie Sandoval, who won the WBA and lineal bantamweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the 1980s and then, not quite two years later, suffered near-fatal injuries in a title defense, has passed away at the age of 63.

News circulated fast in the Las Vegas boxing community on Monday, July 22, the grapevine actuated by a tweet from Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler: “Boxing and the Top Rank family lost one of our own last night in the passing of former WBA bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval. It hurts personally and professionally to know that Richie is gone at age 63. RIP campeon.”

Details are vague but the cause of death was apparently a sudden heart attack that Sandoval experienced while visiting the Southern California home of his son of the same name.

Richie Sandoval put the LA County community of Pomona, California, on the boxing map before Shane Mosley came along and gave the town a more frequently-cited mention in the sports section of the papers. He came from a fighting family. An older brother, Albert “Superfly” Sandoval, became a big draw at LA’s fabled Olympic Auditorium while building a 35-2-1 record that included a failed bid to capture Lupe Pintor’s world bantamweight title.

Richie was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team that was stranded when U.S. President Jimmy Carter (and many other world leaders) boycotted the event as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

As a pro, Sandoval’s signature win was a 15th-round stoppage of Jeff Chandler. They fought on April 7, 1984 in Atlantic City. Chandler was making the tenth defense of his world bantamweight title.

Despite being a heavy underdog, Sandoval dominated the fight, winning almost every round until the referee stepped in and waived it off. Chandler, who was 33-1-2 heading in and had avenged his lone defeat, never fought again.

Sandoval made two successful defenses before risking his title against Gabby Canizales on the undercard of Hagler-Mugabi in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace. In round seven, Sandoval, who had a hellish time making the weight, was knocked down three times and suffered a seizure as he collapsed from the third knockdown. Stretchered out of the ring, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors reduced the swelling in his brain and beat the odds to save his life. This would be Richie’s lone defeat. He finished his pro career with a record of 29-1 (17 KOs).

Bob Arum cushioned some of the pain by giving Richie a $25,000 bonus and offering him a lifetime job at Top Rank which Richie accepted. And let the record show that Arum was good to his word.

A more elaborate portrait of Richie Sandoval was published in these pages in 2017. You can check it out HERE. May he rest in peace.

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Amanda Serrano and Jake Paul Vanquish Overmatched Foes in Tampa

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Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano mowed through knockout puncher Stevie Morgan in less than two rounds on Saturday and Jake Paul soundly defeated bare knuckle champion Mike Perry by knockout too.

Paul and Serrano move on to bigger things.

“It’s feels great, it feels amazing. My 50th fight, my 31st knockout, I’m super blessed,” said Serrano.

Despite jumping up three weight divisions Serrano (47-2-1, 31 KOs) showed more than 17,000 fans and Morgan (14-2, 13 KOs) at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, how she was able to win seven weight divisions.

Fans and perhaps Katie Taylor breathed a sigh of relief that Serrano is truly back. In Serrano’s last fight she was forced to withdraw back in March due to an accident to her eye moments before a fight. Now the Puerto Rican and Irish super stars will meet in Texas on November 15.

Fans can expect a rematch of one of the greatest fights of all time.

Tonight, before walking into the boxing ring, Morgan had commented that of all the top female fighters Serrano was low hanging fruit. The Puerto Rican legend merely shrugged her shoulders and replied that she lets her fists do the talking.

Both fighters hesitated touching gloves but did. After that, Serrano immediately went into assassin’s mode and moved forward while punching like a finely tuned hemi-engine. Morgan tried to keep up but discovered Serrano was not easy to hit.

Serrano moved forward smoothly while slipping and punching. A stiff looking Morgan, whose legs seemed unbent, tried to fend off the Puerto Rican champion’s blows but was smacked repeatedly in the first round with lefts and rights.

When the bell rang to end the first round, it was obvious that Morgan was overmatched.

As the second round commenced Serrano immediately slipped into attack gear behind her southpaw defensive guard. Once again, she fired combinations while moving quickly forward against the taller Morgan.

It was even worse than the first round as Serrano unloaded a dozen unanswered blows forcing the referee to stop the fight at 38 seconds of the second round.

“I think these girls were mistaking my kindness for weakness,” said Serrano. “If you’re not on my level that’s what happens.”

Morgan quickly learned she’s not on the championship level.

“Stevie Morgan just started a little while ago. I knew it would have been a little too much for her,” said Serrano. “My hat goes off to her. It’s not easy.”

Now it’s on to Katie Taylor.

Jake Paul KOs Mike Perry

In the co-main event Jake Paul (10-1, 7 KOs) floored Mike Perry (6-1) the Bare Knuckle Champion in the first and second round of the cruiserweight fight. And then battered the smaller fighter with a jolting jab to the body and head that opened up cuts on the former MMA fighter.

Paul continued to show improvement and proved once again that whether its MMA or Bare Knuckle fighting, his boxing skills are superior to their combat champions.

“Man, he’s tough as nails. I’m sorry it took so long. Respect man. He’s the king of violence,” said Paul about his fallen foe whose nickname is the “King of Violence.”

Paul attacked the body with a strong left jab while circling slowly left and right. Perry stood straight up with a low guard and his chin up. Paul hit that chin repeatedly and eventually cracked it in the fifth round.

Perry survived.

In the sixth round the bigger blonde fighter Paul bludgeoned Perry with another left jab and then opened with a barrage of blows that blasted the bare knuckle fighter to the canvas. Though he beat the count, he stumbled and the referee stopped the fight at 1:12 of the sixth round.

