AMANDA SERRANO WAS in the place she feels most comfortable — a boxing gym — when a 6-year-old approached her. In the girl’s hands was a cell phone, and she wanted to show it off.
The girl was the only one in the conversation with a phone of her own.
Serrano has never owned a cell phone. She knows how to operate one and often helps her parents with the technical side of using theirs. But have one of her own? No need.
If it won’t make her a better boxer, or if it’ll be a distraction, Serrano is not interested. It’s her way of blocking interference, not just in fight prep but in life. Cuts down on bills, too.
The girl asked Serrano how she talks with her family without a phone. It was a fair question, and Serrano answered by acknowledging that, at age 32, she still lives with her family.
“If someone really wants to get in touch with me, they know how to,” she said. “And if they are not close enough, then they are not supposed to get in touch with me.”
Serrano does have a landline at home — it looks like a rotary phone, she said — but her manager and trainer, Jordan Maldonado, handles all of her calls and manages her social media and email. Her promoter, Lou DiBella, negotiates her fights. This is a woman who doesn’t want distractions in her life. Serrano will share, unprompted, that she’s never even had a boyfriend.
Such is life for Serrano, the best boxer you likely haven’t heard of. She has done what few others in the sport — male or female — have done: hold major titles in seven weight classes. She has held titles as a junior lightweight, lightweight, junior bantamweight, bantamweight, junior welterweight and junior featherweight, and she currently holds the WBC and WBO featherweight championship belts, which she’ll defend against Yamileth Mercado on Sunday in Cleveland.
Serrano bounces up and down divisions like an incentive spirometer, hunting for the best fights and titles regardless of the weight class or the opponent. She owns a 40-1-1 record with 30 knockouts.
“I can’t think of another fighter that has been able to do what she has done in terms of physically challenging her body at all these different weight classes,” said Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports. “And going up and down to meet other women fighters who have spent most of their careers in one weight class — if there was a male fighter doing what she’s doing, that fighter would be the talk of boxing and would be [at] the top of pound-for-pound lists.”
Instead, Serrano, who was born in Puerto Rico, toils largely in anonymity. She gets some recognition in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn, where she grew up and still lives. Hardcore fight fans know about her accomplishments. But the large majority of the public has no clue about Amanda Serrano.
Sunday, she hopes, will change that. Fighting on the pay-per-view undercard of a boxing match between YouTube star Jake Paul and former UFC champion Tyron Woodley will provide Serrano what she has never had in 12 years as a professional combat sports athlete: a massive audience.
“This is a performance, and I don’t want to let down women’s boxers,” Serrano said. “I’m doing this for the whole sport of women’s boxing.”
Serrano is also doing this for herself. She knows the attention a Paul fight brings. If she fights as she usually does — as the rare female boxer with a litany of knockouts to her name — she could catapult herself to a different level of fame.
WHEN PAUL AGREED to headline Sunday’s card on Showtime, he told Espinoza he wanted a few things from the undercard: mostly up-and-coming fighters, exciting fights and at least one female bout.
Espinoza, hearing the criteria, didn’t have to think long about whom to approach.
“The name we immediately suggested was Amanda, and he immediately agreed,” Espinoza said. “It was a short conversation.”
Serrano had already expressed interest, tweeting during Paul’s last fight that she’d like to be on a card with him one day. She saw the potential of a new audience and exposure, and she told DiBella and Maldonado as much.
She was appealing to Paul because of Serrano’s style. She has uncommon power. Since 2017, seven of her 10 fights have ended in knockouts — and all but three were title fights. She’s lost only once in her career — in 2012 in Sweden to Frida Wallberg, challenging for the WBC junior lightweight title — and had a draw in her fifth pro fight against Ela Nunez, whom Serrano defeated three times after that.
“I dropped her with every punch — a jab, a left hand, a hook — and it was over. I was like, ‘OK, this is better than going the distance. You can have fast, easy fights.'”
Amanda Serrano on one of her early-career TKO wins
Otherwise, it’s been nothing but wins, typically in devastating fashion.
“I possess power,” Serrano said.
It isn’t necessarily a matter of weight class. Serrano has knockouts in six of the seven weight classes in which she has reigned as world champ — all but junior welterweight, a division in which she has competed only once.
Serrano first recognized her uncommon power when she started taking boxing seriously at age 18. She had started working out in Maldonado’s gyms — Maldonado is married to her sister, Cindy, also a pro boxer — when she was 13. Serrano tried sparring at the time but didn’t like it. Five years later, out of high school and unsure what she wanted to do next, she gave it another try.
This time, boxing stuck. In 2009, she turned professional and fought Jackie Trivilino in her debut in Albany, New York, and won by majority decision.
Her first knockout came in the first round of her second fight when she defeated Brittany Cruz in Orlando, Florida. But it was her fourth fight, against Christina Ruiz in Atlantic City, that Serrano truly showed off her power.
“I dropped her with every punch — a jab, a left hand, a hook — and it was over,” Serrano said of the 2009 TKO. “I was like, ‘OK, this is better than going the distance. You can have fast, easy fights.'”
Since then, that has been her approach. Train hard. Train smart. Try to end fights.
Serrano credits Maldonado with turning her into the preeminent knockout artist among women fighters. The trainer redirects the credit back toward his fighter.
“I taught her punching technique,” Maldonado said. “But the fact that she’s blessed with punching power, I can’t teach that. Punching power is not something coaches can teach you. There is leverage, but if you don’t hit hard, it really doesn’t matter.”
For Serrano, the knockout power might be natural, but everything else that has made her a champion comes from repetition. She regularly shadowboxes for 10 minutes straight in the ring during training to make her movement sharp. As fights come closer, usually starting two weeks from fight night, she’ll throw nonstop punches for 10 minutes straight on a bag, take a break and do another 10 minutes. Twenty minutes is the same length as a full-distance women’s title fight, but organized differently to help train her cardio and stamina.
Each punch, Serrano says, has to be perfect.
SERRANO DOESN’T LOOK at what she has never had — the cell phone, the boyfriend — and see sacrifice. It’s how she has chosen to live. Boxing, until she retires, will come first.
It’s led her to this point, the potential for featherweight title unification fights against either Erika Cruz or Sarah Mahfoud and, eventually, a superfight with undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor that would be one of the biggest in the history of the sport for women. Taylor is No. 1 in the ESPN women’s pound-for-pound rankings, and Serrano is No. 3.
Serrano wants her career to continue with Showtime, too. She hopes Sunday leads to a contract with the network on which she’s appeared three times since 2017. When she fought Yazmin Rivas on Jan. 14, 2017, it was Showtime’s first premium female fight since 1996, when Christy Martin fought Sue Chase and Diedre Gogarty in back-to-back months.
Serrano is trying to become a more permanent fixture, and Espinoza is high on her future. He credited DiBella with initially pushing for Showtime to broadcast Serrano’s fights, and Espinoza said she’s never put on a boring fight.
“Certainly we’re very familiar with her personally and professionally,” Espinoza said. “And I think regardless of what happens [Sunday], we will very likely see Amanda on Showtime again.”
This is what Serrano has been building toward. The constant movement between divisions, the nonstop training, the focus on turning boxing into a singularity in her life. All have pointed her toward a future as one of the premier fighters in the sport.
But on Sunday she’s out to prove a point, too. Serrano may be the exception in women’s boxing — the knockout artist extraordinaire — but she wants to show that she’s more than that.
“They think that I’m just a brawler, just a knockout artist, but I can box,” Serrano said. “I can fight. I can do it pretty much all.”