Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KOs) and Katie Taylor (20-0, 6 KOs) will face off for Taylor’s undisputed lightweight boxing title Saturday night. The event is being touted as a meaningful moment in women’s sports history. It is the first time a women’s bout—boxing or MMA—will headline a fight night at Madison Square Garden. Serrano and Taylor will also become the first pair of women to earn seven figures (record paydays for both) on the same card in boxing history.
But Matchroom Sports chairman Eddie Hearn was clear, this is a market-driven, not purpose-driven, event. “Sold-out Madison Square Garden on Saturday night won’t be full of people going because they believe they should support women’s sports,” Hearn said. “They are going because they want to watch one of the greatest fights of all time. That is equality.”
JWS’ Take: The World’s Most Famous Arena has hosted thousands of fights over the last 140 years (its first was on July 17, 1882). But it wasn’t until August of 1997 that two women entered a ring at MSG with the intention of knocking the other out. Christy Martin won an eight-round unanimous decision over Isra Girgrah that night (the fight was on the undercard of a PPV telecast headlined by Felix Trinidad vs. Troy Waters). Martin earned $100,000 for her work. It is worth mentioning that Martin has a memoir on presale right now (Fighting for Survival, with Ron Borges) detailing her journey through “boxing fame, abuse, murder and resurrection.”
Historically, it has been hard for female fighters to earn a living, never mind a seven-figure payday. The market for the product simply has not been there. Hearn said the product has never been showcased properly. “They haven’t had the platform to show how good and entertaining [women’s boxing] is. We built the demand at this level.”
This weekend’s event is a reflection of how far women’s boxing has come over the last 25 years. Prize fighting is a business, and the compensation for the fighters is “directly connected” to the revenue generated by the event. Nakisa Bidarian, co-founder of Most Valuable Promotions, said MSG (scaled for 15,500-16,000 fans) is expected to be a sellout. For perspective, UFC 157 (the first event headlined by Ronda Rousey, Feb. 2013) had ~11,000 fans in attendance and did a $1.35 million gate. UFC 170 (the second event headlined by Rousey, Feb. 2014) did ~10,000 and $1.56 million in gate receipts. Serrano-Taylor should surpass both of those gate totals.
Early projections indicate PPV/subscriber sales could outpace the reported 240,000 buys posted by the Errol Spence Jr.–Yordenis Ugas fight two weeks ago, too. “This is a mainstream event,” Bidarian noted. “It’s one of the biggest fights in boxing this year and the numbers will reflect that from every metric.” Of course, Spence-Ugas cost viewers $74.99. This fight can be seen for less than a third of the price (cost: $19.99 for a DAZN subscription, $24.99 to watch via cable, satellite provider or PPV.com).
The interest in and around the fight has also allowed the fighters to ink a series of lucrative sponsorship pacts. Serrano, who signed with Most Valuable Promotions in 2021, announced new deals with FanDuel (she is the company’s first pro boxer partner and first female brand ambassador), Alani Nu (a popular female nutrition brand) and Medalla Light (Puerto Rico’s top selling light beer brand) within the last week. “Amanda will make more in sponsorships from this one event than she made in her entire career from fight purses and sponsorship [combined] before joining [MVP],” Bidarian said. For perspective, she had 41 professional fights prior to signing with MVP.
Saturday night will not be the last time two women earn seven figures for a single fight. But it is not expected to become the norm just yet. “[The fight] has to be a compelling product for the compensation to be at these levels,” Bidarian said, “and right now there is a dearth of elite talent with name recognition in women’s boxing to regularly create PPV matchups fans will buy.”
Promoters can solve the talent and star-power issue by investing in their women’s divisions and in the marketing of up-and-coming fighters. MVP helped to raise Serrano’s profile by featuring her as the co-main event on a pair of Jake Paul’s cards (Paul is an MVP co-founder). “When she walked out with Jake in Cleveland she got some cheers,” Bidarian said. “In Tampa [four months later], she was a star. When she walked out the sold-out crowd went crazy.”
Likewise, Hearn has spent the last five plus years building up Taylor’s image by aggressively promoting the Irish fighter on PPV-quality events. He had her headline her first professional fight in November 2016 and has since showcased her on the undercard of a series of high-profile fights. “I boxed her on A.J. (Anthony Joshua) cards,” he said. “I boxed her on a Danny Jacobs card at Barclays Center. I boxed her on a Gennady Golovkin card. I boxed her on Canelo-Rocky Fielding at MSG. I boxed her on the (Demetrius) Andrade card in Boston. Boxed her everywhere.”
Bidarian cited his experience with the UFC as a reason fan demand for women’s boxing will grow if promoters and broadcasters made the necessary investments in developing, marketing and showcasing the fighters. “Dana [White] used to say before Ronda [Rousey] came along that he was not into women’s MMA. Dana has since shifted his mindset, and today women’s MMA is very vibrant.” Rousey went on to generate more than $3 million in gates for the company.
DAZN has been creative with the marketing of this event. Among their efforts, the OTT streaming service partnered with WWE—a company with a track record of building female stars—to assist with digital and social promotion (Bianca Belair is heading up Team Serrano, while Becky Lynch leads Team Taylor). The strategy is designed to help DAZN reach a potential audience of more than 240 million on social media (including WWE brand and individual Superstar accounts) and close to 90 million on WWE’s YouTube channel. WWE’s marketing muscle does not come cheap. A source with knowledge of the deal terms said DAZN paid nearly half a million dollars for the multi-platform promotion across WWE assets. Stephanie McMahon brokered the deal for WWE.
This weekend’s event will serve to indicate what the potential for women’s boxing is. But it is going to take promoters and broadcasters to invest in the sport knowing the prospect of short-term rewards are unlikely.