That wasn’t always the plan. This was far from Amanda Serrano’s goal. It never crossed their minds during their championship-winning, seven-weight boxing title-winning career.
Be undisputed in a division? No, it wasn’t for Serrano and her team. They were content with chasing a different kind of story, winning championships in seven different divisions and making her one of the greatest fighters of all time.
Then, three years ago, the team began to think differently about how they wanted to continue with their careers.
Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KOs) was tired of maneuvering her way through divisions and her body no longer progressed to flyweight or welterweight. She wanted to stay at featherweight where she was comfortable. Plus, their contemporaries — Katie Taylor and Claressa Shields — were doing something fascinating: They were vying for unchallenged status.
The only time Serrano was in an undisputed bout against WBA featherweight champion Erika Cruz before Saturday’s main event was a year ago at Madison Square Garden when she was the challenger to Taylor’s undisputed lightweight titles. It was 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 the undisputed champion,” said Serrano. “I was content just being the WBO featherweight champion, but now that’s the era.
“Everyone does it, so I said, ‘You know what, I want to be a part of it.'”
Serrano began 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 honor to a career-filled career.
For the most part, Serrano, 34, said she’s completed division-hopping save for a possible rematch against Taylor, for which she would return to lightweight. If they win on Saturday and then fight Taylor – and would beat her – she said she has no plans to go three divisions undisputed because she wants to stay once in her career.
The initial hope for the first Taylor vs. Serrano bout was that Serrano would already be undisputed at featherweight, but the opportunity to fight Taylor first last year was too great. So she took it. Even with a loss, it continued to elevate Serrano’s status.
But making sure she went unchallenged ahead of a second fight between Taylor and Serrano was a priority. She’s stepped up her sparring at camp — for the first time in her 14-year pro career, she’s going to her six-week camp three times a week. She added a sports masseuse to her team for the first time and noticed a difference in her body and its recovery.
All of this for a fight, she said, “means everything to me.” Not just for them, but for their native Puerto Rico, which has never had an undisputed champion in the four-belt era.
“I said let’s try it,” Serrano said after realizing that Puerto Rico has never had an undisputed champion in either men’s or women’s boxing. “We definitely had champions [men’s] classification. [I am] a seven-division world champion, had [the youngest] champions of all time [Wilfred Benitez, 16].
“So I wanted to give that to my island and give them an undisputed champion.”
Assuming all goes well on Saturday, Serrano believes a rematch against Taylor is on the horizon.
The Unlikely Journey of Erika Cruz
Erika Cruz is a WBA Featherweight Champion, member of the Mexican National Guard and a law student. Luis Gutierrez/Norte Photo/Getty Images
It started with finding discipline as a teenager. It became much, much more.
Cruz grew up boxing — her father Guillermo was a professional fighter — and after becoming a single mother to her son Cesar Josue at the age of 15, she said Guillermo wanted her to box to create more discipline.
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As a kid, Cruz thought of boxing as “a game” — she was always in the gym when her dad was working out. When she returned to the gym at 18, she saw things differently. She felt the passion for the sport. Fifteen days after re-entering the gym, she had her first fight. She asked her father questions about everything. He taught her everything he knew. She had a goal, even if it wasn’t planned, to be a mother as a teenager.
“In 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 an interpreter. “He is the engine of my life and the reason why I chose boxing.
“There were times when my son needed me, but I decided to continue boxing because I saw that I could give my son financial stability.”
Every day, Cruz said, he motivates her. He boxed for a while, then played soccer and now wants to pursue a career as a weightlifter. And she’s become a hardworking role model, going beyond what the WBA featherweight champion achieved in the ring.
Her father initially helped financially. After winning the silver medal at the 2011 Pan American Games, she received a scholarship – and also support from the Mexican Olympic Committee. She has taken on sponsorships. And in 2015, just before turning pro, the 32-year-old began working in administration with the Mexican National Guard.
The National Guard also continues to work on its schedule to adjust when it needs to train for combat to keep everything fit. The job also gave Cruz (15-1, 3 KOs) a post-boxing plan.
Cruz began attending online law school part-time at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Guanajuato. She has about 18 months ahead of her — adapting classes between training for combat — with a goal of working as an attorney for the National Guard when she’s done. “Ever since I was little, I always wanted to be a cop or a lawyer,” Cruz said. “I never thought of becoming a boxer and as I grew up I realized it was a good career to pursue. I like it a lot and I think it’s something that will help me continue in the National Guard.”
Before she’s done boxing, she has more fights ahead of her – starting Saturday night against Serrano. Fighting on a platform like this in New York is what she had in mind when she first started boxing. It will be her second professional fight outside of Mexico – her last came in 2021 when she beat Yelena Billionovich for the WBA title she currently holds at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York. Now she’s returning to the United States and on a much larger platform for the biggest fight of her career. A win changes your life.
“It would mean everything I went through was worth it, the sacrifices, leaving my son to train,” Cruz said. “That’s what I suffered the most, having to leave my son for a long time to train. That would mean, and it would be a way of acknowledging all the sacrifices and hard work.
“And I want to be a role model for all women and show that Mexico continues to be the country that fights big and achieves great things in world boxing.”