IT’S the fight Katie Taylor has been building up to throughout her professional career. For the first time, two female boxers will headline at Madison Square Garden when the world lightweight champion fights Amanda Serrano on Saturday (April 30).

“I feel very privileged to be in this position and to be an inspiration to the next generation and to have those young girls look up to me. It’s a huge responsibility as well and I want to set a great example for these young girls coming up,” Taylor said. “I want to give them hope and I want them to know the dreams they have in their hearts can be possible.”

Puerto Rico’s Serrano is a name in the United States. She’s dabbled in MMA but as a boxer has amassed a 42-1-1 record. It’s been a decade since she last lost, a 2012 10-round points reverse to Frida Wallberg in Serrano’s first shot at a sanctioning body belt. In a long pro career, which began all the way back in 2009, she has leapt around in weight, picking up title belts at lightweight, featherweight, super-bantam, bantam, super-light, then plummeting to super-flyweight before returning to feather. It’s a dizzying journey through different weight classes, a physical feat that on paper seems scarcely possible. But somehow Serrano has managed to do it and she’s looked consistently dangerous. Thirty stoppages in 44 contests is testament to her punching power. Even though she has only boxed at lightweight once before, she is a very real threat.

Taylor was an electric Olympian and has been the leading figure in this new era in women’s professional boxing. It did take the Irish star a period of time to adjust to the professional code but at her best she outclassed seasoned fighters. In the process she amassed all four of the major sanctioning body belts at 135lbs to rule the lightweight division.

But she has had hard fights. Taylor was fortunate to scrape through her first encounter with Delfine Persoon with a majority decision win in 2019, the last time she boxed at Madison Square Garden when appearing on Anthony Joshua’s undercard. The champion did perform better when she beat Persoon in a behind-closed-doors rematch in 2020. Persoon doesn’t have the same skillset as Taylor. But she is a belligerent, dogged fighter who advances with a high workrate. She had just the style to draw Taylor in and make their contest a bruising battle.

Serrano will do just the same. She is perfectly capable of drawing the Irish star into the kind of fight Taylor must resist having. A southpaw, Serrano applies pressure as she comes forward and works punishing shots into the body as well as uncorking venomous hooks.

Taylor is nimble on her feet. She can dart in and out and line up rapid combinations. She leads well with her back hand and uses it to set up the left. Taylor’s hand speed can be dazzling. But since utterly dominating Miriam Guttiérrez in 2020 there have been hints that Taylor’s form is plateauing. In her last two fights she handily outboxed low-key mandatory challengers Firuza Sharipova and Jennifer Han. At no point was she really in danger of losing those contests, but she didn’t look entirely comfortable. She let through the occasional shot that in years gone by, perhaps, she would have evaded. Those felt like warning signs.

A year ago her old rival from their amateur days Natasha Jonas pushed Taylor close. Jonas is not the same type of boxer as Serrano, but in common with her has good timing, good power and fights from a southpaw stance. In short, when Taylor makes mistakes against Serrano, and she will make a few, they will be punished. Serrano might be getting Taylor at just the right time.

This is a clash of styles. Taylor has the skills and sharpness that made her Olympic champion. She has the faster hands but the advantage in power is clearly with Serrano. She might be able to walk through Taylor’s shots and try to walk her down.

In other words, Katie Taylor has the greatest battle of her professional life on her hands on Saturday. It will be a punishing fight and Taylor will have to overcome moments of real jeopardy. If she isn’t able to lift her game back to its former heights, or close to its former heights, then she will lose. But she might well rise to the occasion. She has weapons of her own to deploy. With quick and clever footwork, she can offset Serrano coming in, catch her with fast combinations and get clear without taking too much damage. If she can maintain that movement and not get pinned down and caught on the ropes, Taylor can scramble through to snatch a close decision win.

