There isn’t even a debate: The bout for the undisputed lightweight title between champion Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano is easily the most significant women’s boxing match in history, and nothing even challenges it.
They’ll fight on April 30 at Madison Square Garden in a bout that will be streamed on DAZN.
Unlike women’s MMA, women’s boxing doesn’t have much of a history of large crowds, big paydays or historical significance, largely because the establishment promoters have looked down on women’s boxing.
Other than Lou DiBella, few promoters were willing to take a chance on women and invest in them, cultivate them and work on making them stars.
So while there have been plenty of extraordinarily talented women boxers over the years, the women haven’t gotten the attention commensurate with their ability.
Promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank, whose large stable includes one woman, super featherweight champion Mikaela Mayer, was roundly criticized after making an ill-advised comment on the Taylor-Serrano match.
On the same night as Taylor-Serrano, Arum is promoting a compelling super featherweight title fight between Shakur Stevenson and Oscar Valdez. So when the 90-year-old Hall of Famer spoke to IFL TV, he of course boosted his fight at the expense of the other.
“I mean, as good a fight as that is, come on,” Arum told IFL TV. “You know, whatever reason it is, people don’t particularly pay attention to the women’s fights. The answer is ESPN made the schedule and they couldn’t care less. I don’t want to denigrate fights, I don’t want to be accused of being anti-women in sports, but I’m telling you, this is like the Premier League against women’s football.”
That was an imbecilic comment for many reasons, not the least of which is that Arum was recently unfairly accused of being racist in a lawsuit. You’d think he’d be sensitive to discriminatory comments.
But while he shouldn’t have uttered it, he wasn’t necessarily wrong. Women boxers aren’t paid nearly as much as their male counterparts. They get promoted far less. Television executives don’t spend much time on them.
And the result is that, by and large, women’s fights get far less attention.
If it were because the fighters lacked talent, weren’t compelling personalities and couldn’t put on a show, then we could attribute it to competition in the marketplace.
That’s not why it’s the case, though. Few promoters outside of primarily DiBella and more recently Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn have taken the initiative to push women’s fights. If there is one undeniable truth in boxing, it’s that no fight, male or female, will do well business-wise if the public isn’t given a reason to watch.
Taylor and Serrano are arguably the two best women’s fighters in the world, though Claressa Shields is in that conversation as well. Serrano is one of the few women with legitimate knockout power, while Taylor is an all-action fighter who puts her punches together smartly and can look like she’s in a firefight while avoiding most of the incoming shots.
They’re finally being given a platform that gives them an opportunity to succeed.
“Of course, this is the biggest female fight of all time, but it’s also one of the biggest fights in boxing,” said Hearn, whose company promotes Taylor. “April 30, the world will stop to watch these two great fighters change the sport and take women’s boxing to a new level.”
Ironically, Arum attempted to stage a massive women’s fight in 2005. Taking advantage of the Academy Award-winning movie about women’s boxing, “Million Dollar Baby,” Arum put together a bout between Lucia Rijker and Christy Martin at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas he dubbed “Million Dollar Lady.”
Each woman was guaranteed $250,000, with an extra $750,000 going to the winner. That would make the first million-dollar purse for a female boxer.
Rijker was at the time — and by many now — considered the greatest women’s boxer ever. Martin was talented, but was also the most popular thanks to appearing on numerous Mike Tyson undercards and winding up on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The fight didn’t sell, despite an ambitious promotional schedule. It reportedly had sold less than 100 tickets when Rijker tore an Achilles tendon, and the fight was canceled.
Now, did it do poorly because people weren’t interested in women’s boxing or was it because no one had ever bothered to promote women’s boxing much. Most boxing fans hadn’t even heard of Rijker, let alone the general sports fan.
In the 1990s and early part of the 21st century, women’s fights were added to cards as a gimmick. Mia St. John appeared on many Oscar De La Hoya cards, not necessarily because she could fight but because she was an attractive woman who would wind up on the cover of Playboy.
Taylor-Serrano appears to be different, but it won’t mean much if it doesn’t get promoters off their backsides and to invest in the women’s game. The UFC does extraordinarily well with women’s fights, but it’s because Dana White promotes the women the same as he does the men.
Serrano at a London news conference talked about having women’s title fights be 12 three-minute rounds, just like the men, and she’s not wrong. But she also gets the larger picture.
“I understand that this fight is iconic, but if we want to make a change for the future and get people to notice it, get these promoters to not talk badly about women,” she said. “I think we need to take a stand.”
Old habits die hard. But if these promoters open their minds and their checkbooks, they might just find a whole new business they weren’t aware existed.