Katie Taylor went to the trenches and emerged a heroic victor over Amanda Serrano in New York tonight.
The Wicklow lightweight defended her undisputed crown at Madison Square Garden, overcoming a shakey middle portion to finish strong and seal an incredible win.
The first female bout to headline at ‘The Mecca of Boxing’, it was a fitting occasion and fight, with Taylor’s skill and will overcoming the power and ferocity of Serrano.
Hurt badly in the fifth, it looked as though Taylor may be stopped but the Olympic gold medallist summoned something from somewhere to win enough rounds to seal a split-decision win, the best of her professional career.
A fight which Taylor had had her eye on since turning pro in 2016, further juice was injected when the Irishwoman embarrassingly dominated elder sister Cindy Serrano in Boston in 2018. The unsavoury scenes with trainer Jordan Maldonado in the aftermath of that fight edged the hype up another couple of notches and, after much rigmarole and a brief stint in MMA for Serrano, the contest was made for a Dillian Whyte undercard in Manchester in May 2020.
Covid, of course, intervened, and efforts to make the match for the first Fight Camp at Matchroom HQ fell through. This would prove to be for the best, commercially at least, as Serrano would align with Jake Paul and amplify her standing in the sport with a run of wins.
However, whilst Serrano’s star rose, Taylor had been viewed to be on the slide throughout 2021. A clash with Natasha Jonas was an unexpected classic and the Bray boxer was far from her best in follow-up bouts with the unheralded Jennifer Han and Firuza Sharipova – although a claimed torn calf in these latter two bouts may provide some context.
Regardless, all this meant that Taylor came to the ring tonight an underdog, albeit a narrow one, for the first time in her life. There was encouragement, though, in fight week. While many in Irish boxing entered these past few days with a nagging sense of dread, the unnerving confidence of Taylor was cause for optimism and questions around Serrano became the narrative. Just how impressive was her seven-weight world champion status – six of which were vacant belts – and how does the recent super flyweight champion’s physicality match up with career lightweight Taylor?
Serrano, with Paul featuring prominently, entered first to a blend of cheers and boos before Taylor made the walk. Arriving slowly, the Wicklow woman sucked in every moment of the long walk. As the fighters were announced it was confirmed, a sell-out – not that the atmosphere would have anyone doubting that.
Despite the electricity, it was cagey to start – with the fast hands of the circling Taylor banking the first.
The speed differential was telling in the second, with the counter check hooks of Taylor scoring, although some straight lefts from Serrano did make it through, one towards the end of the stanza potentially putting the round up for grabs in the minds of the judges.
With the distance closing in the third, there were furious exchanges, Serrano landing hard straight shots but the flurries from Taylor were not without their weight. Trading at the bell, neither Serrano nor the referee heard the gong such was the noise being generated.
Holding her feet in the fourth, Taylor rattled home heavy right hands as Serrano sought to rake to the body. Gruelling stuff, the champion returned to her corner with a cut above her left eye.
Serrano forced Taylor to the corner in a disastrous fifth. Initially trying to trade hooks off the ropes, Taylor made it to centre ring but was hurt badly with straight shots. Nose busted, a dazed Taylor took huge punishment but managed, somehow, to see out the round.
Wobbly-legged, Taylor tried her utmost in the sixth, enjoying some success but with no real snap in her punches. Serrano looked destructive with every punch landed but, all in all, it was a solid recovery round for Taylor.
Going back to her boxing and slowing the pace in round seven, the muscle-memory of Taylor seemed to establish something of a beachhead.
Frustrating Serrano, Taylor enjoyed a good eighth, boxing smart and regaining her legs as the Caribbean puncher swung wildly.
The challenger came out aggressively in the penultimate round but the quality work was Taylor’s, with the straight right hand counter working beautifully.
The final round was messy as both abandoned the gameplans and threw down. Head clashes everywhere, Serrano was cut bad as both traded, exhausted, to the bell, with Taylor hurt but fighting through.
Going to the cards with no certainty whatsoever, there was a prolonged delay and, of course, it was a split decision. The first call was a 96-94 to Serrano followed quickly by a 97-93 for Taylor. The final card – 96-93 – was given the way of Taylor and pandemonium ensued, with the Irish legend giving an outpouring of joy only matched by her Olympic heroics of 2012,
Irish-Boxing.com scored the bout 96-94 to Taylor.
The legacy-sealing win sees Taylor improve to 21(6)-0 while the fearsome Serrano slips to 42(30)-2(0)-1.
In terms of what’s next? Who cares? There’ll be talk of a repeat but Taylor has nothing left to prove. That said, Eddie Hearn’s suggestion of a rematch in Croke Park is hard to ignore!