Taylor’s impact on boxing is established. As well as her Olympic gold medal, she won five amateur World championships, an astonishing decade of dominance in the unpaid code. It’s worth noting that she had close bouts in that period, she just had a knack for making sure she won them. Her demonstrable excellence was in fact a driving force in introducing women’s boxing to the Olympic Games for the first time in 2012. That can be regarded as her most lasting achievement. The inclusion of women’s boxing in the Olympics has been the foundation for the development of that side of the sport, which is coming to fruition now in 2022, not only with this super-fight but with Claressa Shields likely to box Savannah Marshall next and future stars like Lauren Price and Karriss Artingstall turning pro after the Tokyo Games.

Factor-in Taylor’s highly creditable professional run and status as lightweight world champion, in truth her work is already very well done. But this type of event, the opponent, the setting, the occasion, is the kind of fight she might be remembered for. That’s why Taylor will be desperate to win and why the stakes are so high.

“This is just a special occasion for me, to headline a huge fight like this at Madison Square Garden,” Taylor said. “It’s being billed as the biggest fight in female boxing history. This is just incredible and a real privilege for me.

“I love being involved in these kinds of fights. These are the challenges that I’ve always wanted. I don’t think I’ve ever backed down from any challenge. I’ve wanted to face the very best.”

“Amanda Serrano is a fantastic fighter, she’s a great champion and she’s not here for no reason. 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 versus champion. The best versus the best and this is why this fight is so special,” she added. “It’s years and years later, we’re still talking Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier kind of fights. I think years and years later from this fight people are still going to be talking about Katie Taylor versus Amanda Serrano.”

Katie Taylor boxing
Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing

There are some decent fights on the undercard. Liam Smith has had a long career but at 33 he’s by no means past it. He was unlucky, frankly, not to get the decision against Magomed Kurbanov in Russia. He came back from that to stop Anthony Fowler in an exciting main event in their Liverpool hometown in October. Now, as Smith looks to get himself back in the frame for a shot at a sanctioning body belt, he fights Jesse Vargas.
The man from Las Vegas is highly experienced. He’s boxed and lost to Manny Pacquiao, Tim Bradley and, most recently, Mikey Garcia. But not only has Vargas not fought since that Garcia contest in early 2020, he’s only had one win since 2017, when he knocked out an old Humberto Soto three years ago. That was his only fight in 2019 and the previous year he’d only recorded draws with both Adrien Broner and Thomas Dulorme.

Smith has been more active and appears to be in good form. He might well secure a decision win in another exciting bout.

Olympic star, Tokyo flyweight gold medallist Galal Yafai continues his rapid introduction to the professional sport. In only his second pro bout he gets a second scheduled 10-rounder against the 17-6-1 (8) Miguel Cartagena. It’s another decent learning fight but Yafai should demonstrate his quality once again and force another stoppage.

“Coming up against someone who’s experienced, who’s been in with world champions, former world champions. I’ve just got to perform. I’ve got to win but I don’t just want to win, I want to perform,” Galal said. “I’ve got to be disciplined the whole fight, it’s 10 rounds, small gloves, a big occasion. I’ve got to be professional.”

“He’s going to be game. He’s going to want to come and spoil the party. Everyone’s got a bit of pride, especially as he’s an American, he’s got pride,” Yafai added. “He’s been in with the likes of Brian Viloria, Emmanuel Rodríguez. He’s been in with them type of fighters. Yeah he’s lost to them but he’s been in with them so he’s got experience and he’s looking to spoil the party. But I’m hoping to go out there, win first of all and look good as well.”

Sweden’s Elin Cederroos fights Franchón Crews-Dezurn for all four of the major sanctioning body super-middleweight belts. Crews-Dezurn was an international amateur and has only lost once as a professional, to none other than Claressa Shields in an ambitious pro debut for both. But Cederroos has better wins on her resumé, with points victories on her record over Alicia Napoleon Espinosa and Femke Hermans. She could also outpoint Crews-Dezurn here too.

Austin Williams meets Chordale Booker in a battle of unbeatens and prospects Skye Nicolson, Reshat Mati and Khalil Coe also get runs outs. bn

The Verdict Is Serrano getting this at just the right time? Or can Taylor discover another great performance?