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Decorated boxing champion Amanda Serrano’s switch to MMA shines light on issues in women’s boxing

MMA Fighting

One of the most successful female boxers of recent times will be crossing over to MMA on Friday night.

Five-division boxing world champion Amanda Serrano will be making her MMA debut under at Combate Americas. Serrano will be taking on Corina Herrera in an 125-pound contest that’s set to go down in the co-main event of Combate Estrellas 1 at Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles.

Serrano’s journey in combat sports couldn’t have had a more casual start. There was no burning desire or unceasing determination to become who she is today — one of the most accomplished fighters in women’s boxing history.

Serrano was born in 1988 in Carolina, Puerto Rico, but grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. She was raised in Bushwick long before the hipsters arrived in the neighborhood (she still lives with her parents in the same house she was brought up in). Her older sister, Cindy Serrano, had picked up boxing through her husband Jordan Maldonado during Serrano’s early teenage years. Cindy would eventually turn to professional boxing and do quite well in that profession, becoming a multiple-division world champion herself.

Growing up, Serrano watched her sister evolve in the sweet science, yet had no interest in strapping on the gloves. Looking to make some money while still getting through school, Serrano got a job as a babysitter in the boxing gym her sister Cindy trained at. Years went by and there was still no interest in fighting.

But after graduating high school in 2006, and not knowing what do do next like most 18-year-olds, Serrano decided to sign up to one of the most prestigious amateur boxing tournaments. Because, why not?

“I started at 18,” Serrano told MMA Fighting. “I graduated high school early and I always had a job at the gym with my brother-in-law, who’s my trainer now. I always saw the guys and my sister progress, and the guys come in and out, and always fighting for the New York Golden Gloves. I knew that that was a prestigious tournament, so I signed up for the Golden Gloves, and the same exact day I sent the application is the same day I started training boxing.”

When Serrano told Maldonado and her sister Cindy that she had signed up for the Golden Gloves, the two didn’t take the news too well.

“They didn’t want me to fight at all because she (Cindy) was struggling,” Serrano explained. “At that time there was nothing, there were only a couple of female pro fighters, so my coach tried to persuade me (not to fight) and he told my sister, ‘Beat her up until she doesn’t want to do it no more,’ but I kept coming back and he kept saying, ‘Beat her up again, beat her up again.’ And at one point he thought my sister was taking it easy on me and he would tell her, ‘Yo, really beat her up,’ and she was like, ‘I’m trying, she’s just fighting back,’ so after that he was like, ‘Wow, maybe she really wants to do it.’ So that’s when he decided to work with me.”

Serrano’s father was in full support of her boxing career, but her mother was not. Serrano’s mom didn’t want to see her youngest child come home crying or with black eyes just as she would with her sister Cindy.

Serrano fought in the Golden Gloves three months after she started training. She lost her first amateur fight, but would later come back to win the Golden Gloves in 2008. Even then, Serrano had no interest in having a professional career in boxing.

“Not at all,” Serrano said with a laugh. “After I won the Golden Gloves, I took a little bit of time off because I didn’t know what to do.

“To me, it wasn’t necessary to continue to win them, like to be a five-time Golden Gloves champion, it makes no sense. So in 2009, we got a phone call from a girlfriend from Albany, N.Y. She was a great amateur fighter, and she offered us a great fight and I was like, “What the hell, I’m getting paid for it so I might as well do it.’

“We took the fight just to take it, not knowing that my career would’ve taken off and me becoming one of the most accomplished female fighters. So we took the fight just to take it and in my pro debut I made good money. I fought in the girl’s home town and we were the main event – two female pro debutants were the main event – and I beat her and after that, my sister already had the name in the sport, so people started paying attention. We had a couple of promoters give us a call, so we decided, ‘OK, let’s see where this is going to take us.’”

Serrano became a professional boxer in 2009, and from that point on, she went on to fight 36 times, compiling a professional record of 34-1-1 and picking up a few world championships along the way:

“The first title I won was the IBF at 130 pounds, and then I won the UBF at 126, and then I won the WBO at 135, then the WBO at 126, and then the WBO at 122, and then the WBO at 118.”

And that’s just counting the world titles and not the several other regionals championships she won, which she doesn’t really count.

Yet, despite making history and becoming the only female boxer to win world titles in five different divisions and the only Puerto Rican boxer to become a five-division world champion, things didn’t look too great for Serrano, which speaks volumes about the state of women’s boxing.

“There isn’t a light at the end of the tunnel in female boxing,” Serrano said. “It’s kind of right now, well it’s always been at a stand still. It goes in and out. It has its uproars, but then it goes right back down. I started training and I’ve been thinking about MMA for like two years, but when I started kicking and stuff like that, we had a good opportunity to fight in Showtime Extreme and in over 10 years a girl hasn’t fought in a big network like that. So we thought that that was the path and the step needed to become a Showtime fighter or HBO or those type of networks.

