Taylor’s and Serrano’s futures entwined in adding to New York City’s mythology

Boxing has always fitted in with Madison Square Garden’s affairs of demigods and goons

Leaving Brooklyn Bridge and the East River behind, lurching along the choked one-way streets through midtown Manhattan towards Madison Square Garden and shameless New York cannot help exposing its seamy side. Outdoors in daylight has never been flattering to the old doll.

Fifth Avenue and the copper sheen of Trump Tower’s blinged out facade might give another impression, one of glamour and chintz. But New York has a running theme that plays to the constant wail of sirens, car horns and reversing garbage trucks.

For every Carrie Bradshaw there is a Travis Bickle. For each endearing Chandler of Friends there is a menacing Luca Brasi. Themes play out and because it is New York they inflate and expand like the city. Nothing is too big.

Serrano, whose counter-cultural motif is no cell phone and no boyfriend, has captured the zeitgeist as much as Taylor has

This past week undisputed lightweight world champion Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano, the Puerto Rican, seven-weight world champion, have been all around town winning over the city.


At the Empire State Building viewing gallery on Tuesday they “faced” off, Taylor as ever deliberate and understated refusing to turn the arrangement into a nose to nose “thug off”.

Before they climbed the building, the two sat across a table, a more restrained Taylor in a white jacket and black sweater, Latino Serrano ripped, sleeveless, popping her guns and rolling her fists for the cameras.

On Wednesday in Madison Square Garden they performed a public workout as spring sunshine washed over the buildings, throwing tidal wave sized shadows and suddenly Manhattan was looking zesty and fresh.

Taylor and Serrano’s histories could not be further apart. But this weekend their futures are entwined in adding to the city’s mythology. Boxing as much, or, even more than other sports has always fitted in comfortably with the Garden’s affairs of demigods and goons.

"An incredible building here for an incredible fight, an incredible moment for the sport of boxing," said Taylor's outsized promoter Eddie Hearn alerting the boxing world to the first time female boxers will headline at Madison Square Garden.

Taylor has been here before and has fought twice professionally in the Garden against Delfine Persoon in 2019 and Eva Wahlstrom the year before on her way to her current 20-fight unbeaten run. But her billing has always been one of the treats from the undercard until this week.

The 35-year-old knows the kind of support she can expect. But against the local champion from Brooklyn, the Irish Olympic gold medal winner cannot expect the walkways around Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen to be running entirely green.

“I wanna get it over with,” said Serrano feeling the heat. The final week run-in never moves fast enough. “I’m looking forward to Sunday, spending time with my family, eating burgers and shakes, fries. I wanna good week ... no disrespect to Katie Taylor... but not hearing her name... it’s been such a long time for years and years and years ...”

Serrano, whose counter-cultural motif is no cell phone and no boyfriend, has captured the zeitgeist as much as Taylor has. Since Jake Paul, the social media influencer, YouTuber and wannabe professional boxer walked into her life, her days of world title fights for less than the cost of her training bills and accommodation were over.

"Amanda was fighting world title fights for $2,000. If that's not for the love of sport, then what is," said Jordan Maldonado, trainer and manager to Amanda and her sister Cindy, who Taylor defeated in 2018.

On another occasion in a fight televised for premium television network Showtime in 2017, Serrano, then a five-weight world champion, earned $17,500 for a win over Yazmin Rivas.

She persevered. Later adding two more titles, the range of her ability has given her an extraordinary reign over every weight division between 115 and 140 pounds, as well as a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the most boxing world championships won in different weight divisions by a female.

Born in Carolina on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico, Serrano moved to the threadbare Bushwick district of Brooklyn with her family when she was eight months old.

“That’s always been my home. It was my grandparents’ home, then my dad bought it from my grandparents so that’s definitely one of my final destinations. Bushwick is my home for life,” she said.

In 2017, the affinity to the district of Amanda “The Real Deal” and Cindy “Checkmate” was expressed after one of their visits to Puerto Rico. A local artist had painted a mural, a dual portrait on a wall in Brooklyn’s Harman Street and Knickerbocker Avenue.

Like Taylor and Bray, Serrano’s affinity to place breaks both ways and just as Taylor’s family drew her to boxing, Amanda’s introduction came through older sister Cindy, who went to the local gym to lose weight after the birth of her daughter.

The gym was owned by Cindy’s boyfriend and future husband Maldonado and 12-year-old Amanda was in tow to babysit while her sister worked out.

As boxing histories go Maldonado is a photo fit for the New York underside back story. Almost too cliched to recall, his was more than a boxing gym.

In a 2008 case involving The People of the State of New York/County of Queens v Jordan Maldonado/Cindy Serrano Defendants, Maldonado pleaded fifth-degree guilty to criminal sale of a controlled substance and was sentenced to one year in jail.

Co-defendant Cindy Serrano pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal facilitation and was sentenced to six months licence suspension in February of the same year.

An undercover cop approached Maldanado and was given 2595 Oxandrolone pills (anabolic steroids) and 1,846 Methandrostenolone pills (anabolic steroids). Cindy then approached and informed the same cop that the pills would cost $1,660. The cop then handed Maldonado the required sum.

On another occasion Maldonado had a drug-related conversation with an undercover cop, who gave him $1,180. He then told Cindy in “sum and substance to get the ’roids out of his duffel bag in the back of the van”. She left and returned with seven bottles of Deca-Durabolin (anabolic steroids), which she gave to the cop.

There would be no Madison Square Garden tonight if there was no redemption piece. As much as Amanda was entirely innocent and all this week cut nothing less than a sweet natured figure, her family entanglement with Maldonado, still a central figure, remains a rooted part of the history.

