February 28, 2024

The eyes of the combat sports world will be focused on a pair of boxing main events this Saturday with historic implications.  

Shakur Stevenson (17-0, 9 KOs) puts his WBO junior lightweight title on the line against WBC champion Oscar Valdez (30-0, 23 KOs) in a must-see unification bout pairing unbeaten rising stars in Las Vegas. Meanwhile, in New York, undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor (20-0, 6 KOs) welcomes seven-division champion Amanda Serrano (42-1-1, 30 KOs) in what’s being billed as the biggest women’s boxing match in history.  

The even greater part for fans of the sport is that both promoters have agreed that the two main events will not conflict, allowing fans to enjoy both in real time one after the other. With all that in mind, let’s take a closer look at both bouts and the storylines that follow heading in.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including the top storylines to follow for a loaded weekend across both sports below.

1. Taylor-Serrano is the superfight women’s boxing deserves

Although it once enjoyed pay-per-view and premium cable placement in the 1990s, when future Hall of Famers like Laila Ali and Christy Martin were the face of the sport, women’s boxing has been largely ignored over the past 20 years. Both a lack of stars and elite depth were the main problems in promoters and networks buying in on the overall viability. A major change came in the form of the 2012 Olympics, when women were allowed to compete for the first time and stars like Ireland’s Taylor and American Claressa Shields (a two-time gold medalist) slowly became household names.  

Serrano, meanwhile, who turned pro in 2009, was forced to compete largely off TV for small purses despite winning world titles at every stop between 118 and 140 pounds. She finally received her signal boost when YouTube star turned boxer, Jake Paul, signed Serrano as the first fighter under his MVP Promotions banner and began featuring her fights on his PPV cards for career-high paydays. This weekend, two years after Taylor-Serrano talks first fell apart, the stage couldn’t be any bigger in this pairing between the top two female pound-for-pound boxers. Taylor and Serrano, still in their physical primes at ages 35 and 33, respectively, will also become the first females to headline a boxing match at the big room at Madison Square Garden in a fight to decide the best of this era.

2. Forget the history, Taylor-Serrano is guaranteed fireworks 

Although this could’ve been the perfect showcase for women’s boxing to graduate from its current archaic rule set featuring two-minute rounds and 10-round title bouts, the shorter format should produce excitement given the fighter’s styles. Taylor, who lacks one-punch knockout power, relies on technique and a high volume of combinations to get inside and typically dictate the pace of the fight. Her opponent, however, can simply do it all. The southpaw Serrano, a native of Puerto Rico who fights out of Brooklyn, New York, can box just as good as she can fight. She’s also a vicious body puncher who has carried her power with her up and down the scale. The history in play and the iconic backdrop of “The World’s Most Famous Arena” should be enough on its own to produce a great fight. One should also expect a rocking atmosphere given the strong Irish and Puerto Rican fan bases in New York. But the two fighters also realize the enormity of the event, in which dazzling performances from both might create the need for multiple rematches while continuing to raise the profile of the sport for women.

3. The promoters deserve credit for doing their jobs 

It may seem like backhanded a compliment, but many elite boxing promoters have forgotten the grassroots hustle needed to bring crossover attention to this increasingly niche sport. Luckily, that has not been the case for Paul or Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport. Hearn signed Taylor when she turned pro in 2016 and has done an exceptional job raising her global profile by placing her early fights on Anthony Joshua undercards before featuring Taylor as a headliner all her own. The two promoters also succeeded in making the media rounds within the Big Apple this week in getting both fighters interviewed on NBC’s “The Today Show.” And then there’s the case of Paul, who at just 25, has made it his mission publicly to combat fighter pay issues in both women’s boxing and MMA in general. And while his Robin Hood ways can be criticized at times as being driven by selfish intentions, in the case of Serrano it has worked. Paul, through his millions of followers on multiple social media platforms, has brought attention to boxing to a massive and youthful audience in ways that other aging promoters haven’t even tried.

4. If styles make fights, Valdez-Stevenson could be amazing 

Stevenson, a 24-year-old southpaw, is a slick boxer and lightning quick combination puncher who has been compared to a young Floyd Mayweather. Valdez, meanwhile, a 31-year-old native of Mexico, drew early comparisons to Arturo Gatti in his younger days as an aggressive brawler who has added plenty of craft under new trainer Eddy Reynoso of Canelo Alvarez fame. Placing them against one another, years after Stevenson continued to bark that Valdez was ducking him back as featherweights (and Stevenson became his mandatory challenger), has only added years of built-up tension. For Stevenson to become a future face of the sport and pound-for-pound king, he will need to pass a test as dangerous as the hard-charging Valdez, who upset long-time champion Miguel Berchelt in 2021’s knockout of the year. But of any test Stevenson has yet to face, Valdez is the best candidate yet to force the dog out of him to dig in and fight. That prospect alone has gone a long way in making this fight, which boxing fans felt rewarded when it wasn’t put on PPV, such an anticipated event. 

5. Which version of Valdez will show up?  

It’s an important question given how polarizing his 2021 campaign turned out to be. Valdez opened last year by stopping Berchelt and, for the first time, receiving critical consideration as a fringe P4P fighter. But Valdez’s reputation came under fire ahead of his September return when he tested positive for a banned substance yet was controversially still allowed to fight against unbeaten Robson Conceicao. Valdez, who blamed the failed test on herbal tea consumption, appeared to let the negative headlines get to him and his performance against the technically sound Conceicao was largely uneven in a close decision win. Like he did as a big underdog against Berchelt, it will be up to Valdez to rise to the occasion once more and prove his recent hiccup was merely an aberration.

Who wins Stevenson vs. Valdez? And which prop is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see Brandon Wise’s best bets for Saturday, all from the CBS combat sports specialist who crushed his boxing picks in 2021, and find out.

Source link