“I kind of expected that,” said Paul.

Perry was honest about the outcome.

“I tried man, but the kid hit me hard,” said Perry.

Now it’s on to Mike Tyson on November 15 in Arlington, Texas.

“Mike. I love you. But this is my sport now. I’m so honored but I’m going to take your throne.”

Other Bouts

A lightweight battle between undefeated fighters saw Canada’s Lucas Bahdi (17-0, 15 KOs) lose every round until he unloaded a three-punch combination that rendered Ashton Sylve (11-1, 9 KOs) unconscious before he hit the canvas.

Sylve utilized his speed and counters for five rounds and seemed to cruise for five years. But Bahdi showed a good chin especially against lightning uppercuts that sneaked through the guard.

“He’s very twitchy and very quick. I was trying to get to his body early on,” said Bahdi. “He’s very fast and has good counter punches.

In the sixth round Sylve was opening up a little more with his hands down and Bahdi saw the opening and quickly launched a right followed by a left hook that knocked out Sylve before he hit the floor at 2:27 of the sixth round.

“I knew his head’s there in the center all the time,” said Bahdi. “I think I stole the show tonight.”

Prelim Bouts

A rematch between lightweights saw Corey Marksman (10-0-1) win by majority decision against Tony Aguilar (12-1-1) in a back-and-forth battle. Marksman out-worked Aguilar with an especially effective counter-right that scored repeatedly. Their first encounter last February ended in a draw.

Shadasia Green (14-1, 11 KOs) stumbled a bit but got the win against Natasha Spence (8-5-2) to win by unanimous decision in a super middleweight. It was her first fight since losing to Franchon Crews-Dezurn for the world title.

Green was cruising for most of the fight behind a sharp jab and rights to the body but during an offensive out burst Spence caught her with a counter right and floored her in the seventh. It was half punch and half slip, but she was knocked down.

Though Green did not get a knockout she emerged with the win 78-73, 77-74 twice.

“I had fun in there tonight,” said Green. “I belong at the top with the best.”

Alexis Chaparro (2-0) knocked out Kevin Hill (1-2) with a five-punch combination at 2:01 of the second round in a middleweight fight.

Angel Barrientes (12-1) defeated Edwin Rodriguez (12-9-2) by majority decision after six rounds in a super bantamweight fight. The scores were 57-57, 60-54 twice for Barrientes who resides in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / MVP Promotions

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Nakatani Strengthens his Pound-for-Pound Credentials: Blasts Out Astrolabio

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Junto Nakatani is the best 118-pound boxer in the world. Tonight, in Tokyo, he reinforced that judgment with a first-round knockout of Vincent Astrolabio at Japan’s national sumo arena. A short left to the solar plexus left the Filipino writhing on the canvas. He tried to rise but fell back down, forcing referee Tom Taylor to waive it off. It was all over in less than three minutes, 2:37 to be precise. Nakatani (28-0, 21 KOs) was making the first defense of his WBO bantamweight title after previously winning title belts at 112 and 115.

Tall for the weight class at five-foot-seven-and-a-half, the 26-year-old Japanese southpaw produced his second highlight reel knockout in his last four fights. The first come in May of last year at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where he scored a frightening, 12th-round one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

Nakatani won’t have to travel far to unify the belt. The other three current bantamweight champions are also Japanese. Down the road, potentially, is a showdown with countryman Naoya Inoue. That match, should it transpire, would be the biggest domestic fight in Japanese boxing history. Astrolabio, who had been stopped only once previously and was making his second stab at a world title, declined to 18-5.

Other Title Fight

LA’s Anthony Olascuaga, a stablemate of Nakatani (both train in LA under the tutelage of Rudy Hernandez), won the vacant WBO flyweight title with a third-round stoppage of Riku Kanu. A left uppercut put Kano (22-5) on the deck for the full count. The official time was 2:50 of round three.

Olascuaga (7-1, 5 KOs) was rucked out of obscurity in April of last year when he dropped down a weight class and performed far better than expected, albeit in a losing effort, against Kenshiro Teraji, a fight that he took on 10 days’ notice. Despite his inexperience and the locale, the LA fighter entered the ring a consensus 3/1 favorite over Kanu.

Also

In his first 10-rounder, ever-improving Tenshin Nasukawa (4-0, 2 KOs) stopped U.S. invader Jonathan Rodriguez in the third round. Five unanswered punches climaxed by a straight left ended matters at the 1:49 mark. The bout was contested at a catchweight of 120 pounds.

Nasukawa, a baby-faced, 25-year-old southpaw, transitioned to boxing after becoming famous in Japan for his kickboxing exploits. His first foray into boxing was an exhibition with Floyd Mayweather who knocked him out in the opening round, but he’s made considerable progress since then.

Against Rodriguez, Nasakawa was dominant from the get-go. Rodriguez was in dire straits as the second round ended. The first fighter from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to fight in Japan, Rodriguez (17-3-1) joins the ranks of one-hit wonders. He scored a shocking first-round KO of former title-holder Khalid Yafai, but then lost his very next fight en route to this affair.

The promotion lost a bit of luster when the title fight between WBO 115-pound belt-holder Kosei Tanaka and Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Rodriguez (no relation to Nasukawa’s opponent of the same name) fell out when Rodriguez weighed a staggering six pounds over the limit.

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