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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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Jake Paul vs Tommy Fury on Feb. 26 in a Potential Pay-Per-View Blockbuster

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It’s now official. The twice-postponed “grudge match” between Jake Paul and Tommy Fury will come to fruition on Sunday, Feb. 26, at Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. An 8-rounder contested at a catch-weight of 185 pounds, the match and several supporting bouts will air in the U.S. on ESPN+ PPV at a cost of $49.99.

The hook for this promotion – a come-hither that will be hammered home incessantly in the coming weeks – is that Jake Paul will finally touch gloves with a legitimate professional boxer. Paul’s previous opponents were a fellow YouTube influencer (AnEsonGib), a retired NBA player (Nate Robinson), and three former MMA champions: Ben Askren, Tyron Woodley, and Anderson Silva. He fought Woodley twice.

Tommy Fury, the half-brother of reigning WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, made his pro debut in December of 2018 in a four-round bout in his hometown of Manchester. He was two fights into his pro career when he became a contestant on the TV reality show “Love Island.” An enormously popular show in Great Britain, especially among the coveted 18-34 demographic, “Love Island” was in its fifth season.

Fury was paired with supermodel Molly-Mae Hague with whom he finished second. They developed a great chemistry, on and off the set, became engaged, and purportedly welcomed a baby girl this week.

What about Tommy Fury the boxer? How legitimate is he?

Fury’s record currently stands at 8-0 (4 KOs). His first opponent was a professional loser from Latvia whose current ledger reads 10-113-3. His next six opponents were a combined 4-73-2. Finally, in his last fight, which occurred in April of last year, he met an opponent with a good record, Poland’s Daniel Bocianski, who was 10-1. But look closer and one discovers that all but one of Bocianski’s 10 triumphs came against opponents with losing records. The exception was a 6-round decision over a fellow Pole whose record currently stands at 18-16-1 and who has been stopped 13 times.

Fury bloodied Bocianski and won a wide 6-round decision, but his performance was underwhelming. “Fury had the Hollywood teeth, tan, and diamante-colored shorts,” wrote Chasinga Malata of the London Sun, “leaving only his performance without sheen and sparkle.”

There is nothing in Tommy Fury’s background, aside from his biological pedigree, to suggest that he has the tools to become a world-class boxer. If he were a member of the Three Stooges, he would be Shemp.

Jake Paul, by contrast, may actually be legit. Those in the know that have watched him train have come away impressed. It says here that Paul isn’t moving up in class on Feb. 26; it’s the other way around.

In the co-feature, Ilunga Makabu (29-2, 25 KOs) will make the third defense of his WBC world cruiserweight title against Badou Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs). A Congolese-South African, Makabu is the older brother of heavyweight contender Martin Bakole. Jack, four years older than Makabu at age 39, formerly held world titles at 168 and 175 pounds.

Although Badou Jack was born in Sweden and keeps a home in Las Vegas where he has long been affiliated with the Mayweather Boxing Club, he will have the home field advantage in Saudi Arabia where he has cultivated a loyal following. A devout Muslim, Jack will be making his fourth straight start in the Persian Gulf Region. In his last outing, he outpointed Richard “Popeye” Rivera at Jeddah, winning a 10-round split decision.

Badou Jack

Badou Jack

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: A Lively Weekend in SoCal with Three Fight Cards in Two Days

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 223: A Lively Weekend in SoCal with Three Fight Cards in Two Days

Big money prizefighting returns to the Los Angeles area with back-to-back shows. First, Serhii Bohachuk heads a 360 Promotions card on Friday and then Alexis Rocha is featured on Saturday in a Golden Boy Promotions production. And on the same day Riverside’s Saul Rodriguez fights in his hometown.

Bohachuk, Rocha, and Rodriguez are aggressive big hitters.

Ukraine’s Bohachuk seeks to regain footing in the super welterweight division. He was rapidly climbing up the ratings ladder when first he was defeated by Brandon Adams two years ago. And then the invasion of his home country Ukraine stalled him even more.

On Friday Jan. 27, at the Quiet Cannon in Montebello, Calif. Bohachuk (21-1, 21 KOs) meets Nathaniel Gallimore (22-6-1, 17 KOs) in the main event. UFC Fight Pass will stream the 360 Boxing Promotions card.

Few fighters are as well-liked outside of the prize ring as Bohachuk. Always amiable, he’s one of the handful of fighters that always smiles. Inside the ring, he’s a killer. No one leaves without someone getting knocked out.

Gallimore, 34, is no slouch. He has a knockout win over former world titlist Jeison Rosario and has battled almost all of the top super welterweights. He is a veteran and very crafty.

The Quiet Cannon venue is not very large, but it does have a patio and good food and drink. Most of the crowd ventures from all over Southern California to attend the fights at that venue. It gets packed.

Golden Boy in Inglewood

Welterweight contender Alexis Rocha headlines the Golden Boy Promotions card on Saturday, Jan. 28, at the brand new YouTube Theater in Inglewood, Calif. DAZN will stream the fight card.

Rocha (21-1, 13 KOs) faces George Ashie (33-5-1) in the main event set for 12 rounds. Finally, there is an opponent for the left-handed fighter from Santa Ana. It didn’t look like he was going to fight after opponent after opponent fell out for one reason or another.

“You have to be ready for anybody they put in front of you. If it’s you or George Ashie, I have to prepare for it. I have to focus on what I can do,” said Rocha.

