Fake news, deep fakes, virtual reality – in our present moment there is something particularly thirsty for authenticity. Amanda Serrano, the seven division champion from Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood, is as authentic as it gets. In the ring, she’s pure attention and devastating power, with a hook in search of warmth and combinations you don’t see until you breathe the canvas. Outside she has that sweet combination of sincerity and bravado, both humble and determined, that says she wins every win – and she wins.
Flashy Jordans aside, there’s something no frills about Serrano, who was born in Puerto Rico before moving with her family to New York City as a child. Speaking on the phone ahead of her final title defense, she exudes such relaxed enthusiasm that it’s easy to forget that her fists finished 29 opponents inside the distance. Known for her cloistered, sports-oriented lifestyle, Serrano is in control but not tightly coiled, her affability and grounding girded with years of skill. Overall, she lives up to her nickname: The Real Deal.
At 32, the heavy southpaw has achieved almost everything a fighter could hope for. With a professional record of 39-1-1, Serrano won nine major world titles for all weights from 115 lbs to 140 lbs. At or around the top of the pound-for-pound ranking for most of the past decade, her name is now spoken with the same exultant breath as great women like Laila Ali, Christy Martin, Lucia Rijker and Ann Wolfe.
Still, Serrano has no intention of resting on its laurels. On Thursday, she will climb the ropes of the Plaza del Quinto Centenario de San Juan to face Argentina’s three-weight world champion Daniela Bermúdez (29-3-3, 10 KOs), who, despite a few knockouts in her record, has recently proved his fight. final power, winning four of his last six appearances by stoppage. Serrano’s goal is simple: to successfully and decisively defend his WBO and WBC featherweight titles. “I expect her to show up and throw a lot of punches,” Serrano said. “That’s what I’ve seen her do with great fighters, try to overwhelm them. But you know, I’m ready for every second of every minute. With every turn I’m ready to throw punches with her – mine are just a little harder.
Regardless of the added pressure of the fighting in her homeland, Serrano prepared the same way she always does: with down-to-earth tenacity. After fighting twice in 2020, including a first round knockout against Dahiana Santana in December, Serrano has remained well oiled and ready for the ring. Of course, training has evolved over the past year, as security measures due to Covid-19 have forced Serrano’s team – and athletes around the world – to adapt.
Serrano considers herself lucky. His manager has always focused on preparation, teaching him how to cultivate mental toughness and save money for this type of crisis. She also has the advantage of family ties: her main female training partner is her sister, Cindy Serrano, a professional boxer who held the WBO Featherweight Title from 2016 to 2017; and her manager is her brother-in-law, Cindy’s husband, who trains the two Serranos. Even at the claustrophobic peak of lockdown, the core team were able to stick together and continue training with a certain degree of consistency. Yet, with facilities closed and travel bans in place, logistics have not been easy. “At first it was tough, it was tough for everyone,” Serrano said. “I was lucky to have my sister with me. We just trained together, we fought together.
More recently, as restrictions have eased, gyms have reopened and the possibilities for sparring have diversified. Mixed martial artist Pearl Gonzalez, a friend of Serrano’s, traveled to San Diego earlier this month for a fight ahead of Thursday’s fight. Still, as training conditions have improved, Serrano is eager to fight at night to regain his pre-pandemic electricity. Recalling his fight against fellow Brooklynite Heather Hardy – in which Serrano won her current WBO title – at Madison Square Garden in September 2019, Serrano looked wistful: “It was awesome. Having that experience with the fans was great. Can’t wait to have it again.
If successful Thursday, the natural question is: what’s next? One wonders how such an accomplished fighter stays motivated.
Serrano seems to be focused on creating an indelible legacy. As the only Puerto Rican boxer in history, male or female, to win world titles in more than four weight classes, she wants even more pride for the island where she was born – not just by securing a victory in home against Bermúdez, but unifying the 126lbs weight class and giving Puerto Rico their first undisputed four-belt champion. To do so, Serrano must fight current WBA title holder Jelena Mrdjenovich – or Erika Cruz Hernandez, if she beats Mrdjenovich in their April 22 fight – as well as unbeaten Sarah Mahfoud, who captured the IBF belt in July. . Who fights Serrano, in what order, does not concern her: “Whoever comes first.” It does not bother me. I will fight one or the other. Either way, by the end of 2021 Serrano plans to be the undisputed featherweight champion. A much-anticipated superfight with unified lightweight champion Katie Taylor, which was announced last March only to be canceled by the pandemic, could follow.
Lest that sound like enough, however, Serrano is a two-sport athlete. In 2018, she switched to mixed martial arts, getting a draw in her first fight against Corina Herrera with Combate Americas. “I went in there not knowing much about the floor,” Serrano said. “I almost got killed in the third round. But I went back to the gym and practically ate the floor, just practiced 100% what I wasn’t comfortable in. Five months later, Serrano submitted Erendira Ordonez in the first round. Now it’s back to boxing, but Serrano isn’t done with mixed martial arts. “I still want to be a great MMA fighter.”
Serrano isn’t the only one pursuing MMA: from her former opponent Heather Hardy to Holly Holm to two-time Olympic gold medalist and unified two-weight champion Claressa Shields, many top boxers have branched out into the- beyond their original profession. This trend, and the fact that few men tend to follow suit, does not make sense. In boxing, some estimate that female fighters earn 15 to 20 cents on the dollar compared to men with the same records; Hardy reportedly won $ 7,500 for a title defense when his male counterpart on the card scored six figures. Promoters of female combatants find themselves nibbling like birds on breadcrumbs for television slots. However, MMA offers parity. The transition might not be easy, but you can’t beat the returns. MMA often provides better contracts, better scholarships, and fairer coverage, not to mention the perhaps elusive, but deeply felt, compensation of esteem. “The respect and recognition that MMA gives to their female fighters is the same as the male,” Serrano said. “In MMA it’s like there is no sex, we are fighters.”
Boxing has started to make progress, however. Women’s boxing became an Olympic sport in 2012. Last year, women were inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, incredibly, for the first time since its inception in 1990. And while women’s fights pay off still far less than men, big-draw fighters like Taylor have seen up to $ 1.4million (£ 1million) for some matches. “It’s definitely going in the right direction,” Serrano said. “Now a lot of these promoters put a girl on their show, they put her on TV where people can see there are boxers there.”
However, the differences remain glaring. When asked what is needed to keep – or ideally, push – boxing along its positive trajectory, Serrano identified visibility as a key factor. “They just need to keep putting us on. Put on good female fights and show that we have great skills. You can’t just put anything on for sure, but you just have to show the right fights and then you have a fan base and people are going to be interested.
When Serrano enters the ring this Saturday and draws closer to unification, spotlighting Puerto Rico and women’s boxing, one thing is for sure: we’ll see something real.