New York and boxing can and does forgive many things. In second-chance city, one of the results of the influence and promotional zest Serrano’s promoter Paul helped engineer was the fighting pose image of the 33-year-old, not Ireland’s iconic face, on the cover of this week’s edition of New York’s celebrated magazine The Village Voice.

Serrano, says The Village Voice, “is breaking new ground at Madison Square Garden and it didn’t happen overnight.”

That, of course, is Taylor’s story too. Anyone who has been listening to her talk over the last 15 years has heard the same mantra of breaking down barriers. So much so that maybe the message has become unheard.

First the sport was her competitor, while the Olympic Games was a cold house until 2012. Still, more persuasion was needed. Now between them and Hearn and Paul, they have created the biggest and most lucrative event to take place in women’s boxing.

Each fighter will break the glass ceiling of earning $1 million in the Mecca of boxing. Taylor’s side have been reticent on the figures but not Serrano’s team.

“I’ve been in boxing my whole life and this is something that I did not see coming,” said Maldanado. “The greatest females in the world. The two best of the best. Amanda Serrano and Katie Taylor, they are fighting Saturday in Madison Square Garden. The first time in 140 years two women are headlining and they are also making seven figures, which is the biggest payday for a female.”

While it took time, the seven figures came from the USA's Clarissa Shields, Britain's Nicola Adams and Taylor winning the first women's gold medals in the docklands at the London Olympic Games. Set notions on women in boxing, which were almost entirely framed by the patriarchy that ran the sport, began to noticeably shift.

But it was Ronda Rousey, a 2008 Olympic bronze medal winner in judo, who became one of the first women to sign into contact sport and compete in the United Fighting Championship (UFC).

Shields went onto win another gold medal under Ireland's Billy Walsh in Rio 2016, while the lack of opportunity and money in professional boxing forced Serrano to also switch to UFC as Taylor's post amateur career was just beginning.

From there to here saw Taylor on an ever-upward curve while Serrano fell back into boxing, collecting and consolidating belts with the Irish champion’s rise to the top seen by those in the division as the prize asset.

Paul's influence on making the fight happen has been profound and his ability to change the life of Serrano, in her eyes, has qualified him as an American dream maker

Paul’s company Most Valuable Promotions jumped into promoting Serrano only two years ago, her name the one that emerged from Showtime. After she signed up with him, almost instantly his promotional pizazz delivered what was easily her biggest purse.

For the 10-round win over Yamileth Mercado in the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland, Serrano made $400,000. Weeks later she signed the deal with MVP and the following January the Taylor fight was agreed.

“I guess I became aware of Jake Paul when he had his first fight,” said Taylor smiling. “Fight,” she repeated holding her forefingers in the air miming “fight” in quotes and laughing. Paul’s first professional outing was a hyped event against fellow celebrity YouTuber AnEsonGib.

“That’s my idea of trash talk,” added Taylor laughing. “That’s it over. But yeah, he obviously started working with Amanda and here we are.”

The 25-year-old Paul, a savvy, independent and outspoken millennial with chutzpah has been unashamedly truthful about his roll. Speaking from a hot tub at his training base in California, prior to his debut fight, the man Hearn called a “disrupter” laid out his reasons for jumping head first into Serrano and boxing promotion.

“There’s a huge lane for celebrities or whatever you want to call us to make a lot of f**king noise and sell tickets. At the end of the day, it’s a f**kin’ business,” said Paul before beating his celeb brother in a parodic first-round stoppage.

“Somebody asked me earlier ‘do you like Jake Paul?’” said Hearn earlier this week.

“I haven’t really thought about it. I am using Jake Paul. He is using me.”

Either way Paul’s influence on making the fight happen has been profound and his ability to change the life of Serrano, in her eyes, has qualified him as an American dream maker.

“I just know he’s been working with Amanda for the last couple of fights and obviously we were in talks for a couple of years,” added Taylor. “I’m glad that he’s involved now to get this fight over the line. Originally I was thinking I’d be on the undercard of a Jake Paul fight. That would have been an awful shame

“But obviously here we are headlining and Jake has been an absolute gentleman these last few months – I can’t say anything bad about him. She’s a legend of this sport and has been for a long time. She’s a great fighter, a great champion, very skilful, technically very good. I’m aware of the challenge ahead of me. I’m ready to perform.”

With that the lightweight world champion leaves for the Hulu Theatre in Madison Square Garden to join Serrano and finally bring to a close the theatrical and promotional part of their week. On stage inside a recorded video message plays to the hall. The 44-year-old daughter of Muhammad Ali, Laila, who had a professional boxing career that ended in 2007 is reaching out across the generations to Taylor and Serrano.

She never made top of the bill in the Garden. But from her own complex life with her father and her boxing career she understands sisterhood and history when it is happening.

“This is major, not just for me or Katie but for the sport of women’s boxing,” said Serrano. “I mean this is just history in the making. This is my first time fighting in the Garden. Katie has fought here multiple times. But the first one to be the main event... wow like no pressure guys.”

The sign outside Madison Square Garden facing at an angle towards the steps of Penn Station repeats the message. “Taylor v Serrano: For History.” Tonight, the Empire State Building just a few blocks away on Fifth Avenue will light up in the green, white and orange of Taylor and the red, white and blue of Puerto Rico.

New York is not ignoring the moment or the mood. Serrano is absorbing it, Taylor is wearing it and Hearn appears intoxicated by it. A local girl from Bushwick going global, a boxing life looking up, Ireland and Brooklyn looking on.