Thursday, February 29, 2024

Serrano And Paul Set To Share Stage

The month of March in the sport of Boxing will begin with a unique doubleheader that will take place at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico on Saturday, March 2nd, which can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN. What makes it unique? It is a rare opportunity to see a superstar fighter and that fighter’s promoter competing on the same card, much less in the event’s two headline attractions.

In the main event of the evening Unified Women5IBF/WBA/WBO/IBO Featherweight world champion Amanda Serrano will defend her crown against IBF number one contender Niina Meinke. In October of last year, Serrano, the then undisputed champion of the division, took part in a groundbreaking moment for the sport in scoring a unanimous decision over Danila Ramos in Orlando, FL. The historical significance of the occasion was that the world championship bout was the first one in Boxing history where female fighters fought for a distance of twelve, three minute rounds. The same world championship distance as men's world title bouts.

As groundbreaking and overdue as that moment was for the sport in taking a major step forward towards equality, with the champion declaring that she would prefer to continue competing at the twelve three minute round distance for the remainder of her career shortly after defeating Ramos, it was not long after that fight where Serrano would lose her status as an undisputed world champion. This was due to the World Boxing Council (WBC) refusing to sanction women's world title bouts at the same distance and round length as men's bouts. In response, Serrano relinquished the WBC World Featherweight championship.

It goes without saying that Boxing is a sport where world championships are relinquished and stripped for a variety of reasons, which most of the time has to do with the politics of the sport. While this observer can go on and on, on that subject, Serrano's decision to willingly lose her undisputed champion status should be applauded. Applauded because it not only showed her intentions to help bring about equality in the sport for women was legitimate, but her conviction in wanting to see world title fights in Women's Boxing moved to the same standard as their male counterparts was so strong that when a prominent sanctioning organization, which was the first to sanction world title bouts for female fighters, refused to also take that step towards equality, Serrano put principle over whatever potential financial gain she might acquire as being one of the few undisputed champions in the entire sport, male or female.

While one can hope that the WBC will eventually join in the movement of progress for female fighters in the sport, Serrano, still the number one fighter in Featherweight division regardless of the label of undisputed being involved, will move forward with her career. The first step in that comes in her next title defense against the International

Boxing Federation's (IBF) number one contender Nina Meinke.

Meinke, a veteran of twenty-one professional fights, will come into this fight on a six fight winning streak and has won eighteen of her twenty-one professional bouts. She is also a former world title challenger having previously come up short in a challenge of then IBF Featherweight world champion Sarah Mahfoud in April 2022.

One crucial element to keep in mind is Amanda Serrano has won world titles in eight different weight divisions. While that may be reflective of Women’s Boxing still being very much in the process of growing, in that it is not uncommon for fighters to move up or down the weight scale depending on what opportunities may be available to them to fight for a world championship, often on a fight by fight basis, what Serrano has also accumulated over her forty-nine bout professional career is a level of experience that few fighters can compare to simply because the sport for women is still growing. There is no doubt in this observer’s mind that Serrano will use every bit of that experience including the fact that she now has the added attribute of having gone twelve, three minute rounds before to her advantage. 

The question here will largely fall on Meinke's shoulders in whether or not she will be able to compete against Serrano and more specifically, how she will respond to fighting under three minute rounds and the possibility of going twelve rounds. It is something that hopefully as more Women's world title bouts are held under the twelve, three minute round format will become less of an issue, but for the foreseeable future, fighters who have been accustomed to Boxing as far as ten rounds, where the length of those rounds are two minutes in duration, it will be a question of if they will be able to adjust to the format that is standard for their male counterparts. Meinke only has three knockouts in her eighteen career wins. This suggests that that fight plan for her will be to try and out point the champion over the course of the twelve round bout. 

While that may seem like an advantage for a fighter that is used to not only going the distance, but also having to implement an approach to score points to win decisions, Serrano is also a highly skilled boxer who has punching power in both hands. It will be up to Meinke to show what she will be able to do in this fight and more specifically, if she will be able to do it fighting under a longer format both in terms of round length and the scheduled distance that might determine how successful she is in this second opportunity to capture a world championship.

One fighter who will share the stage with Serrano and will look to showcase his evolving skills shortly before the Featherweight champion of the world takes to the ring for the main event, is social media influencer turned Cruiserweight boxer Jake Paul. Longtime readers know the stance of this observer with regard to the influx of celebrity that has made it’s way into the Boxing ring over the last several years, which has been given a slightly different name of “Influencer Boxing.” While those who enter the sport from an outside background should not be judged simply off of that background, I have also been critical when appropriate when it comes to those would be fighters seeming to have the mentality that they can face either other influencers and combat athletes from different disciplines/sports other than Boxing and expect to be taken seriously as would be contenders who may eventually challenge for a world championship, much less pushed and marketed as pay-per-view stars in an era where consumers continue to reject such a model. Paul has been one fighter that I have criticized for these reasons.

