It is something that this observer has gotten used to saying as years have gone by, but yours truly has been writing about and covering the sport of Boxing for most of his life. In that time, I have seen plenty of things that I often refer to as “Black Eyes” in that it effects Boxing in negative ways. While obviously over the course of one’s journey covering the sport there are also plenty of good things that occur, I would be lying to the reader if I said that the negative elements that surround the sport do not get the majority of coverage throughout those of us in media that cover Boxing.
One thing that I personally saw as a negative from when I began writing in the mid-1990’s that I unfortunately saw continue for a lengthy period of time was the perception of how Women’s Boxing was viewed by many. Despite the fact that Women’s Boxing dates back as far as the1960’s, the female fighters in the sport did not get the opportunity to benefit from television exposure until the mid-1990’s when Christy Martin made a name for herself being showcased on Don King promoted cards, often on the undercard of marquee pay-per-view events, where more often than not Martin's bouts stole the show due in part to her crowd pleasing action style.
While it was seeing several of Martin's bouts that I saw in my youth in my early days as a writer that introduced me to Women’s Boxing and it was undeniable in my view what fighters like Christy Martin did for the sport for women and as I began trying to incorporate coverage of Women’s bouts, I kept hearing one consistent thing from many that would talk about the sport with me that frankly got under my skin. The perception that Women’s Boxing would never be taken as seriously as the sport is for men and that it was treated as a side show. Although I obviously disagreed with such statements/points of view, it was hard to make a case based largely on how the sport for women was showcased or lack thereof here on the United States as if you did not see a women’s bout showcased on a pay-per-view undercard, it was rare to see a women’s bout on network or cable television for years. With the rare exceptions of a Christy Martin bout or a Laila Ali bout for example, consistent television exposure for the women in the sport remained a struggle for years. An illustration of this was premium cable network HBO's refusal for many years to broadcast women’s bouts on their network beyond an obscene pay-per-view undercard bout. Sadly for HBO, the decision to finally showcase a women’s bout on their network would come in the final fight the network would broadcast before exiting the sport in 2018 after a forty-five year run broadcasting the sport.
HBO’s exit from the sport is a subject that will be debated for many years and even though it indisputable that several factors led to the network’s exit, the lack of consistently showcasing women’s bouts including its outright refusal to air women’s bouts on their network was at least one of those factors as it eliminated the potential to increase their audience by opening the sport to new eyes that may not have been interested in Boxing otherwise. Such a reluctance by a network once regarded as one of the power players in the sport as well as very sporadic exposure for Women’s Boxing by other networks involved in Boxing seriously delayed the growth of the sport for women in this observer's eyes.
Out of respect for those who follow my coverage of the sport regularly, I will not do a rehash of the long overdue progress that the women of the sport have been able to make in the last several years, which thankfully has seen women’s bouts featured regularly on both traditional and digital streaming networks and featured in main event positions. This has been particularly noticeable here in the United States as it should be noted that women’s bouts have headlined Boxing cards also featuring men’s bouts for several years internationally.
The progress that has been made for the women who compete in the sport is undeniable however, and it was such progress that finally led to a truly historic moment for Boxing. This observer is referring to the April 30th encounter for the Undisputed Women’s Lightweight championship of the world between undefeated longtime world champion Katie Taylor and seven-division world champion Amanda Serrano. What made this fight so historic beyond the true rarity of the consensus number one and two fighters in the sport meeting in the eyes of many, was it was the first time a women’s bout would headline a Boxing card in Madison Square Garden in over 140-year history of the historic venue through its various incarnations.
When I was first notified that the bout would take place and the circumstances of the location of the fight as well as the fact that it would be the main event, I immediately felt the anticipation that would accompany any major fight in the sport, whether it be a men’s bout or a women’s bout. As someone who has advocated for Women’s Boxing however, it was something that I looked forward to for the reason that it would finally bring long overdue recognition on arguably Boxing’s biggest stage to the women of the sport. While in the days prior to the fight I commented through social media platforms that I felt that fighters such as Christy Martin should have had the opportunity to headline a Boxing card in Madison Square Garden long ago, particularly because of the exposure Martin was able to give the sport for women, this was the right fight at the right time to break this barrier down for female fighters.
Not only did the bout between Taylor and Serrano bring together two world champions who are at the top of the sport, but it also showcased the evolution of Women’s Boxing in the sense that both women brought into the fight sizable fan followings and the sport overall is more mainstream in present day than it has ever been. The fight also pitted two highly skilled fighters against each other and that fact alone added intrigue to the historical significance of this fight.
