NEW YORK — Katie Taylor showed up to the weigh-in Friday afternoon and it was then — more than 24 hours before she’d be in the ring inside Madison Square Garden against Amanda Serrano — where the gravity of everything they’d been trying to pull off might happen.
She’s seen big weigh-ins before. But inside the Hulu Theater it was like, are you kidding me? The crowd was intense. Loud. Massive, especially for a weigh-in. Puerto Rican fans and Irish fans waving their flags, chanting and turning a mundane part of a boxing week into its own sideshow.
For months, they’d billed Taylor-Serrano as the biggest fight in women’s boxing history. Now they would have to deliver.
“It was something like an Anthony Joshua weigh-in or a Canelo [Alvarez] weigh-in,” Taylor said. “I never experienced anything like that throughout my professional career and just selling out Madison Square Garden here tonight, the atmosphere was amazing.
“Tonight was just very, very, very special and I don’t know what else to say.”
By the time a still bloody Taylor sat at a dais flanked by her promoter, Eddie Hearn, and her trainer, Ross Emanait, after defending her undisputed lightweight title in a split decision win over Amanda Serrano, she had her answer.
Katie Taylor, right and Amanda Serrano put on one of the best fights of the year Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Ed Mulholland/Matchroom
Taylor-Serrano had done more than produce a memorable fight on a night where women’s boxing received a rare spotlight. It had created boxing excellence, and it showed the possibility of a sport both growing in potential stars while needing a moment to latch to.
If things had gone well, it would have attracted attention. If it had gone perfectly — and Saturday night was close — it could transform and elevate the entirety of the sport.
“Madison Square Garden, you think of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier,” Taylor said. “People will absolutely be talking about myself and Amanda Serrano for years and years to come.
“This is a history-making fight and it definitely lived up to that expectation.”
The entire promotion — on posters, as part of the title card and even as the hashtag they tried to push the past few weeks, had all been focused on one thing: History. The first women to ever headline the Garden’s big room. Taylor and Serrano were asked to do next to impossible Saturday night.
They were asked to live up to the outsized reality that is promoting any sport, but especially boxing. This could have easily been a letdown. These events can get swallowed by the gravity of the promotion and the intensity of the moment.
Taylor-Serrano exceeded what people might have expected, what the promoters had billed. As Taylor and Serrano stood in the middle of the ring in the final minute, decibels from the crowd rising with each punch thrown, everything they hoped for was reality.
Serrano had a bruised face; Taylor a bloodied nose and a cut over her right eye. The crowd provided an intense atmosphere. All of the necessary ingredients were in place to create a big moment in The Garden.
If you wanted a scrap, Taylor and Serrano delivered. If you wanted a technical fight between two different styles of fighters trying to game plan how to attack one another? You got that, too.
The only thing that didn’t happen was a knockdown or a knockout, but some of the best fights don’t end like that. Why? Because the fight was even. Two fighters of equal stature, making life difficult for the other one.
“Tonight is the moment where we stop talking about women’s and men’s boxing,” Hearn said. “Just boxing. Because that was one of the best fights I’ve ever witnessed live.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn, right, celebrates Katie Taylor’s victory over Amanda Serrano. Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
The energy was obvious from the beginning. A full two hours before Taylor and Serrano left their dressing rooms, cheers erupted whenever Taylor or Serrano’s name was mentioned. At 8:20 p.m., when video was shown of each fighter walking into the Garden, it was like they were heading into the arena bowl.
As the moment came closer, the crowd grew more frenzied – “Ole, Ole, Ole” constantly chanted throughout the Liam Smith-Jessie Vargas undercard in front of an area where nearly every seat was filled.
During the ring walks, both fighters seemed to pick up the gravity of the moment, to appreciate what they were going through just a bit more. Taylor appeared to pause at the top of the ring before walking into it, briefly looking like a small smile had creased her serious fight-night demeanor. Later, she said this night eclipsed the night she won the Olympic gold medal in 2012 in London.
Serrano smashed her gloves together when introduced, this after raising her fist to the crowd in acknowledgment before entering the ring.
“It was just a crazy feeling,” Serrano said. “You had two women, main-eventing a sold-out MSG, who would have thought that? You had two great champions going out there, giving it their all and the crowd was truly amazing.
“…My last two events, I was the co-main even with Jake Paul and I was able to experience that but this time, it was me, and I was told to enjoy every minute of it and that’s what I did. I just took it all in.”
When the fight started, Serrano couldn’t hear anything specific. The noise was so loud — and so close to being constant — that she couldn’t hear from her corner, trainer Jordan Maldonado and her sister, former professional boxer Cindy Serrano.
That is what they wanted. An environment like this. A night like this. A chance to tangibly grow the sport they’ve cared so much about. That was the lofty goal going in beyond the practicalities of winning and losing, of legacies and what Taylor called “career-defining moments.” It’s risky to manifest that. So much could go wrong. But Taylor and Serrano did the remarkable.
They put women’s boxing on the top of the marquee with their fists. They pulled it off.