Notebook: Serrano-Cruz a battle for undisputed status, national pride
Baumgardner-Mekhaled also for all four belts; Valdez details injury; Kovalev title eliminator; BetUS show; Quick hits; Show and tell
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Last April, Amanda Serrano moved up two weight classes to lightweight and challenged Katie Taylor for the undisputed women’s lightweight title.
In the first female main event in the storied history of New York’s Madison Square Garden, Taylor and Serrano put on a battle for the ages, but Serrano came out on the short end of a debatable split decision loss as Taylor retained the 135-pound belts.
In September, Serrano returned to her more natural featherweight division, successfully defended her three world titles and now has a chance to become an undisputed champion again when she meets Erika Cruz, holder of the WBC title — the only 126-pound belt Serrano does not have — for all the marbles in the Matchroom Boxing main event on Saturday (DAZN, 8 p.m. ET) at the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden. A win is likely to propel Serrano into a rematch with Taylor later in the year.
But first Serrano (43-2-1, 30 KOs), 34, who is Puerto Rico-born and fighting out of Brooklyn, New York, and the only woman to win world titles in seven divisions, is focused on nailing down undisputed honors against fellow southpaw Cruz (15-1, 3 KOs), 32, of Mexico, who has not lost a since a four-round majority decision in her second fight in 2016.
“Undisputed means a lot,” Serrano said this week. “It means you are the best; you have everyone looking to beat you, you are top dog, unquestionably No. 1 in the division. Becoming the first undisputed champion at featherweight would be so cool after being a pro for 14 years.
“Puerto Rico is so small but there’s so much talent there, but there’s no undisputed champion. We have every other type of champion, but not undisputed. I want to give that back to them, for some bragging rights for Puerto Rico. Seven-weight (champion) is special because I am the only female to do it. That’s amazing, but undisputed is the icing on the cake and it’ll be me giving Puerto Rico everything I can.”
Cruz also is motivated to become undisputed champion.
“It’s an opportunity I’ve been looking for,” Cruz said. “I’m going to give absolutely everything. As a good Mexican, give absolutely everything to win. Becoming (undisputed) champion would mean giving that bit back to my father. He had a dream that I would go on to become world champion.”
Not only can Serrano and Cruz claim title but they will do it by adding another chapter to the famed rivalry between Puerto Rico and Mexico.
“There’s nothing like Mexico versus Puerto Rico,” Serrano said. “The rivalry has been there forever and I’m honored to share the ring with her. We have the same goal here. She’s a champion and I’m a champion. We want the same thing and I think she’s going to fight like all great Mexican fighters do, with all her heart.
“Erika has less fights than me, but toughness comes from within, and she wants to rip my head off and take my belts. How I win depends on her. If she comes to win, it’ll be an easy night. If she wants to box and move, you can’t beat me, it doesn’t happen. We will give the fans an amazing fight for sure.”
Also for undisputed
A second undisputed women’s title will also be on the line in the Serrano-Cruz co-feature as three-belt junior lightweight champion Alycia Baumgardner defends her titles and also goes after the vacant WBA belt against Elhem Mekhaled.
“Undisputed is one of those things that’s easy to say but hard to achieve,” Baumgardner said. “With hard work and dedication, you can do it, but it’s tough. You are facing the best of the best back-to-back, and that’s the journey that I am on. I am making my mark, leaving my footprint on the sport.”
Baumgardner (13-1, 7 KOs), 28, of Detroit, is coming off a split decision over Mikaela Mayer to unify three belts on Oct. 15 in London while Mekhaled (15-1, 3 KOs), 31, of France, is getting her first world title shot.
“I just take a deep breath just to know that my journey has been a process,” Baumgardner said. “It has been very rewarding, and again, a lot of hard work, a lot of grit, and never giving up, and that’s why we’re here today and that’s why I’m one step closer to becoming undisputed, as I mentioned plenty of times before. I’m ready; I’m well prepared for this fight.
“The hunger is still there. As I walked in the gym as an eight-year-old girl I had a vision. I had a plan to become the best, and that’s what I’m doing now, here, just seeing it come alive. I’m hungry, and I love to fight. I’ve worked very hard to get here, and I cannot let someone like her stop me. She’s going to be in a fight, and I hope she’s ready.