With a crowd of over nineteen thousand spectators jammed into Madison Square Garden, Taylor and Serrano lived up to the anticipation and simply put on a show from the opening bell. Although I always intended to cover this fight, I made the decision in the week or so prior to the bout taking place to sit and observe the atmosphere of the event and take it in though I was not in attendance at the venue simply known as “The Garden.” After many years of being questioned as to why I cover women’s bouts as well as men’s bouts and hearing the aforementioned points of view, I simply wanted to sit back and enjoy what I knew long ago what Women’s Boxing was capable of in drawing a sell out crowd in an iconic venue and producing an atmosphere and anticipation prior to the fight that was akin to any major fight that has taken place in the sport.
In the interest of honesty with the reader I will also admit that I did get emotional watching this fight for those reasons. The fight itself was also a reason for it as the two world champions showcased all the aspects that make Boxing great. While the current Featherweight world champion Amanda Serrano moved up two weight divisions for this fight, it was not surprising to see her try to cut the ring off from Taylor who spent the early rounds using lateral movement to maintain distance and combination punching to outwork Serrano. Despite being the naturally smaller fighter even though Serrano has made a career moving up and down through weight divisions with ease, it became clear early on that she had the edge in terms of punching power as whenever she landed punches, they tended to be flush and hurt Taylor.
It was not long before tactical Boxing gave way to a toe to toe battle in the middle rounds where Serrano got the better of the action including being able to have Taylor badly hurt in the fifth round with a barrage of offense that gave the appearance that the champion was on the verge of being stopped. The champion however, would respond surviving the onslaught and fighting back Over the course of the fight, both fighters would suffer cuts and for me personally, I began to have flashbacks of a fight in March 1996 between Christy Martin and Deirdre Gogarty, which took place on the undercard of Mike Tyson’s second bout with Frank Bruno. The bout between Martin and Gogarty was an all out war, but one that was only scheduled for six rounds. This bout between Taylor and Serrano was scheduled for the Women’s championship distance of ten rounds, but the action between the two reminded me of that encounter between Martin and Gogarty twenty-six years ago, which was also one of the first women’s bouts I covered in my early days as a writer.
Despite the ebb and flow seeming to favor Serrano after the offensive surge in the middle rounds, Taylor would respond in the closing rounds by reverting back slightly to looking to out box Serrano, which appeared at least in my eyes to turn things back around in her favor in a fight as she seemed to outwork Serrano in the closing rounds. At the end of the ten round world championship bout received a standing ovation from the crowd inside Madison Square Garden.
As is the case with many women’s bouts due largely to the two minute length in rounds, I felt the fight was very close and could go either way. This was due to both fighters having significant periods where they were effective. When it comes to close fights it more often than not will boil down to what a judge prefers in their own criteria based on clean punching, effective aggressiveness, ring generalship, and defense that will determine who will get the nod in terms of scoring.
In this case, Taylor was effective in several rounds in being able to control distance with her lateral movement and combination punching. Serrano meanwhile was the consistent aggressor throughout much of the fight and landed the harder punches in my view. It became a question of whether Taylor’s movement and combination punching particularly in the early rounds as well as the closing rounds would be enough for her to retain her title. While I felt this fight could have gone either way and frankly expected to hear the official decision to be a draw based on these aspects and how close the fight was, at the end of the ten round world championship bout, I arrived with a scorecard of 95-93 in favor of Taylor as I felt her rally on the late rounds was enough to earn the decision.
Despite my point of view, it was no surprise to see a split decision rendered in this fight with Taylor getting the nod of two official judges in winning a hard fought decision to retain her undisputed crown. While some have expressed criticism of the decision, it was a fight that truly could have gone either way and as I said, even though I had Taylor ahead by what amounted to two rounds, I expected to hear that the fight was a draw.
An obvious question is whether a rematch will take place. Obviously, the old saying that more often than not applies to the sport of Boxing, “If it makes money, it makes sense” can be applied here. From my perspective a rematch is logical not only based on what took place in the ring, which frankly was one of the better fights I have seen or covered in recent memory, but also the historical significance of the event.
While I hope the progression for Women’s Boxing continues and will eventually include the implementation of three minute rounds, as was done for women’s bouts in the delayed 2020 Olympics as well as increasing the world championship round distance to twelve rounds, which would put Women’s Boxing on equal footing with the men who compete in the sport, in closing I would like to repeat what I said on social media shortly after the fight concluded. Women’s Boxing take a bow and enjoy the overdue recognition the women of the sport have fought decades for.
“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”
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