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Taylor, Serrano, and a night to stir the soul

Two great champions elevated their sport and levitated their audience at Madison Square Garden. It will be tough to recreate that magic without each other.

Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor embrace after their 10-round war.
Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor embrace after their 10-round war.
Image: Gary Carr/INPHO

Updated May 2nd 2022, 12:07 PM

FROM OUR VANTAGE point in the Irish press row, we could see Amanda Serrano saying something to Katie Taylor.

Her head bobbed and shook from side to side, and it looked from behind as though she was jawing at the champion with some last-minute Brooklynite discouragement. We had a clearer view of Taylor, who was facing more so in our direction. She seemed to smile at Serrano before averting her gaze, perhaps not quite knowing where to look at all.

This was seconds before Saturday night’s protagonists received their final instructions from referee Michael Griffin. It was moments before the 19,000-strong Irish and Puerto Rican crowd would combine to produce such a sound that Griffin himself couldn’t hear the bell to signal the end of the third round, allowing the fighters to continue punching each other until the timekeeper hammered the shite out of it a second time. It was about half an hour before Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano brought every spectator at Madison Square Garden — including all of the press — to their feet as the pair of boxing greats wailed on each other in search of the victory that would define their professional-boxing CVs.

And, as it so happens, Serrano hadn’t been snarling at Taylor at all. She was in fact beaming, shouting, ‘This is crazy! This is crazy!’ Taylor had smiled back at her and glanced back out toward the heaving arena because she agreed: even before leather had met skin, these two women had created something truly extraordinary. There must have even been a split second where they didn’t especially want to beat the living daylights out of each other. Mind you, if such a moment existed, they weren’t long snapping out of it.

***

As we loitered in the bowels of MSG afterwards awaiting the post-fight press conference, an Irish media colleague asked in a group of us why Taylor had opted to stand and trade with Serrano, which almost proved terminal to her title defence in an almost ostentatiously violent fifth round. Almost reflexively, I replied, ‘Because she’s a f***ing lunatic.’

I realised that I had been waiting to say it out loud for years: Katie Taylor is actually a sicko. And I mean that in the best possible way.

Behind her perfectly level, introverted demeanour lies a thrill-seeker, a daredevil, a madwoman; only where some people might do a bungee jump while ‘finding themselves’ in New Zealand, Taylor instead elects to stand and viciously exchange punches with women who hit even harder than she does.

The hilarious thing is that during a media roundtable on Thursday, Taylor literally told us that she was going to wage war with the stone-fisted Serrano at some point — it just seemed so insane as to be a throwaway remark, lip service to promote ‘a war’ instead of merely a fight.

But no, she meant it. Whatever about the blueprint laid out by her trainer, Ross Enamait, part of Taylor’s own plan all along was to try to outgun the southpaw assassin who has earned 30 of her 42 victories inside 10 rounds. Absolute wildcard behaviour.

katie-taylor-in-action-against-amanda-serrano Taylor lands a left hook. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

Trainer Enamait, usually silent during post-fight pressers, got to the crux of Taylor’s fighting spirit with a rare intervention in the early hours of Sunday morning: “She’s got balls of steel. I don’t know what else to call it,” he shrugged. Everyone in the room knew exactly what he meant, even Taylor who laughed along with the 50 or 60 reporters present.

Whatever you want to call it, Taylor possesses it to a degree that is, at times, borderline disturbing. But what became clear on Saturday night is that it has added significantly to her legend. As The42 reader Phil Greene put it to me in a message on Twitter: “Taylor the amateur was lauded for her incredible technical skills but maybe what sets Taylor the pro apart is her bottomless will.”

It’s a great point. It is her indomitable spirit, and not the science of her boxing, which has mostly endeared Taylor to an international audience in recent years, and especially to the Americans who are boarding the Taylor train just a few stops from its final destination.

But it took a combination of both skill and ‘balls’ to haul herself back into a fight with Serrano in which she was beaten, bloodied and almost bereaved of her wits in that fifth round.

Taylor entered the ring on Saturday night a boxing legend but in defying logic from that vicious onslaught onwards, bending the fight to her will in the championship rounds and even putting some hurt on Serrano before the curtain came down, she stepped out of there closer resembling a kind of mythical figure.

katie-taylor-celebrates-her-victory Taylor celebrates her victory. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

And if — as was the case with the first Delfine Persoon fight in 2019 — you don’t watch boxing regularly, and you’re wondering if Taylor truly deserved the split-decision verdict, just know that your conscience is clear: she absolutely did.

