Women’s boxing gets underway in 2023, with an undisputed title fight from Madison Square Garden.
Women’s boxing makes its start for the year this weekend, as Amanda Serrano seeks to become undisputed champion of the women’s 126lb division, taking on Erika Cruz for the final belt at Madison Square Garden.
This card will be available on DAZN. The card starts at 8pm ET, with ringwalks for the main event expected at approximately 9.50pm ET, although that may change.
Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KOs) is one of women’s boxing’s biggest stars. She lost her big fight last year when she jumped to 135lbs to face Katie Taylor, but has since returned to her more natural weight. Having already held the WBC and WBO belts here, she won the IBF against Sarah Mahfoud last autumn, and now looks to add the final piece of the undisputed puzzle.
Cruz (15-1, 3 KOs) is, clearly, a lot less experienced, and hasn’t faced any of the really big names in the sport till now. She’ll be a sizeable underdog, but she isn’t here to lie down in what is a life-changing opportunity for her. There’s always a risk in women’s boxing when one fighter is so much more experience that it could just be lopsided, but Cruz has some skills. She’s a credible champ in her own right, having beaten Jelena Mrdjenovich comfortably in both the title win (stopped officially for a clash of heads, but a points win) and a rematch. Her defence against Melissa Esquivel in between those was, despite officially being a split decision, also pretty comfortable.
If nothing else, this should be a firefight. Serrano is, usually, a strong, relentless volume fighter throwing constant power shots with both hands. Cruz is… well, pretty similar really, although a bit more ready to fight on the back foot. So they should come together for a tear-up. They’re also both southpaws, which means the range will be tighter than in the open-stance matchups both often find themselves in.
Between the pair, Serrano is definitely the cleaner boxer, but perhaps not by as much as it initially seems. For certain, Cruz is prone to certain particular mistakes that make her look very messy at times. Most notably, she has a habit of pitching very far forward over her front foot when throwing overhand lefts coming forward. Clashes of heads are pretty common, enough so that referee Benjy Esteves assumed one caused the cut on Mrdjenovic that stopped their first clash. That was a punch, as it turned out, but they had clashed plenty. It was less of an issue in the rematch and Cruz does appear to have worked on the problem. The solution seems to have been just not to throw those overhangs as much, though, so if she decides she needs that punch against Serrano, that sloppiness could come back into play.
Beyond that, Cruz is actually quite a clean, precise boxer, particularly when she can bait her opponent into following her so she can let go her counter combinations. She has good timing when she does this, able to hold her feet at just the right moment to catch her opponent unawares. There’s decent variety there too – the big difference between herself and Mrdjenovic in both their fights was that Mrdjenovic would repeatedly throw the same three or four punches, whereas Cruz could change it up a lot more. Going forwards, she can still get a bit messy, but her defence is okay and, while a bit wild, she has head movement to get herself out of trouble if necessary. She also just jabs very well.
She’ll still have her work cut out, though, because pretty much all those things also apply to Serrano. As mentioned, she is a more natural out-and-out aggressor than Cruz, her preference being to press her opponents consistently, bring the fight to them. She’s not reckless with it though, and that is where her biggest advantage probably comes – she’s a lot less prone to getting off-balance when coming forward. She has a strong jab, and although Katie Taylor managed to win that battle with her for large parts, Cruz is no Katie Taylor. Moving behind that punch, she builds into short, but powerful, combinations, and has plenty of her own variety. Her own overhand lefts are a major weapon, a stinging, hurtful shot that comes over opponent’s guards consistently. She mixes that with sharp bodywork, making her attacks difficult to predict and avoid. She also has a handy trick of holding a punch for just a second, delivering it fractionally later than an opponent expects- the kind of thing that may well put Cruz’s timing on the blink.
She’s not quite as sharp on the backfoot, but for her when she does that it’s mostly a resetting tactic, just working to find the space to reset and push her opponent back again. We’re not particularly likely to see a fight where Cruz is walking Serrano down for long stretches.
What that means is the fight we are likely to get will be one where Serrano pushes Cruz back, both seeking to control the space between them with the jab before closing the distance on their own terms. Cruz will have to be careful when to choose to exchange- making sure she steps in before Serrano pushes her to the ropes will be key for her. That’ll mean Serrano has a bit more tactical freedom- she’ll be quite happy exchanging when Cruz wants, but can also try to push her out of her rhythm. She will, therefore, be more comfortable in more of the exchanges than Cruz. In what will likely be an attritional fight, that can be a huge difference.
The biggest differences, though, are likely to be physical. They’re pretty much the same size, but Serrano is by far the bigger puncher, and probably faster too. The KOs haven’t been there for her quite as much in recent wins, as she’s stepped up in competition- but she’s still been visibly hurting her opponents. Even Katie Taylor- two divisions up from here- was quite likely saved from a KO in the fifth only by way of women’s boxing rounds still being only two minutes. We haven’t really seen Cruz’s chin tested like this before, and even if she can take it, physically, how she handles that kind of power and pressure mentally is completely up in the air.
One note of caution for Serrano is that she has seemed to tire at the end of fights. Taylor was clearly the fresher of the two in the tenth round of their fight. Even against Mahfoud, in her own division, Serrano was missing punches at the end that had been landing earlier on. That said, although we haven’t seen the same from Cruz, she’s never been pushed the way Serrano will push her. That equation easily could go the other way too.
All in all, then, the advantages go to the more experienced Serrano, but this should be an action fight at least, and may provide an unexpected challenge.
What’s on the undercard
A strong card this week. The co-main is another women’s undisputed fight, this time at 130lbs, as rising star Alycia Baumgardner seeks to cement her place as one of the top women’s boxers by adding the vacant WBA belt to the three she holds. It’s a little bit odd to fight an opponent- Elhem Mekhaled- coming off a loss, but that was to Delfine Persoon, which is nothing to be ashamed of. This could be a good one.
Also featuring is a clash of prospects, as Skye Nicholson – a rising Australian star noted for her very silky footwork – faces off again Tania Alvarez, who is very inexperienced but looks like a pretty competent pressure fighter. That could be an interesting clash of styles.
Alongside the women, we also see Richardson Hitchins and John Bauza face off in a notable prospect clash in the men’s 140lbs division.