“This Saturday I will become undisputed. I have been claiming this and I speak it, and again, everybody will see an amazing performance.”
Mekhaled is coming off her lone defeat, a decision last May to Delfine Persoon, who many thought outpointed Taylor when she challenged for the undisputed lightweight crown in their first fight in August 2020.
“I’m doing to seize this opportunity, definitely,” Mekhaled said. “I’m expecting a wall because Alycia is a puncher. I’m a puncher too. (Winning all the belts) would be the greatest reward for me. For never giving up, for practicing and training so hard and to prove that I’m the best.”
Oscar Valdez update
When former junior lightweight and featherweight titlist Oscar Valdez suffered an undisclosed injury late last year it forced him to withdraw from a fight with Emanuel Navarrete for the vacant WBO junior lightweight title.
They had been scheduled to meet on Friday night in the Top Rank Boxing on ESPN main event in Glendale, Arizona. But when Valdez dropped out, he was replaced by Australia’s Liam Wilson, and Valdez was on hand to watch them do battle.
During the stream of preliminary bouts on ESPN+, Valdez detailed what happened to him for the first time.
“I wish I had a story to tell, I wish I had a good story, maybe I fell off my horse,” Valdez said. “Maybe my alligator bit me. Maybe my dog bit me, something. But it was a simple fall.”
Valdez slipped on wet steps and hurt his back and ribs.
“I should have taken a longer break, but went back into sparring sessions, got hit with a body shot and broke my rib again,” Valdez said. “So it was a rib injury. I tried to continue camp. I tried to continue working out but it was literally impossible. I couldn’t breath. A rib injury is very hurtful. I just couldn’t continue.”
Valdez said he is healed now and looking forward to challenging for the 130-pound belt against Navarrete, who stopped Wilson in the ninth round of a sensational battle, in the spring in a fight both sides want.
“Now I’m great. There’s a lot of mixed emotions because I should have been fighting (Friday night) against Navarrete,” Valdez said. “Now I’m healthy, now I’m ready to go. I’ve been in the gym, I’ve been working out and I’m waiting for (Navarrete). That’s what I want next.”
Valdez (30-1, 23 KOs), 32, of Mexico, has been out of action since April, when he got knocked down and lost a lopsided decision to Shakur Stevenson in a junior lightweight title unification fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Kovalev elimination fight
Former unified light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev can earn a cruiserweight title shot.
The former longtime pound-for-pound ranked Kovalev (35-4-1, 29 KOs), 39, a Russia native fighting out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Thabiso Mchunu (23-6, 13), 34, a southpaw from South Africa, have been ordered to meet in a WBC cruiserweight title elimination bout.
A purse bid is scheduled for Feb. 24 at the WBC’s Mexico City offices if the camps don’t make a deal.
After losing the WBO light heavyweight belt by brutal 11th-round knockout to Canelo Alvarez in November 2019, Kovalev did not fight again until this past May, when he moved up to cruiserweight and rolled to a unanimous 10-round decision over then-unbeaten Tervel Pulev.
According to WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman, the WBC current mandatory challenger is Noel Mikaelyan. However, at the WBC’s annual convention late last year, the organization ordered Mchunu to face Badou Jack in an eliminator to secure the next mandatory position.
But WBC titleholder Ilunga Makabu (29-2, 25 KOs), 35, a southpaw from Congo, will make his third defense against former light heavyweight and super middleweight titlist Jack (27-3-3, 16 KOs), 39, of Las Vegas, on the Jake Paul-Tommy Fury undercard on Feb. 26 in Saudi Arabia.
When that fight was finalized, the WBC ordered Mchunu to face Kovalev in the eliminator instead.