Others on the card include super middleweight Bektemir Melikuziev (10-1) vs Ulises Sierra (17-2-2) set for 10 rounds. Also, good looking lightweight prospect Floyd Schofield (12-0, 10 KOs) meets Alberto Mercado (17-4-1).

Schofield fights out of Austin, Texas and looks like someone to watch.

Doors open at 3 p.m.

Neno Returns in San Bernardino        

Garcia Promotions stages a boxing card on Saturday Jan. 28, at the Club Event Center in San Bernardino. Garcia Promotions is associated with trainer Robert Garcia and family whose training compound is located in nearby Riverside.

A primarily local fight card featuring all fighters from Garcia’s gym will be performing.

Headlining is Saul “Neno” Rodriguez out of Riverside, California.

It’s been nearly three years since Rodriguez (24-1-1, 18 KOs) last fought and he faces Mexico’s Juan Meza Angulo (6-1, 3 KOs) in the co-main event.

At one time Rodriguez was a big fan favorite because of his fast work and knockout ability. Once he got to the top plateau he ran into another knockout puncher in Miguel Angel Gonzalez and lost by stoppage.

Prizefighting is a tricky road. One loss can mean difficulty in finding a big-time promoter or it can mean discovering what you need to do to re-establish your skills. A fighter can go the road of Kermit “The Killer” Cintron and find out other ways to win without a kill-or be-killed style. Or they can travel the road of Marco Antonio Barrera who was knocked out by Junior Jones but adapted a more boxer-puncher style that allowed him to defeat Erik Morales twice and Prince Naseem Hamed.

Rodriguez, 29, still has time to make a good run for a title bid. It all starts on Saturday.

Others on the Garcia Promotions card are fighters who are part of trainer Garcia’s stable including Gabriel Muratalla, Leonardo Ruiz, Jose Rodriguez and others.

Doors open at 4 p.m. with amateurs opening the boxing program.

Fights to Watch

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. Serhii Bohachuk (21-1) vs Nathaniel Gallimore (22-6-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 11:30 a.m. Artur Beterbiev (18-0) vs Anthony Yarde (23-2).

Sat. DAZN  5 p.m. Alexis Rocha (21-1) vs George Ashie (33-5-1).

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Artur Beterbiev: “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need”

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Russian Artur Beterbiev, triple champion of the 175-pound division, is the only current world champion who, thanks to the enormous power he wields in his fists, has won all his fights inside the distance.

Beterbiev has 18 victories by way of chloroform since he debuted as a professional fighter in June 2013 when he anesthetized retired American, Christian Cruz, in the tenth round at the Bell Center in Montreal where Beterbiev currently resides.

Beterbiev, who turned thirty-eight last Saturday, will defend his WBC, IBF, and WBO titles against Brit Anthony “The Beast from the East” Yarde (23-2, 22 KOs) on Saturday, January 28th at the OVO Arena in London.

Beterbiev obtained the WBO belt on June 18th this past year when he defeated American Joe Smith (28-4, 22 KOs) in the second round at Madison Square Garden. This was Smith’s second defense of the belt.

Earlier, in November 2017, Beterbiev won the vacant IBF belt after defeating German Enrico Koelling (28-5, 9 KOs) by knockout in the twelfth round in Fresno, California.

Two years later, Beterbiev seized the WBC belt from Ukrainian Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-1, 14 KOs) in Philadelphia. Three knockdowns in the tenth round forced referee Gary Rosato to stop the lopsided bout with 11 seconds remaining in the round.  Beterbiev maintains that although his intention is to win each fight, in no way does he want to harm his rival and that his greatest wish is for both of them to leave the ring healthy.

Referring to his upcoming matchup, Beterbiev told BoxingScene that “after the fight, I just hope he (Yarde) is okay.”

He acknowledged that he does not know much about the British boxer, although he has watched several of his fights: “He’s a good fighter, has good experience as a professional and he’s a boxer. He’s dangerous so I have to prepare for this fight like I always do.”

Beterbiev said that his main motivation is to successfully defend the three belts he owns and that is why he will try to be one hundred percent ready and then it will be evident who is the better fighter.

Regarding his knockout streak, Beterbiev emphatically denied that he enjoys knocking out his opponents: “No. There’s no pleasure in it. I just hope everything is OK with them. I just want to do good boxing, not hit people.”

Beterbiev smiles enigmatically and stares at the horizon when they ask him to what he attributes the strength of his fists to. “I know for sure, 1000 percent, that the secret to my power is somewhere in my boxing gym but I don’t know exactly where,” he adds. “I don’t know which exercise or bag gave me this secret. I don’t know where it comes from. I wasn’t always like this either, it has come from working every day. But really my dream is to be a good boxer one day.”

Aside from the upcoming fight with Yarde, Beterbiev acknowledges in each interview that his goal is to be the undisputed champion of the division, which means facing (and defeating) the undefeated Russian Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KOs), who holds the WBA light heavyweight super championship belt.

“I need Bivol,” Beterbiev admits. “I’d prefer to fight Bivol because he has the one thing I need. I hope I fight him in 2023 but the hold-up is not from my side, it’s from their side. In the last three years he always says he will fight me next but in this time we’ve done unification fights against Oleksandr Gvozdyk and Joe Smith. We’ve done that whereas he has just been talking about it.

Beterbiev recalled that he was with Bivol on the Russian national team where they were amateurs. “I knew him then, but he is younger than me. We haven’t talked for 10 years now. He was 75kg back then, too small for me. We were never friends.”

Article submitted by Jorge Juan Alvarez in Spanish.

 Please note any adjustments made were for clarification purposes and any errors in translation were unintentional.

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