It should be noted however, that following his victory over MMA veteran Nate Diaz last summer, Paul opted to take a more conventional route for any boxer looking to work his way up in the sport of Boxing. Choosing to box his next fight in a more intimate setting of the Caribe Royale Resort ballroom in Orlando, FL on December 15th when he faced Cruiserweight boxer Andre August. While this was only the second time in Paul’s career where he was not on a pay-per-view as an attraction or the main event, it signaled a step forward towards proving himself to be a serious boxer by facing someone with a Boxing background, but also someone who did not have much known about him prior to the fight. Essentially, the type of opponents any would-be prospect will face as their careers and skillset develops. Paul simply took care of business on that December evening dropping August for the count with a right uppercut that ended matters at 2:32 of the first round.

Although there is not much one can say about a one punch knockout, something that Paul has done against MMA fighters, with little or no Boxing experience and other celebrities before in his career, The fact that he was able to do it against someone who was a boxer, and more specifically, how he set up the knockout by going to the body and waiting for the opening to land the knockout blow, did show progress. Now Paul looks to follow that victory by facing another boxer in the form of nineteen fight veteran Ryan Bourland, which on the surface represents a step up for Paul in terms of the experience that his opponent has. Bourland, a native of Dickinson, ND will enter into this encounter with a record of 17-2, with 6 Knockouts. He has won his last three bouts including a knockout win over a fighter named Santario Martin in his last bout. What some may see as potential red flags however, is that last bout for him took place in September 2022 and much like August, who was a Texas State Light-Heavyweight champion in his career prior to facing Paul, not much is known about Bourland and  obtaining footage for the purposes of research for this observer, a noted Boxing historian and one who studies fight films daily did prove to not be successful. An interesting note that is coincidental is both August and Bourland fought Santario Martin in their careers, and each does have a victory over him. Bourland does have a knockout victory over him however, compared to August’s decision victory over him in November 2019.

While this is coincidental and some may at minimum say that Paul’s handlers are scouting opponents from similar circles, it is important to keep in mind that there are countless fighters throughout the entire sport that toil on the local and regional levels of Boxing that take fights whenever they are offered, are willing to travel anywhere for those opportunities on often short notice, and are the true workman of the sport because of their willingness to get in and mix it up with anyone whenever an opportunity becomes available and/or is offered. In this case, the 175lb. Light-Heavyweight  and 190lb. Cruiserweight divisions are in close proximity to each other and it is not unusual to see fighters on those local/regional levels bounce up and down between divisions depending on what opportunity might be available. For those fighters who have such a career on that level as they look for an opportunity to move up towards an opportunity that might establish them as a contender, it is not unusual for fighters to have some common opposition on that path.

The question here is what Ryan Bourland will bring with him in terms of skillset into this fight. Paul has shown numerous times that he has a primary weapon, his right hand and per his being a celebrity, all of his fights have been televised in some form. While this may not seem like much to the reader, what it does provide is at least an opportunity for Bourland to study his opponent, whereas Paul may not have had that same opportunity. Bourland does have six knockouts in his seventeen wins, but he does not seem to be a fighter with punching power. Of his two losses, Bourland does have a first round knockout loss at the hands of a fighter named Israel Duffus in a fight that took place nearly nine years ago in July 2015 in Hollywood, CA. 

Much as was the case for his last fight, the element of the unknown has followed Jake Paul into this fight in terms of his opposition. These are the types of fights that are crucial for a fighter’s development if they do want to work their way up towards possible contention and hope to eventually challenge for a world championship. With the rarest of exceptions, the vast majority of fighters are not afforded the opportunity to take short cuts and try to get to that point faster and for most boxers, this is the path that they need to take as well as compete frequently not only to obtain the necessary experience against different types of opposition with varying styles, but also to try and get more opportunities that might be higher up on the ladder of contention. At least for what will be his last two fights by the time he faces Bourland, Paul seems to have realized this and it will be interesting to see how he continues to develop against fighters with a Boxing background, who likely view Paul due to his celebrity status as an opportunity to make a name for themselves. With one win and one loss coming against fighters with a Boxing background, it’s now time to see what this next step in Paul’s development as a boxer will look like.

An evening of Boxing featuring two steps toward progress. One towards equality in Boxing and the other perhaps a further step in a fighter’s developing career. It should be an entertaining night of Boxing. 

“And That’s The Boxing Truth.”

Serrano vs. Meinke / Paul vs. Bourland takes place on Saturday, March 2nd at the Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The card can be seen globally on digital subscription sports streaming network DAZN beginning with preliminary bouts at 4:30PM ET/1:30PM PT. This will be followed by the main card, which will begin at 7PM ET/4PM PT. 

(*U.S. Times Only.*]

(*Card Subject To Change.*)

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