Most of the reporters in attendance with whom I spoke afterwards had Taylor edging it (I personally scored it 95-94 Taylor, awarding Serrano a 10-8 for her dominant fifth). And, if you don’t trust ringside testimony, it’s worth noting the data collected by FightScore, a boxing scorecard app which collates fans’ unofficial cards to find an average score. Over 500 observers of Saturday night’s MSG thriller produced an average of 96-94 in Taylor’s favour (the same as my personal total, but with 10-9 Serrano instead of 10-8 in the fifth).

I don’t want to say that anybody who scored the bout in Serrano’s favour didn’t know what they were watching — it was an extremely close fight — but I will say that they were probably watching DAZN whose commentary team quite frankly did Taylor’s efforts a grave disservice on occasion.

While Serrano’s hype man, the YouTuber-boxer Jake Paul, cried robbery, both Serrano and her trainer-manager Jordan Maldonado were utterly magnanimous both in the ring afterwards and at the post-fight presser. They switched the line of conversation instead towards Serrano’s contribution to a fight that will forever precede both her and its victor, crediting a “great champion” Taylor for her toughness at every opportunity. With all due respect to both of them (and they truly deserve it for their respective roles in bringing Saturday night to life), when Jordan Maldonado and Amanda Serrano aren’t whinging, then there is probably very little wrong.

There is no ambiguity about what we saw on Saturday night; no caveats as there were after the first undisputed bout with Persoon three summers ago. This was a plainly heroic Irish sporting victory earned on the world stage by one of the greatest sporting champions this country has ever seen. This was the best boxer in the world being dragged into Hell by the second best boxer in the world only to haul herself out again and illustrate why they are listed in that order by most. This was a middle finger from the bookies’ outsider Taylor — or as close as we’ll ever get to it — to those who dared doubt her, including this writer.

It was also an event which will forever remain with the relative few who were privileged enough to witness it from close quarters.

amanda-serrano-and-katie-taylor-touch-gloves-before-the-final-round Serrano and Taylor touch gloves before the 10th and final round. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

The great boxing writer, Donald McRae, summed it up typically succinctly in the post-fight presser, telling Taylor that watching the two headliners bear their souls in a volcanic MSG was a “moving” experience.

BoxingScene’s senior writer, Jake Donovan, described it as “literally the best event I’ve ever covered on location. Even my wife who almost never watches boxing was home texting me the entire fight. I will never, ever forget this night or really this entire fight week.”

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The excellent boxing photographer, Ed Mulholland, who snapped the fight from the edge of the canvas, said that he “actually had trouble staying calm at ringside, which at this point in my career never happens.”

Around 19,000 more people will carry with them similar stories into bars and gatherings for the rest of their days.

katie-taylor-shares-a-moment-with-her-mother-bridget-in-the-changing-room-after-the-fight Taylor shares a post-fight moment with her mother, Bridget. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

***

Serrano had joked earlier in the week that she hoped her fellow Puerto Ricans wouldn’t extend the fistic festivities into the stands versus their Irish counterparts. She needn’t have worried, for the atmosphere instead resembled the last 20 minutes of a Munster hurling championship game on steroids than it did anything caustic.

Sitting side by side, watching their greatest active fighters give it socks, was quite the conciliatory experience for the peoples of two islands who would have virtually no reason to ever think about each other otherwise. Many extended the shared experience into the bars of Manhattan’s West Side afterwards, where even those who weren’t lucky enough to attend the fight were kitted out in their national colours. 

Eddie Hearn joked with a Puerto Rican journalist afterwards that 6,000 people had travelled over from Ireland to watch Taylor, whereas the Puerto Ricans would be doing well to bring 600 to a potential return bout in Dublin. “Don’t be so sure,” came the proud response. 

What an event it would be, at Croke Park as mooted or elsewhere. And really, a Taylor homecoming is now the only way to top what the champion herself described as “a night to stir the soul” in New York.

Whether or not it would be possible as soon as September of this year remains unclear. What is transparent, though, is that after four years in which it would have simply made for too much hassle, the prospect is at least being tentatively revisited by Hearn and Taylor’s management.

Serrano, Maldonado, and even Jake Paul are firmly on board. Serrano seemed besotted with the Irish fans (“even though they booed me,” she laughed) while Paul, to his credit, made the point that Taylor came to his fighter’s backyard on Saturday night and that it would only be right that they return the favour for a sequel.

The upper brass at Madison Square Garden, meanwhile, have already pleaded with Hearn to take a rematch back to their place.

The only certainty for now is that Taylor and Serrano, their names forevermore synonymous, will reunite in the ring fairly soon.

On Saturday night, they produced something truly transcendent, soul-stirring and “crazy”. They elevated their sport and levitated their audience. It will be tough to recreate that magic without each other.

About the author:

Gavan Casey  / Reporting from Aer Lingus Flight EI100

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