From Sixto Escobar defeating Rodolfo ‘Baby’ Casanova for the world bantamweight title in 1934, to Carlos Ortiz knocking out previously undefeated Raymundo ‘Battling’ Torres in defense of his world light-welterweight championship, to Wilfredo Gomez squaring off against Salvador Sanchez, Carlos Zarate, and Lupe Pintor, to Julio Cesar Chavez taking on Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho or Juan Laporte, to Felix Trinidad’s battles opposite Yory Boy Campas and Fernando Vargas, to Miguel Cotto settling the score with Antonio Margarito, the many memorable showdowns between Puerto Rican and Mexican fighters have long enriched the fertile ground of pugilistic rivalries to produce boxing’s most enduring and entertaining blood feud.
Puerto Rican living legend Amanda Serrano and her very worthy adversary Yamileth Mercado, hailing from Ciudad Cuauhtémoc in Mexico, proudly wrote their own chapter into the sport’s history books this past Sunday. While it’s true that their world championship bout being featured in a prominent time slot on a Showtime pay-per-view card was significant, it is also undeniable that having to essentially act as window dressing for the so-called “main event” pitting a YouTube “celebrity” with three previous fights to his credit against a 39-year-old former UFC welterweight champion with zero boxing experience was a backhanded compliment.
Showtime has been inconsistent and lukewarm at best in its advocacy of women’s boxing. The premium cable channel signed Claressa Shields to an exclusive deal early in her pro career only to recently sever ties with her, and aired Amanda Serrano’s 2017 Barclays Center title defense against Yazmin Rivas on its Showtime Extreme telecast which was the first female bout shown on the network in seventeen years.
Despite the assurance of Stephen Espinoza, Showtime Sports general manager, that his network “has had a tradition of supporting women in boxing and MMA,” the evidence in support of his claim is flimsy. Evidently they don’t feel that women are yet able to carry a PPV solely on their shoulders and are made to set the table for an extremely dubious main course. Progress? I suppose you could call it that.
Advancement for female prizefighters has been frustratingly sluggish throughout the 2000s, so this baby step in the proper direction is in keeping with that glacial momentum. However, their forward progress is undeniable and ultimately unstoppable so, by that rationale, women boxers deserve far better than the cookie crumbs they have been tossed as compensation for their agonies and achievements thus far. For what it’s worth, Serrano’s promoter Lou DiBella reported that the YouTube guy did throw his negligible weight around behind the scenes in an effort to demand that Serrano and Mercado received fair treatment financially speaking. Not equal pay, mind you. YouTube guy undoubtedly laughed all the way to the bank Monday morning to cash his million dollar paycheck.
“Jake Paul is the main event, but he’s not the main attraction,” attested Amanda Serrano, the reigning and defending WBC, WBO, IBO world featherweight champion who certainly took home a mere fraction of YouTube guy’s purse money. “I am going to make sure I steal the spotlight from him and entice people to enjoy female boxing and to understand that women can fight and put on shows, and showcase that we’re deserving of this opportunity,” she proclaimed in the leadup to fight night.
Serrano revealed that both newly coronated WBA featherweight champion Erika Cruz and Sarah Mahfoud, who owns the IBF crown which she has yet to defend since being elevated from interim titleholder to world champion in July 2020, turned down substantial paydays to put their respective hardware up against hers for a unification fight on Sunday’s co-feature in Cleveland. Which is when Yamileth Mercado, the 23 year-old current WBC super-bantamweight champion whose personal motto is “Don’t be afraid of failure, be afraid of mediocrity,” stepped up to the plate.
Mercado claimed the super-bantam strap in a 2019 rematch with Fatuma Zarika, to whom Yamileth had dropped a split decision in their previous title fight fourteen months earlier in Nairobi. Mercado last defended her title just two months ago by besting previously unbeaten Angelica Rascon.
Her 2014 pro debut, a four-round decision over Yoatzin Meraz, came a mere sixteen months after having celebrated her quinceañera. She would first taste defeat in March 2017, losing by fairly wide margins to the more experienced Jessica Arreguin Munoz in a scrap to decide the maiden WBC FECOMBOX super-bantamweight champion. In stark contrast to Serrano, Mercado doesn’t carry around the reputation of being a heavy hitter. Thirteen of her eighteen wins have lasted the full distance and only one of those five stoppages has occurred within the last three years.
Amanda, on the other hand, came into Sunday’s fight with forty victories on her resume, thirty of which had been achieved before the final bell. A stoppage against Mercado in this duel of knockout power versus staying power would have tied Serrano with Christy Martin for most career KOs by a female boxer. The explosive Puerto Rican southpaw will no doubt equal Christy’s record before ultimately assuming the throne as boxing’s all-time KO queen, but Mercado the Mexican warrior saw to it that this milestone occasion will have to wait until another day.
Mercado struck first with a straight right just seconds after the opening bell, but Serrano quickly responded with a left that had her challenger already swimming away from this dangerous land shark and back toward safer waters. Respectful of Amanda’s considerable strength, Mercado established a theme of alternately working off the backfoot from too distant a range to land anything of consequence and lunging forward to throw whatever she could hope to get past Serrano’s guard. Her right hand did continue to land on occasion, but she whiffed badly on some of her shots due to Serrano’s timely head movement.
Faced with the frustrating obstacle of an opponent who was tentative to stand and engage, Amanda was left little choice but to spend the majority of the fight walking Mercado down, using her right jab as a blunt and to the point calling card and unloosing a heavy volume of body shots with the intent to immobilize. To her credit, Mercado proved to have a sturdy chin by withstanding Serrano’s bombardments and was game to return fire when the opportunity presented itself, even if she remained reluctant about being lured into a phonebooth brawl which would obviously have much better suited the champion’s aggressive style.
Serrano’s stiff right jab did far more than just allow her to close the distance on Mercado. The consistency with which it was thrown caused the left side of Yamileth’s face to swell significantly over the course of the proceedings and eventually sliced open the skin covering her challenger’s cheekbone at the end of the penultimate round. The always vociferous Jordan Maldonado, Amanda’s trainer and brother-in-law (he is married to her sister Cindy), screamed in Spanish toward Mercado’s corner between rounds nine and ten, as Yamileth was having her cut tended to, for her to “fight the Mexican way.”
The most fearsome finisher in the women’s fight game clearly had a record-tying stoppage on her mind and nearly got her wish when she backed Mercado against the ring ropes, created a sizeable opening with a jab, and teed off with a left hook that would have felled a lesser foe. Mercado won the admiration of many observers for having the intestinal fortitude to finish the fight on her feet, but it was Serrano who got the most important win that evening—retaining her titles courtesy of a unanimous decision by scores of 99-91, 98-92, and 97-93.
Seated behind a podium afterwards, Serrano showed that she is more than just a crushing power puncher. She has quite a quick and somewhat dark wit that perfectly accentuates her awe-inspiring fistic persona. The most compelling matter that Amanda addressed during the post-fight press conference wasn’t so much the endless speculation with regard to what she believes to be an inevitable clash with Katie Taylor, but seeking advice on how to clean Yamileth Mercado’s blood off the brand new pair of Island Green Air Jordans she wore into the ring.
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