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 an eye, Taylor 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 match 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 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.
“We billed this as the biggest female fight of all time,” said Taylor’s promoter, Eddie Hearn. “And it became one of the biggest fights in boxing today. What we witnessed was one of the greatest fights in the history of Madison Square Garden.”
After the way the sold-out crowd reacted throughout the night to any mention of Taylor or Serrano, and then to the fight itself, Hearn might have a case.
Taylor appeared to say to Serrano “what a fight” when they met in the ring after the bout. And Taylor left open the option of a possible second fight between the two — an argument that could easily be made, considering how close this fight was, not to mention the boisterous Garden crowd that couldn’t stop cheering long after the final bell.
After the fight, Hearn suggested maybe a rematch could occur in Ireland, where Taylor has never fought as a professional. Taylor seemed open to it. Perhaps more important, so did Serrano’s team.
Serrano’s promoter, Jake Paul, said the decision would be up to Serrano, but he added, “I think everyone wants to see a rematch and they came to New York City, so if there is a rematch, I think it makes sense as a team to go to Ireland.”
Serrano’s trainer, Jordan Maldonado, also said they would be open to running the fight back in Ireland if they want. Hearn said officials from Madison Square Garden have already inquired about having Taylor-Serrano II, if it happens, back at the Garden.
Saturday’s bout ended with a 10th round encapsulating what so much of the fight had been: a back-and-forth clash 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 two 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, bloodying her 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 counterpunching exhibition.
“Tonight was just fantastic,” Taylor said. “I had to dig deep in there tonight. Had to produce a career-defining performance to actually win tonight and what an amazing champion Amanda is as well. Phenomenal fighter.
“We definitely got the best out of each other tonight, that’s for sure.”
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 in the lead-up to the main fight, the arena erupted.
Several of the sport’s luminaries were in attendance, including junior lightweight titlists Alycia Baumgardner and Mikaela Mayer; multidivision champions Claressa Shields and Seniesa Estrada; and undisputed welterweight title holder Jessica McCaskill.
It was an atmosphere rivaling a high-level European soccer match along with the party crowd of an American sporting event. Hearn said one of the things he heard most about the night wasn’t the size of the crowd or even the fight, but the constant buzz throughout the three-plus hours of the main card, hitting its apex for the main event.
The Garden, deafening in its cheers, bounced almost in unison when Serrano walked out with Paul behind her. It was Paul’s influence that helped the two fighters reach this point — seven-figure paydays in a packed Garden.
Taylor’s walkout was a bit calmer, the belts being held behind her. 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.
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.
“I think it actually exceeded everything that people were talking this week,” Taylor said. “Even walking out to the ring today, packed stadium. Unbelievable.
“It was absolutely, special, special moment. The best night of my career. For sure.”