“I mean, as good a fight as that is — come on. 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.” Bob Arum on Katie Taylor vs Amanda Serrano [IFL TV]
The above quote from 90-year-old boxing promoter Bob Arum is wrong. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but an opinion can be wrong. And the Top Rank supremo could not be more wrong in his assertions that nobody cares about women’s boxing. The fact these comments emanate from a man who promotes the IBF, WBO and The Ring super featherweight champion, Mikaela Mayer, is staggering. That a promoter could simultaneously guide the career of one of the best in the women’s game, while holding views such as this, is beyond comprehension.
There could have been some carnival bluster involved from one of the most enduring figures in the fight game. Arum is staging his own card, headlined by Shakur Stevenson vs Oscar Valdez, on the same night. In the Top Rank chief’s strained metaphor, this WBC/WBO featherweight title unification is the “Premier League”, with the economical promoter also managing to be patronising towards the growing game of women’s football with an unfavourable comparison. Arum’s derisive comments towards the hotly-anticipated Taylor vs Serrano meeting could just be an attempt to undermine a rival, with Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom staging the latter.
Even this outdated comparison does not bear even the slightest scrutiny. On what planet is a fight between the undisputed lightweight champion and a seven-division world champion who have lost just one fight between them anything less than a Premier League offering? Stevenson vs Valdez is a great fight, but Taylor vs Serrano is even better. To be so reductive towards one of the biggest fights boxing can put on in 2022 is bitter at best, and possibly sexist at worst.
Serrano’s promoter Jake Paul has emerged as an unlikely hero in this controversy. Rightly criticised for his attempts to use the fight game as a vapid content creation tool, his handling of ‘The Real Deal’ has been pitch perfect. Paul putting her on his pay-per-view undercards has made her one of the most-watched boxers on the planet, and now he has stepped in to question Arum’s comments. ‘The Problem Child’ took to his Twitter account, which has 4.1 million followers, to tweet the following:
“Men like this dinosaur are the reason women haven’t been given a fair shake in many parts of society. I feel sorry for Mikaela Mayer - she deserves better. He says ESPN doesn’t care about the biggest women’s boxing event in history? Taylor-Serrano will make history with or without you.”
In framing this as a changing of the guard, and weaponising his huge social media following in doing so, Paul has struck a clever blow for women’s boxing. In Jake’s narrative, those sceptics who deride the women’s game are old and stuck in their ways. An influencer who’s target audience is young, highlighting women’s boxing as something the youth should care about, could have a huge positive impact on the sport. Jake Paul has done plenty to rub traditionalists up the wrong way during his tenure on the lunatic fringe of the sweet science. Many people, this writer included, question whether he belongs in a boxing ring. But the way he has handled this situation should be lauded. He has not reduced the disagreement with Arum into another “got your hat” fiasco, but rather has tried his best to uplift Serrano, Mayer and the talented women of the fight game. Nice work, Jake.
Don’t expect an apology from Arum. You don’t spend seven decades promoting the toughest sport in the world by backing down. But he should reconsider his comments, and perhaps a show of contrition should be made to Mikaela Mayer. One of the most talented boxers around, the featherweight queen does not deserve to have her career asterisked by the fact her promoter has devalued her sport.
*18+ | BeGambleAware