SERIAL belt-collector Amanda Serrano is back on the prowl for more titles this Saturday (February 4) when she meets Mexico’s Erika Cruz Hernandez at Madison Square Garden, New York.
Having returned last year to featherweight, the division in which she owns WBC, IBF and WBO belts, Serrano will in New York be looking to complete the set by taking fellow southpaw Hernandez’s WBA belt; a belt Hernandez will not be willing to surrender lightly.
Indeed, whereas Serrano has reigned as champion for a long time and in more than one weight class, Hernandez’s reign as belt-holder has been comparatively short-lived, only winning her WBA belt in 2021 when she stopped Jelena Mrdjenovich in the seventh round due to cuts caused by an accidental head-butt. Since then, Hernandez has been able to grow as a champion and legitimatise her position with subsequent wins, including a split decision victory over Melissa Esquivel later that same year as well as a second win against Mrdjenovich, this time beating her by unanimous decision in September 2022.
Now, after establishing herself as a belt-holder and clearing up any uncertainty with Mrdjenovich, Hernandez is ready to step up a level and tackle one of best female fighters of all time. She will, in the process, be boxing outside her native Mexico for only the second time as a professional (her first fight against Jelena Mrdjenovich was also stateside) and will also, of course, be a considerable betting underdog for the first time in her seven-year career.
Serrano, after all, is usually a cut above most opponents, particularly at featherweight. It is there she has never lost as a pro and it was there last September she defeated Sarah Mahfoud over 10 rounds in Manchester. Before that, Serrano dabbled at lightweight in order to fight Irish superstar Katie Taylor, a fight she would lose narrowly after 10 swashbuckling rounds. It is at featherweight, though, Serrano, 43-2-1 (30), is clearly at her best.
At 34, it is the division that suits her and the one in which she likely sees her future. In this future, too, Serrano will no doubt see a second fight with Katie Taylor at some point, though it’s just a shame the two of them will never be able to meet at a weight class that truly brings out the very best in both. Instead, and for the time being, Serrano must make do with once again confirming her status as the best featherweight in the world, which, based on both experience and form, she should have little difficulty doing against Hernandez this weekend.
For while Hernandez, 15-1 (3), is riding the crest of a wave at present, and has not lost a fight since dropping a four-round decision against debutant Alondra Gonzalez Flores in 2016, she is one of many girls who will have grown up admiring the likes of Amanda Serrano from afar.
Something of a late bloomer, Hernandez is certainly coming into her own now at 32, yet it is hard to imagine any scenario in which she teaches Serrano anything on Saturday night the Puerto Rican doesn’t already know. It’s for that reason Serrano has to be expected to complete the set of belts at featherweight, doing so most likely via decision.
Another women’s world title fight replete with various belts taking place at Madison Square Garden on Saturday sees super-featherweight champion Alycia Baumgardner put it all on the line against Elhem Mekhaled of France.
Baumgardner, known as “The Bomb”, is someone whose career has taken off in recent years, particularly in the UK, where she has scored two of her biggest wins: the first against Terri Harper in 2021 (a fourth-round TKO), and the second last year against fellow American Mikaela Mayer (a split decision).
The Mayer win, in particular, truly pushed Baumgardner towards the superstar status she so clearly covets. It was helped no doubt by the rivalry she concocted with Mayer, one about as real as it gets, but she also helped herself, too, by performing well under pressure on the night and, while the fight was close, boxing with a poise and composure for which she was not necessarily known.
Here, against Mekhaled, Baumgardner, 13-1 (7), will be fighting a 31-year-old who, in her last fight, gave a good account of herself when losing over 10 rounds against Delfine Persoon in Abu Dhabi. That fight took place last May and, although she lost, Mekhaled managed to push Persoon close, finding herself on the wrong end of narrow-ish scores of 96-94, 97-93 and 97-94 after 10 rounds.
Before that loss, her first as a pro, Mekhaled had won 15 fights in a row, three by stoppage, and seemed on the brink of one day challenging for a full version of a world title. She claimed the European super-featherweight belt in 2018, when halting Marina Sakharov in nine rounds, and she also managed to outpoint the unbeaten Danila Ramos the following year in Spain to take the WBC interim super-featherweight title; arguably her finest achievement to date.
Never, however, has the Parisian beaten anyone with the pedigree and athleticism of Baumgardner, nor, the that matter, the power. Which is why on Saturday the 28-year-old American should be backed to tame Mekhaled and retain all three of her belts (plus win the vacant WBA), most likely on points.
Also appearing on the MSG undercard is a decent-looking fight at super-lightweight between unbeaten fighters Richardson Hitchins, 15-0 (7), and John Bauza, 17-0 (7). The two Americans, one (Hitchins) from New York and the other (Bauza) from New Jersey, meet over 10 rounds and know, having been well-matched so far, that their respective unbeaten records have never been more vulnerable than they will be this weekend.