The biggest fight of this incredible era of women’s boxing takes place this weekend as Katie Taylor meets Amanda Serrano. The Irish superstar puts her undisputed lightweight championship on the line against seven-weight world champion Serrano in the very definition of a super-fight. What has been most striking is the relative ease with which such a big match-up has been made. With Claressa Shields against Savannah Marshall looking likely later in the year, and high-profile match-ups involving Mikaela Mayer, Ebanie Bridges, Alycia Baumgardner and Chantelle Cameron set to follow, we truly are living through a golden era in the women’s sport.
Meanwhile on the male side of the fence, similar super-fights are proving hard to come by. Tyson Fury claims to have retired, leaving an undisputed title clash with the winner of Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua on the table. Meanwhile, while no one can fault Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez for taking the brave step up to fight light-heavyweight champion Dmitry Bivol, it would have been nice to see the undisputed super-middleweight champion fight top contender David Benavidez first. Errol Spence Jr and Terence Crawford are still circling each other at welterweight, years after their potential bout first appeared on “Dream Fight” lists. Boxing is swamped with world class talent but, at least in the men’s game, not enough of these stars are fighting each other.
So why is boxing better at getting its world class women into the ring than its elite men? There are many potential reasons. Firstly, women’s boxing is a young sport. Professional boxing in an organised form can be traced back to 1891. In contrast, Great Britain did not stage a paid women’s contest until 1998. The huge chasm in the relative ages of the sports throws up a few details that explain why women’s boxing has been better poised to deliver marquee matches.
One is the crowning of world champions. With some high-profile exceptions, we have grown accustomed to a male boxer taking around 15-25 fights to secure a first world title shot. There are outliers of course, but the usual route for a male boxer’s development is usually on this timeline. That number is much lower in women’s boxing. This weekend’s principles, Taylor and Serrano, aptly demonstrate this phenomenon.
Taylor won a world title in her seventh professional outing, while Serrano captured one in her 13th. Ebanie Bridges just secured her first major belt in her ninth outing, having lost a world title challenge in her sixth bout. Because the sport is still growing, the bar for a world title shot is lower. This does not detract from the incredible talent in the sport, but it does lead to unification fights being easier to make. With fighters claiming world titles sooner, they are more keen to spend their remaining prime years building upon their legacy with unification fights.
The other upshot of women’s boxing’s up-and-coming status is that promoters within the sport are working hard to make attractive fights that fans want to watch. Men’s boxing has always been there, and likely always will be. But women’s boxing is only just entering an era where major fights can headline arena shows on a regular basis. Where a fight like Taylor-Serrano serves as a main event on a pay subscription service, rather than as a co-feature or a free-to-air bonus. It is in the best interests of promoters like Eddie Hearn and Jake Paul, who are cooperating to put on this weekend’s extravaganza, to work together for the betterment of the sport.
Over in the men’s ranks, promoters often jealously guard their fighters, only allowing them to face boxers who they promote, or compete in fights where they have won the purse bid. Women’s boxing has thus far avoided such political machinations, as there is an unspoken sense between camps that making the biggest fights will improve the overall health of the sport. Every major promoter now features female fighters in their stable, even noted sceptic Bob Arum.
His comments about women’s boxing, saying it’s relationship to the men’s game was “the Premier League against women’s football”, were ridiculous. But he has brought unified super-featherweight champion Mikaela Mayer along brilliantly, to the point where she is one of the most recognisable stars in American boxing. Every promoter seems to be buying into the fact that women’s boxing is not only here to stay, but will form a core part of the sport at large going forward.
As we prepare to watch history unfold, it is worth lauding the sport for getting such a mega-fight done. With Marshall-Shields and potentially a whole host of other headliners lined up, 2022 is looking like the year of women’s boxing. If the men’s game doesn’t want to get left behind, then promoters need to start taking the same cooperative attitude they do to staging women’s fights. Boxing needs more Taylor vs Serrano style occasions across all genders and weight divisions.