What Will Katie Do Next?

BJ Quinn

April 30th, 2022, Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano was marketed as the ‘biggest women’s fight of all time’. On paper, the event broke all the records before the bell was rung: It was the first female fight ever to headline at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden; the biggest purse in women’s boxing (seven figures according to promoters); and attracted an unprecedented audience of 1.5 million worldwide, setting a new high for women’s boxing. However, boxing has a habit of overselling and under delivering, it’s hard not to yawn when recalling Floyd Mayweather’s ‘Fight of the Century’ against Manny Pacquiao in 2015, a highly technical but tedious affair. But if there ever was a bout to sell the sport to a broad, casual audience, Taylor’s hard-earned triumph over Serrano was it.

For Irish fans, every Katie Taylor fight is big. But it’s safe to say she has always lacked a quality dance partner – not in terms of skill, but status – to capture a wider audience. At 33, Serrano has achieved nearly everything a fighter could hope for. With a professional record of 42-1-1, the dangerous southpaw has taken nine major world titles across every weight from 115lbs to 140lbs. Her illustrious career wasn’t without its setbacks, of course – the same obstacles facing countless other women in the fight game: sceptical promoters and tv networks unwilling to take a chance of female boxing. Then came 2012, a monumental year on two counts: the debut of women’s boxing in the Olympics and a year which saw the UFC (the largest mixed martial arts promotion in the world) begin to sign female MMA fighters to compete in the octagon – incidentally causing many female boxers to transition over to MMA for fairer pay and promotion. Both cultural events offered a newfound visibility and respect for female combat sports.

Amanda Serrano’s fame has grown in recent years thanks to her unlikely partnership with youtube-provocateur-turned-boxer Jake Paul. Nicknamed ‘The Problem Child’, the 25-year-old has been making waves in the boxing world for a few years now, in and outside the ring. His accomplishments have ranged from knocking out little-known celebrities and sports people inside the squared circle to founding his very own promotional outfit, MVP (Most Valuable Promotions). This past September, Serrano became the first fighter to sign with Paul’s nascent company. “This is really just a perfect relationship with perfect timing,” Paul told TalkSport on signing the Puerto Rican fighter last year. “I’m one of the most valuable boxers and Amanda is the most valuable pound-for-pound female boxer in the world. With us coming together, the sky’s the limit.”

Co-promoting the historic clash alongside Paul was Eddie Hearn, son of legendary promoter Barry Hearn and chairman of Matchroom Boxing, which, in 2016, signed Katie Taylor to their stable of fighters. Taylor’s fight against Serrano wasn’t just one of the best bouts in recent memory; it was a masterclass in promotion. Both grade-A gabbers with a combined 5.5m followers on Twitter, at times the hype-men appeared to take a lot of the limelight, stealing some shine away from the main event in the process. But, in the end, their altercations, fiery Q&A sessions, and their $1million bet on the winner – which they were forced to cancel after being advised that promoters shouldn’t be betting on their own fights – brought more eyes to the fight, 1.5 million pairs of eyes according to DAZN (the $4bn sports streaming service that owns the rights to Katie Taylor’s fights).

On fight week, reports suggested the Irish fans weren’t making the trip in large numbers as expected. Thankfully, the drought didn’t last long, though, as during the weigh-ins Irish fans flooded Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theatre with the sweet sounds of Ole Ole Ole chants as Taylor hit the scales. This wasn’t your run-of-the-mill weigh-in ceremony; this was a big-time production! The rivals were introduced by WWE superstars Becky Lynch (another Bray native, cheering for Taylor, of course) and Bianca Belair (rooting for Serrano), and then faced off post-weigh-in to the adrenaline-pumping sounds of Kashmir by Led Zeppelin played live on stage by violinists.

The fight itself was initially scheduled for May 2020 but cancelled due to the pandemic. A blessing in disguise perhaps, because this time around the build-up felt even bigger. And nowhere was that more noticeable than on fight night, listening to a sold-out Madison Square Garden crowd in the early hours of Sunday morning. In what is already being considered an iconic ring walk, Taylor, unhurried and flanked by her small team, marched towards destiny, drinking in every moment along the way. Her song of choice, Awake My Soul by Hillsong Worship and Tasha Cobbs Leonard, at first proved a slow-burner, hardly a tune to get the crowd going. But it soon became clear that no song, be it Christian Pop or Heavy Metal could match the deafening roars of the Irish crowd in attendance trying their best to send the roof of Madison Square Garden into orbit. Cheers, shouts, yells and hollers all crescendoed as ring announcer David Diamante took to the microphone to deliver his signature catchphrase, “The fight starts now!”

Ten rounds later, Taylor’s bruised and battered face still managed to hold a smile. Ireland’s greatest sportsperson and global superstar fought back from the brink to narrowly outscore Serrano on the judges’ scorecards via split-decision. It was close, but Taylor got the win as she moved to 21-0 in her career. Gracious in defeat, the Puerto Rican took a moment to address the bigger picture: “They say nobody wants to see women! But women can sell, women can fight and we put on a hell of a show.” Serrano had nothing but praise for Taylor in her performance and expressed her hope that they could run it back again.

As for Taylor, she is adamant that the rematch take place in Croke Park. “We could sell out Croke Park,’’ she told reporters after the fight. “We’ve seen something special here tonight, but imagine fighting in front of 80,000 or 90,000 people at Croke Park. Absolutely that can happen.” Hearn has always hinted at the possibility of Taylor fighting on home soil in the past, but, at the same time, is quick to deflect or downplay its likelihood. Croke Park is a notorious tricky spot, especially for sports events catering largely to American TV audiences. Even more troubling, though, is the lingering presence of MTK Global, a boxing management company founded by alleged drug trafficker Daniel Kinahan. Even though the outfit declared it was shutting down in April, there’s still a feeling that October (a suggested date for the Taylor vs. Serrano rematch) is simply too soon to return to Dublin with the Irish boxing industry correcting itself.

There is a political incentive for staging the rematch at Croke Park, it sends the right message. Let us not forget that Taylor has never fought in Ireland during her professional career. Far from a sporting event, this would go down as a national celebration – a grand homecoming. 50 years ago, the King of boxing, Muhammad Ali, lit up Croker (the last time a boxing event has taken place in the iconic sports venue), in 2022, let’s hope the Queen of boxing does the same.