BetUS Boxing Show
If you missed the BetUS Boxing Show live at 1 p.m. ET on Friday on YouTube, please check out the replay (and also subscribe to the YouTube channel). We previewed and picked four fights: the two top bouts on Saturday night’s Matchroom Boxing card on DAZN (Amanda Serrano vs. Erika Cruz for the undisputed women’s featherweight title and Alycia Baumgardner vs. Elhem Mekhaled for the undisputed women’s junior lightweight title) and the two main fights on Friday night’s Top Rank card on ESPN (which will be over by the time you see this but can see how we did!), Emanuel Navarrete vs. Liam Wilson for the vacant WBC junior lightweight title and junior welterweight Arnold Barboza vs. Jose Pedraza. We also took viewer questions and comments! Please check out the show here:
Weights from New York for Saturday’s Matchroom Boxing card on DAZN: Amanda Serrano 125.4 pounds, Erika Cruz 125.4 (for undisputed women’s featherweight title); Alycia Baumgardner 129, Elhem Mekhaled 129 (for undisputed women’s junior lightweight title); Richardson Hitchins 139.6, John Bauza 139; Yankiel Rivera 112.4, Fernando Diaz 111.8; Skye Nicolson 125.6, Tania Alvarez 124.8; Ramla Ali 121.4, Avril Mathie 121.4; Shadasia Green 167.2, Elin Cederroos 167.4; Harley Mederos 134.2, Julio Madera 133.6; Aaron Aponte 138.6, Joshua David Rivera 138.8.
Light heavyweight contender Gilberto “Zurdo” Ramirez (44-1, 30 KOs) is slated for his return on March 18 to headline a Golden Boy card on DAZN, a source with knowledge of the plans told Fight Freaks Unite. One opponent under consideration is Gabriel Rosado (26-16-1, 15 KOs, 37, of Philadelphia, the source said. Ramirez, 31, a Mexican southpaw and a former super middleweight titleholder, is coming off his first loss, a lopsided decision in a mandatory shot at WBA light heavyweight titlist Dmitry Bivol on Nov. 5 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
WBO cruiserweight titlist Lawrence Okolie (18-0, 14 KOs), 30, of England, has parted ways with trainer Shane McGuigan and announced on social media his new trainer is SugarHill Steward, who also trains heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. The switch comes shortly before Okolie is due to make a mandatory defense against David Light (20-0, 12 KOs), 31, of New Zealand, on March 11 in London on a Boxxer-promoted card. Okolie was with McGuigan for six fights beginning in 2019, including when he stopped Krzysztof Glowacki to claim the title in March 2021.
Junior middleweight prospect Callum Walsh (5-0, 4 KOs), 21, a Hollywood, California-based Irishman, will headline promoter Tom Loeffler’s UFC Fight Pass card on March 16 at Agganis Arena in Boston on March 16 (St. Patrick’s Day eve). The southpaw Walsh, who is trained by Hall of Famer Freddie Roach, will face Leonardo Di Stefano Ruiz (10-1, 9 KOs), of Spain, 27, in a 10-rounder. “I’m honored to be fighting in Freddie’s hometown and in front of the huge Irish community in Boston, the night before St. Patrick’s Day,” Walsh said.
Show and tell
Oscar De La Hoya was the face of boxing for most of his 1992 to 2008 professional career. He was the biggest star, a massive pay-per-view attraction and an outstanding fighter who spent many years near the top of the pound-for-pound list. He also won world titles in a then-record six weight classes from junior lightweight to middleweight and faced a who’s who of his era — and usually made terrific fights. Among the many top names he faced: Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Bernard Hopkins, Pernell Whitaker, Felix Trinidad, Fernando Vargas, Shane Mosley (twice), Julio Cesar Chavez (twice), Ike Quartey, Arturo Gatti and Hector Camacho. De La Hoya also won an Olympic gold medal for the United States in 1992. On Saturday, the Golden Boy, now the owner and CEO of Golden Boy Promotions, turns 50. Happy Birthday, Oscar! Here is a mint program from his professional debut in my collection.
Serrano-Cruz and Baumgardner-Mekhaled photos: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom Boxing; Valdez photo: Mikey Williams/Top Rank; Kovalev photo: Getty
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Both Lawrence Okolie and Shane McGuigan agreed to part company due to logistic reasons. LO has moved to the ME. Shane disappointed but was okloie with that.
Zurdo-Rosado is a dogshit fight and anyone suggesting it should be ashamed of themselves. Rosado is washed up 160lb-er that has been consistently handled in all of his 168 fights, minus his one Hail Mary haymaker against the Bully. It’s despicable that this is a possibility.