Puerto Rican boxer Amanda Serrano steps into the ring at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on April 22 with a mission: Win a fifth world title. And break the four-title tie with fellow Puerto Rican, Miguel Cotto.
Serrano is looking to make history, and certainly, has a good chance of making it. With a fight record of 31 victories, 23 by way of knockout, Serrano is one of the most dominant professional women boxers today. Her only loss came from a battle with Swedish fighter Friday Wallberg in April 2012.
Like most women boxing champions in the US, Serrano is celebrated, but her skills are severely undervalued. In a sport where each victory increases a fighter’s earning power, Serrano’s 31-1-1 record and her 70% knockout rate still hold little value.
Based on data compiled by BoxRec, Serrano has a knockout rate of 70%, a rate that puts her slightly lower than Cotto’s 73%, but, notably, higher than superstars Floyd Mayweather with 53% and Manny Pacquiao with 57%.
Cotto made $15 million in his 2015 fight with Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, while Mayweather and Pacquiao fought the most expensive boxing match in history. In contrast, Serrano earned $17,500 in her battle with Mexican Yazmin Rivas in January 2017.
The knockout rate is not the only indicator of a mismatch between skills and monetary value. In her match with Rivas, the undercard in the Jack-De Gale IBF-WBC super-middleweight unification fight, Serrano threw a total of 628 punches of which 206 landed, translating to a punching rate of 33%. Serrano was more active than Rivas who threw 539 punches and landed just 20% of them and won a decisive victory over her Mexican opponent.
Serrano’s level of activity packed in 10 two-minute rounds was higher than both fighters in the main event. Badou Jack had a punching rate of 31%, and James De Gale had 29.9%, according to Compubox figures. Jack and De Gale each made approximately $700,000 for the fight that ended in a draw.
Even more notable is Serrano’s activity relative to the most expensive boxing match on record. Mayweather threw 435 punches, landing 34% of them, while Pacquiao threw 429 punches, landing just 19%. Both fighters split a $300 million purse in a bout that has gone down in history as a royal flop.
“Amanda Serrano is a great champion. She’s one of the best pound-for-pound female fighters in the world today. No female fighter in history has ever won five titles in five weight classes. But it’s even more amazing, given the long tradition of the sport on the island, that no Puerto Rican fighter has ever become a five-division world champion,” said promoter Lou Dibella during the promotional press conference for the April 22 fight on March 30.
In professional sports, the paycheck is the most important validation of greatness. But not in US women’s boxing. Serrano’s last purse of $17,500 does not reflect the importance that she represents. Training and promotion costs, as well as taxes, whittle the purse money to an amount that makes boxing more a labor of love than a profession.
Dibella is credited for promoting female fighters such as Serrano and undefeated featherweight Heather Hardy (19-0) and is acknowledged to have provided opportunities for both women to get more exposure.
Yet more remains to be done. In a country that is widely considered as the boxing mecca of the world, seasoned women fighters with strong records earn a fraction of what male counterparts make. In contrast, Norwegian Cecilia Braekhaus, ranked the best pound-for-pound woman boxer, was reportedly offered NOK 5 million (approximately $508,000) to fight Swedish boxer Klara Stevenson.
“The economics for female boxing are not the same, and I think when faced with this challenge and lack of opponents, it is not that attractive for them (promoters),” said Tom Loeffler, managing director of K2 Promotions. And here lies the classic chicken and egg story. The pool is small because women are not interested in fighting for a paltry sum. And purses are low because of the small pool of fighters and difficulty in making good matchups. It’s a vicious cycle.
Serrano ((31-1-1, 23 KO’s) is fighting for the vacant WBO featherweight title against former champion Dahiana Santana (35-8, 14 KO’s) from Dominican Republic, and is poised to deliver on Saturday night.
“I’m motivated to make history. This would be my sixth world title in five weight divisions. This is a goal that my whole team has had. We want me to be the first Puerto Rican fighter to conquer five divisions. I want to be known as the girl who made history, “ she said during the fight promotion press conference on March 30th.
Loeffler noted that when matched correctly, women’s boxing “are many times more entertaining than male boxing because the female boxers often know they have to put on a good show for their sport every time they enter the ring.”
If there is one thing Serrano guarantees, it is a good show on and off the ring. She has an aggressive style that appeals to the entertainment side of boxing, has a strong support base in Brooklyn, and is savvy with promoting herself and her sister, Cindy, in social and traditional media. She is playing the boxing game by the book.
But the harsh reality is even if Serrano wins a fifth world title on Saturday, her skills, ambition and drive will still fall short of equal recognition with male counterparts. The pay differential between her and Cotto will remain a yawning gap. She may outpace Cotto in the history books but will continue to be an underdog in the pay scale.
“If I were a man, I would have 100 percent been considered the greatest ever a long time ago.” Serena Williams famously told ESPN’s Undefeated in December 2016. For tennis’ most dominant female player, it has been a lonely quest for recognition of her phenomenal skill and talent regardless of gender. Boxing’s “The Greatest” title is reserved for Muhammad Ali. Not even his daughter with her perfect 24-0-0 record and 88% knockout rate, will come close to getting that title.
This year, women boxers are getting more attention and Serrano is benefitting from it. Her April 22 bout will air on Showtime Extreme, her second nationally televised bout this year. But the lonely quest for respect remains.