“I fought on Showtime Extreme twice, I got my five division (titles), so I thought after that I would definitely get people knocking on the door to get better opportunities and get people to take notice and still nothing was going on. And I’m still waiting by the phone for a big opportunity and nothing.”

Frustrated with her boxing career, Serrano, interestingly enough, ended up linking with the Mount Rushmore of women’s MMA in a movie set. Serrano was part of a film called Fight Valley along with UFC stars Holly Holm, Miesha Tate and Cris Cyborg. It was then, in 2015, that Serrano realized how big and lucrative women’s MMA is compared to women’s boxing.

“I saw Holly Holm transition and being a great professional boxer, as well as an MMA fighter,” Serrano said. “And at that time she had just gotten the offer to fight Ronda Rousey and she had told us that her biggest regret was not taking up MMA sooner. So I was like, ‘Wow, she was such a successful boxer and she’s still thinking that way.’ So that always stayed in the back of my head and after winning the five division and I’m still, not struggling, but still trying to make a name for myself in a sport I dedicated 11 years to, so I said, ‘you know, now that I’m still young, and just 29 years old, and I still have the strength, and I feel like I can give it my all I said let me try it now.’

“And we had the great opportunity to sign with Combate Americas, which I’m extremely proud of because they are predominately working with Latinos and I’m a proud Latina, so yeah, I’m excited about that.”

After filming Fight Valley, Serrano began training in muay thai and dabbling with grappling, but still kept boxing as her main focus. In 2017, after becoming a five-division world champion and still getting no big opportunities, Serrano decided it was time to step into the MMA world.

Being the best at her craft, but still having to transition into MMA in search of what boxing couldn’t give her is an experience “The Real Deal” describes as frustrating.

“Its definitely frustrating,” Serrano said. “I dedicated 11 years and now I’m starting on a clean slate. MMA is totally a different sport and you have to give MMA fighters respect because, you know, I can only use 20 percent of my boxing skills in MMA because there is wrestling, there is muay thai, and other things and different aspects. So to actually have to reset my whole mindset and not be in boxing, I have to be a fighter and I’m glad my trainer taught me that early in my career – to become a fighter and not just a boxer. So that went over to MMA, but it’s still a whole new learning process and it’s like starting all over again. I mean, it’s a new sport so that’s the frustrating part.

“I dedicated my life to a sport that’s not giving back and it’s not fair.”

In MMA, it’s standard to watch women fight along men in the same cards and it’s common to see women headline major events. Some of the biggest stars and draws in MMA are females.

Serrano believes the difference between female boxing and female MMA to be night and day. She says willingness from promoters to give females air time is the key difference between the two sports.

“It’s a big difference,” Serrano said. “Its huge, women’s MMA is huge. It’s way bigger than boxing and it’s funny because female boxing has been around for so much longer. You have to give thanks to the veterans like Miesha Tate , Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg and all these girls showing that they can fight, as well as Dana White for putting the girls on TV. And that’s what helped female MMA, seeing them on TV and it’s being pushed, so you see a big men’s headline, but on the undercard, there are girls so you have no choice but to watch them.

“If boxing promoters and networks did the same thing, then the audience would be like, ‘okay, there is female boxing,’ and they would start to enjoy it. But they don’t even want to give it a chance or sacrifice one fight (slot) to show on TV, so that’s a major difference between the sports. These promoters are actually putting females on and it’s not just sometimes one, it’s two or three female fights on the card and it’s enjoyable.”

Despite her frustrations with boxing, Serrano is not going to leave the sport she dedicated almost half her life to. With her MMA debut at Friday’s Combate Americas event, Serrano hopes to be the first fighter to hold world titles in both boxing and MMA at the same time.

Serrano, who’s the current WBO champion at 122 pounds, plans on staying in boxing for one more year, as she’s still working with her promotor to get a chance to win her sixth world title. The 29-year-old fighter will fight in both MMA and boxing, but eventually wants to leave boxing to pursue her MMA career in “full force.”

“This is my goal for myself, to become a boxing and MMA champion at the same time,” Serrano said. “I know Holly did it, but she was retired from boxing. Some people might think that’s the better way, so you can just concentrate on MMA, but I definitely want to try it because I’m currently the WBO world champion, so I want to hold on to it as long as I can, so I can become an MMA champion and accomplish that goal.”

Just moments away from beginning her journey in MMA, Serrano, who’s seasoned in hand-to-hand combat, admits there is a different feeling in the air.

“I always get nervous for my fights and this is not a different nervous feeling, but I’m more anxious,” Serrano said. “I just want to see all my hard work, to see if it come through that night. I’m so anxious; I just want to get it over with. I just want to fight and punch somebody with 4-ounce gloves, so it’s just more on an anxious feeling. I cant wait.”

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