Serrano-Cruz: Two unlikely paths merge for a chance to make history

Sports

This was not always the plan. This was nowhere near Amanda Serrano’s goal. Throughout her division-winding, title-winning career through seven boxing weight classes, the thought never came to them.

Being undisputed in a division? Nah, it wasn’t for Serrano and her team. They were content chasing a different type of history, winning championships in seven different divisions, turning her into one of the best fighters of all-time.

Then, three years ago, the team started to think differently about how they wanted to proceed with her career.

Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KO) was tired of maneuvering through divisions and her body wasn’t getting down to flyweight or up to welterweight anymore. She wanted to stay at featherweight, where she felt comfortable. Plus, her contemporaries — Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields — were doing something intriguing: they were fighting for undisputed status.

The only time she’s been in an undisputed fight before Saturday’s main event against WBA featherweight champion Erika Cruz at the Hulu Theater was a year ago at Madison Square Garden when she was the challenger to Taylor’s undisputed lightweight titles. It became arguably the biggest fight in women’s boxing history.

“It wasn’t always a dream of ours, or the team, it wasn’t always the main goal to become undisputed champion,” Serrano said. “I was satisfied just being the WBO champion at featherweight but now, that’s the era.

“Everybody is doing it so I said, ‘You know what, I want to become part of that.'”

Serrano started collecting featherweight titles, first beating Heather Hardy for the WBO belt in 2019, then Daniela Bermudez in 2021 (WBC) and Sarah Mahfoud last year (IBF). If she beats Cruz, Serrano will add another accolade to a career full of them.

For the most part, the 34-year-old Serrano said she’s done division-hopping except for a potential rematch against Taylor, where she’d return to lightweight. If she were to win Saturday and then fight — and beat — Taylor, she said she has no plans to try and become undisputed in three divisions due to her desire to stay put for once in her career.

The initial hope for the first Taylor-Serrano fight was Serrano would be undisputed at featherweight already, but the opportunity to fight Taylor first last year was too big. So she took it. Even in a loss, it elevated Serrano’s status further.

But making sure she became undisputed before a second Taylor-Serrano fight was a priority. She’s increased her sparring in camp — going three times a week each week in her six-week camp for the first time in her 14-year pro career. She added a sports massage therapist to her team for the first time and has noticed a difference in her body and its recovery.

All this for a fight she said “means everything to me.” Not only for her, but her native Puerto Rico, which has never had an undisputed champion in the four-belt era.

“I said let’s go for it,” Serrano said after realizing Puerto Rico has never had an undisputed champion in men’s or women’s boxing. “We’ve had champions in every [men’s] division. [I am] a seven-division world champion, had [the youngest] champion ever [Wilfred Benitez, 16].

“So I wanted to give that to my island and give them an undisputed champion.”

Then, provided everything goes well Saturday, Serrano believes a rematch against Taylor awaits.


The unlikely journey of Erika Cruz

It started as a way to find discipline as a teenager. It became much, much more.

Cruz grew up around boxing — her father, Guillermo, was a pro fighter — and after she became a single mother to her son, Cesar Josue, at age 15, she said Guillermo wanted her to box as a way to create more discipline.

As a kid, Cruz viewed boxing as “a game” — she’d always been around the gym when her father trained. When she returned to the gym at age 18, she saw it differently. She felt the passion in the sport. Fifteen days after she re-entered the gym, she had her first fight. She asked her father questions about everything. He taught her all he knew. She had purpose, even if becoming a mother as a teenager wasn’t something she planned for.

“At that moment my son became the most important thing in my life and to this day he is the most important thing I have in my life,” Cruz said through a translator. “He is the engine for my life and the reason why I decided to be in boxing.

“There were times when my son needed me, but I decided to continue boxing because I saw that this way I could give my son financial stability.”

Every day, Cruz said, she is motivated by him. He boxed for a little while, then played soccer and now wants to have a weightlifting career. And she’s become a hard-working role model beyond what the WBA featherweight champion has accomplished in the ring.

Her father helped financially at first. After she won the silver medal in the 2011 Pan American Games, she received a stipend — and also got aid from the Mexican Olympic Committee. She picked up sponsorships. And in 2015, just before she turned pro, the 32-year-old started working with the Mexican National Guard doing administrative work.

The National Guard continues to work with her schedule, too, to accommodate when she has to train for fights to make it all fit. The job also gave Cruz (15-1, 3 KO) a post-boxing plan.

Cruz started taking online law school classes part-time at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Gaunajuato. She has about 18 months to go — she fits classes in between training for fights — with the goal of working as an attorney for the National Guard when she finishes. “Since I was little, I always wanted to be a police officer or a lawyer,” Cruz said. “I never thought of being a boxer and when I grew up, I realized that it was a good career to develop myself. I like it a lot and I think it is something that will help me to continue in the National Guard.”

Before she’s done boxing, she has more fights to get to — starting Saturday night against Serrano. Fighting on a platform like that in New York is what she thought of when she started boxing. It’ll be her second professional fight outside Mexico — her last came in 2021 when she beat Jelena Mrdjenovich at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York for the WBA title she currently holds. Now she’ll be returning to the United States again and on a much bigger platform for the biggest fight of her career. A win changes her life.

“It would mean that everything I’ve been through has been worth it, the sacrifices, leaving my son to be able to train,” Cruz said. “That’s what I’ve suffered the most, leaving my son for long periods of time to be able to train. It would mean that, and it would be a way to validate all the sacrifices and hard work.

“And I want to be an example for all women and show that Mexico continues to be the country that fights great battles and achieves great things in world boxing.”

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