NEW YORK (AP) — Back when Katie Taylor had to pretend she was a boy so she could box, or even not long ago when Amanda Serrano was fighting for thousands of dollars with a resume that in men’s boxing would earn her many millions, it was hard to imagine where they are now.
They meet Saturday night in what has been called the most significant women’s boxing match ever, the first to headline Madison Square Garden. At stake are the unbeaten Taylor’s four lightweight titles, but this bout goes beyond just the belts.
It’s grown even bigger than what organizers hoped, with a sold-out crowd possible, the Empire State Building lighting up in the colors of the fighters’ countries and unprecedented media attention for women’s boxing. Those involved say it proves that if the best fight the best, with the proper promotional push, it doesn’t matter what gender they are.
“Women’s boxing wasn’t even a sanctioned sport in Ireland,” Taylor said. “Now here we are many years later headlining Madison Square Garden, the most iconic venue in boxing, and making history as the biggest fight in female boxing history. This is just incredible.”
Taylor (20-0, 6 KOs) became the undisputed champion with a victory at the Garden in 2019, while Serrano (42-1-1 30 KOs), a champion in seven weight classes who moves up two divisions for this fight, has fought in the smaller Hulu Theater at MSG, but never in the main arena.
Organizers at first considered the Hulu Theater for this fight, but after deciding it was big enough for the big room, planned on configuring the venue for around 10,000 seats. They had to make more available when those were all purchased. About 15,000 already have been sold, with a significant number of Irish fans coming to support the 2012 Olympic gold medalist.
“The Irish legacy in the Garden, we built this city and all the fighting elements, so keep that going,” said Taylor fan Kyle McLoughlin.
The Nolans traveled all the way from Ireland to witness the historic match, and it’s no surprise their bets are on Taylor. “Been to see her when she won her gold medal and coming to see her now to retain the world title,” said Michael Nolan.
There will be plenty more for Serrano, a Puerto Rican who lives in Brooklyn and is a slight favorite, according to Fanduel Sportsbook.
“I can’t wait until Saturday night to prove that we’re deserving of this opportunity, of this spotlight, just everything all together,” Serrano said.
Promoter Eddie Hearn sees it as a culmination of Taylor’s quest to never stop trying to do more than what seemed possible for her. She would wear headgear into and out of the gym to conceal her appearance and not use her first name when she began fighting, because girls weren’t allowed to in Ireland. He credits her with pushing the International Olympic Committee to make women’s boxing a medal sport and for always seeking the biggest events once she turned pro.
“When Katie came into my office six years ago, we had a dream and we always said, ‘One day you’ll headline at Madison Square Garden and make a million dollars,’ and I’m thinking probably not, but we’ll just keep saying it,” Hearn said. “And here we are.”
Serrano, despite her decorated career, was earning $5,000 or $10,000 purses not long ago, according to promoter Jake Paul. But once she hooked up with Paul, the YouTube star-turned boxer and promoter, and fighting on his cards, she went to another tax bracket as easily as she bounces between weight classes.
“To think that we are here a year later is massive,” Paul said, adding that the event’s hype “feels like a unification of the heavyweight division.”
Talks fell through for a match a couple of years ago, when they would have fought with no fans because of the coronavirus pandemic. Serrano — whose sister, Cindy, was beat by Taylor in 2018 — figured there was too much demand for the matchup to not be put back together.
“I was pretty confident the fight was going to happen, but not at this magnitude,” she said.
Taylor and Serrano are featured on a billboard in Times Square and atop taxis in New York. They appeared together earlier this week on NBC’s “Today” show and on the observation deck of the Empire State Building, which on Saturday will be lit in a mixture of Ireland’s green and orange, and the red, white and blue of Puerto Rico. Some 200 members of the media are expected a couple of blocks away that night inside MSG.
“This is reflective of a broader trend in sport,” said Joseph Markowski, the executive vice president of DAZN, which will stream the card. “People are starting to realize that women, when they’re given the platform, the marketing, the PR polish that their male counterparts get, the eyeballs come. When the eyeballs come, people are entertained and amazed by what these athletes do. This is long overdue.”
Trailblazing women’s athletes such as tennis Hall of Famer Billie Jean King and boxers Laila Ali and Christy Martin have gotten in on the promotion. Ali’s father fought the most famous boxing match at Madison Square Garden, with Joe Frazier beating Muhammad Ali in their first fight in 1971.
Now it’s Taylor and Serrano who will write boxing history in the arena.
“No matter what happens Saturday night, I think the real winners are the fans and women in general and the sport of women’s boxing, because it’s only going to grow from now on,” Serrano said.
Nicole Ocasio is ready to witness history. The 21-year-old boxer has already won five national championships in the U.S. She is meeting Serrano for the first time at the Garden because the young pro athlete says she will be managed by Serrano.
“She saw that I was from Puerto Rico like her and she liked my boxing style and skill and she said that’s the one,” said Ocasio.
The fight brings together people from two parts of the world, with one strong message resonating around the Big Apple.
“They are opening so many doors for women’s boxing and just women in general, just showing all the talent we have,” said Ocasio.