Jake Paul was at the centre of another huge boxing event, but this time he was in a suit and tie rather than shorts and gloves. The influencer turned retirement home-raiding quasi-fighter was inside Madison Square Garden in his capacity as the promoter of Amanda Serrano. His charge lost a tight split decision in an instant classic for the undisputed lightweight championship against Katie Taylor. The bout was billed as the biggest in the history of the women’s sport, and the action lived up to the billing. In what proved to be a tremendous argument for boxing’s rude health, it was not the only huge world title attraction that night.
One week removed from Tyson Fury retaining the heavyweight championship of the world in front of 94,000 fans at Wembley Stadium, boxing once again flexed its muscles. In addition to a women’s title fight that will be remembered for generations to come, fans also caught a glimpse of the man who may lead this current generation.
Super featherweight sensation Shakur Stevenson unified the WBO and WBC championships with a punch-perfect decision over unbeaten Oscar Valdez. The 24-year-old is now 18-0, and a two-weight world champion. The New Jersey southpaw is already earning comparisons to the likes of Floyd Mayweather, and if he continues at this pace he could well follow in the footsteps of ‘Money’.
As impressive as Stevenson was, Taylor and Serrano stole the weekend, and perhaps even the year, with their titanic tussle. The heavily-hyped showdown between perhaps the two finest female fighters on the planet was the first women’s fight to headline Madison Square Garden. After ten rounds of incredible back-and-forth action there is no doubt the great and the good of women’s boxing will be asked back. Talk is already hotting up surrounding a rematch. Given the first fight was an absolute barnstormer, it stands to reason the anticipation and box office potential would be even greater for a second go-round.
Recent years have been dominated by exhibitions, ex-fighters and non-fighters. Paul is chief among them, but we have seen ring returns for Floyd Mayweather, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield with more on the horizon as Ricky Hatton prepares to fight again this summer. Francis Ngannou was straight in the ring after Fury stopped Dillian Whyte, talking up essentially a glorified spar with the WBC champion. The spotlight has been stolen by fighters who are no longer, or never were, fighters competing in fights that aren’t really fights. Taylor-Serrano will be talked about in 50 years as both a breakthrough moment for women’s boxing and a classic bout in its own right. Will Mayweather’s dull move-around with Jake’s brother Logan be remembered in these terms? Will memories of Jake himself pole-axing Ben Askren occupy a space in the public consciousness even five years in the future?
What this weekend demonstrated most of all is that boxing is a thriving sport. It has suffered for years in the shadow of the UFC, with the MMA giant proving more adept at establishing clear champions and getting their best fighters in the cage opposite each other. But the Queensberry Rules are making a comeback, and Stevenson and Taylor’s victories suggest the resurgence will continue.
This coming Saturday, the biggest name in the sport returns. Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, fresh from becoming the first undisputed super middleweight champion in history, faces WBA light heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol. It’s yet another enticing match-up, with the unbeaten Bivol posing another interesting challenge for the imperial ‘Canelo’ to try and conquer. This huge fight night is followed a week later by Jermell Charlo’s rematch with Brian Castano. After fighting to a draw in July of last year, the light middleweight world champions meet again to crown an undisputed king.
If you’re a fan of boxing, you have a lot of reasons to be cheerful. Saturday was a strong, powerful statement from a sport on the rise after some fallow years. With more unifications, undisputed title bouts and quality match-making than ever, boxing is finally beating back the exhibition takeover. Long may it continue.