Taylor edges Serrano in thriller to stay undisputed

  • Previously covered University of Michigan for ESPN.com and AnnArbor.com
  • Also covered Notre Dame for Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

NEW YORK — As the seconds ticked down in their fight Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano stood in the middle of the ring, caring little about defending themselves or being in the proper stance. Hands were thrown constantly from both sides, one after another after another.

Serrano was bleeding around her eye, Taylor bleeding around her nose. What was billed as the biggest fight in women’s boxing history lived up to the massive hype, with two of the top three fighters of their generation doing everything possible to end the fight on the terms they wanted.

In the end, it was Taylor who claimed a split decision over Serrano to keep her undisputed lightweight championship. Two judges scored it 97-93 and 96-93 for Taylor, while a third judge had it 96-94 for Serrano.

As Taylor (21-0, 6 KO) stood on top of the ropes of the ring, an Irish flag draped over her shoulders as the crowd roared, it was the culmination of a fight that delivered.

Taylor appeared to say to Serrano, “What a fight,” when they met in the ring after the fight. And Taylor left open the option of a possible second fight between the two — an argument that could easily be made, considering how close Saturday’s fight was, not to mention the sold-out, boisterous Garden crowd that couldn’t stop cheering long after the final bell.

After the fight, Taylor’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, suggested maybe a rematch could occur in Ireland, where Taylor has never fought as a professional.

And it ended with a 10th round encapsulating what so much of the fight had been: a back-and-forth fight in which neither fighter had too much of an edge from round to round. In a close fight of conflicting styles, each fighter had strong moments where they showed why they have been considered one of the greatest fighters in the world.

Serrano (41-2-1, 30 KO) had her most dominant round in the fifth, putting Taylor in a corner and unloading punches, blooding Taylor’s nose. Taylor fought her way out of the corner and stood punch-for-punch with Serrano, with Serrano landing more even then.

Before the 10th, Taylor seemed to land some of her strongest shots in the eighth, taking what started as a slower-paced round and turning it into a counter-punching exhibition.

A Garden full of “Katie! Katie!” cheers erupted in the ninth to urge on the undefeated, undisputed lightweight champion, and it was Serrano who seemed to respond equally, going after Taylor through the second half of the round.

If there was any question about the impact of the Taylor-Serrano fight, consider this: The Garden was completely packed, a 19,187-seat sellout in which every person’s voice almost sounded like two, and sing-alongs of Oasis and the song “Sweet Caroline” penetrated the entire bowl. Whenever Taylor or Serrano were shown on the big screen either during the co-main event or the lead-up to the main fight, the entire arena erupted.

It was an atmosphere rivaling a high-level European soccer match along with a party crowd of an American sporting event. The Garden, deafening in its cheers, bounced almost in unison when Serrano walked out with her promoter, Jake Paul, behind her. It was Paul’s influence that helped the two fighters reach this point — seven-figure paydays in a completely packed Garden.

Taylor’s walkout was bit calmer, the belts being held behind her and her promoter, Eddie Hearn, at her back. Irish flags were everywhere, and the Garden turned green with lighting for her slow walkout. Taylor started looking around the crowd. What looked like a small, determined smile crept across her face. A fan threw an Irish flag at Taylor. Hearn picked it up and draped it over his shoulders.

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Taylor and Serrano had pushed for this and dreamed about it. They had waited years — in Serrano’s case, an entire career — for a setting and a moment like this.

Several of the sport’s luminaries were in attendance, including junior lightweight titlists Alycia Baumgardner and Mikaela Mayer; multi-division champions Claressa Shields and Seniesa Estrada; and undisputed welterweight title holder Jessica McCaskill.

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