When you think of boxing, one of the first venues that comes to mind is Madison Square Garden.
- Katie Taylor (20-0) takes on Amanda Serrano (42-1-1) for the world lightweight title at Madison Square Garden
- This is the first bill to be headlined by a women’s fight in the venue’s history
- Australian Skye Nicolson will fight on the undercard in her third professional bout
New York’s most famous venue been home to the greatest practitioners of the sweet science since it first hosted bouts in the 1890s.
Headlining Madison Square Garden in New York City means that you are the biggest ticket in town.
And, if you can make it there, well, you know the rest.
It’s boxing’s most hallowed arena and, this Sunday (AEDT), The Garden is set to write a new chapter in its storied history.
For the first time a women’s fight will headline a card at Madison Square Garden when Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano will meet for the undisputed lightweight world title.
It is not understating things to say that it is a watershed moment for the sport.
It’s not the first time that Madison Square Garden has ever hosted women’s boxing — that honour goes to Christy Martin and Isra Girgrah, who fought way down on the undercard of a light middleweight title eliminator in 1997.
It’s not even the first time that either women has fought at the hallowed theatre — they’ve both fought twice under that famous roof, although both Serrano’s bouts there took place in the smaller, 8,500 capacity Hulu Theatre, where George Kambosos won his unified lightweight belts last year.
This fight is taking place in the main arena though, in front of 17,500 spectators in place to witness history — and selling those seats was not an issue.
When tickets for this bout went on sale in February, it was the second-largest boxing pre-sale The Garden has ever had — something that would have been unthinkable even five years ago.
Both women have been featuring regularly on mainstream TV in the USA to help publicise the contest.
This week, the Empire State Building was lit up in the colours of Taylor’s native Ireland and the colours of Serrano’s Pureto Rican heritage after a roof-top face off.
Make no mistake, this is big time.
“It’s incredible to see how far women’s boxing has gone in just five short years,” Taylor said.
The two best fighters going head-to-head
It is difficult to overstate how wildly popular Taylor, 35, is in her native Ireland, where she is nothing short of a national treasure.
The softly-spoken star has been credited with boosting the popularity and legitimacy of women’s boxing across the world, but no more so than in Ireland.
Part of that is timing — Taylor fought in the country’s first officially sanctioned women’s bout as a 15-year-old in 2001.
The rest of it is pure hard work and skill.
A five-time World Champion in the amateur ranks, the Bray Bomber’s popularity soared at the 2012 Olympics, when she won a hugely popular gold medal in the lightweight division.
When she lost in the quarter finals at Rio four years later, it was almost enough to spark a period of national mourning.
Taylor put that disappointment behind her to by turning professional, sparking interest into the pro ranks.
Taylor has scooped up the WBA, IBF, WBO and WBC titles over an unblemished 20-fight professional career in order to rule the lightweight division, while also claiming the WBO junior welterweight title to become Ireland’s third two-weight world champion.
Serrano, on the other hand, has jumped up and down the weight divisions, winning nine belts across seven different weight classes in her 44-fight career.
The 33-year-old is currently the unified featherweight champion with a record of 42-1-1, with an impressive 30 knock outs.
Together, they are women’s boxing’s two biggest stars.
Women’s boxing does not have the same kind of depth that the men’s field enjoys, but the advantage of that is the top fighters look for their biggest rivals in order to get the biggest, highest profile fights.
Previously, that still meant paltry pay days compared to what the top men’s fighters would earn.
Serrano told the BBC that after becoming a multi-division world champion she was still only earning purses of between $US1,500 ($2,100) to $US4,000 ($5,600).
For this fight though, they’re finally earning the big bucks, seven figures each according to their promoters Jake Paul and Eddie Hearn.
“These big, huge, mega fights are the kind of fights I’ve always wanted to be involved in ever since I was a kid.”
Australian star set to open the show
Both Taylor and Serrano are headlining, but this night is far from being all about them.
Taylor and Serrano’s ascent to being top of the bill at Madison Square Garden lays the path for other young boxers set to follow in their footsteps, including Australia’s own Skye Nicolson, who will fight on the undercard.
“It’s been huge,” Nicolson told Patricia Karvelas on RN Breakfast.
I think everyone’s been quite shocked about the attention and the media and the hype… but it’s so exciting, it’s so good, it’s so positive for women’s boxing.”
Nicolson, (2-0), who became the first Australian woman to reach the quarter finals at an Olympic Games last year in Tokyo, takes on Shanecqua Paisley Davis (3-1) in what is just her third professional fight.
Describing Taylor as a “roll model and an inspiration”, Nicolson said the rise of women’s boxing is down to people like Taylor and Serrano.
“It’s because of the trail blazers like Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, they’ve really paved the way for women’s boxing. To be on their undercard is amazing, a dream come true,” she said.
“The way women’s boxing has grown over the past couple of decades, it’s very cool to be in the midst of it and be a part of it all.”
Nicolson, who won Commonwealth Games gold in 2018 on the Gold Coast, said that big events like that slated for Saturday night will see women’s boxing continue to grow.
“I think we’re on a great trajectory,” Nicolson said.
“It’s headed in the right direction and it’s because of nights like this… that it’s going to keep going in that direction.
“I think the more eyes we can get on the sport the more girls we can inspire to take up the sport, the more it’s going to grow.
“I hope that I can be a roll model to that next generation and be a trail blazer for them.”