Another good one this weekend. Amanda Serrano and Erika Cruz didn’t seem too bothered with such things as ‘caution’ and ‘good sense’ in their fight, standing toe-to-toe for almost the entire 10 rounds and hurling punches at each other.
It was a terrific spectacle. It was also a little sloppy, especially from Cruz’s side. That kind of thing makes it tempting to say there really wasn’t much technical or tactical nuance, but that’s not true. Our preview suggested the difference would be physical, with Serrano’s speed coming out on top rather than huge technical difference. As it turned out, it was a bruisingly evenly-matched physical confrontation, and it was those levels of technique that made the difference after all. Let’s take a look.
The first thing to note was that Cruz opened, and spent much of the fight, pushing forward as much as possible, despite being considerably less tidy in her form when she does so. She doesn’t have to fight like that and did show some more patience and clean form at moments later later. Serrano is typically a keen pressure fighter herself, too, so they were going to war either way if Cruz wanted it. It seems likely, then, that pushing forward was a deliberate choice. The logic is fairly easy to guess- Serrano’s shown some gas-tank problems in recent fights, but if Cruz let her choose when to engage, that’s easier to manage.
Push the pace as hard as possible instead, never letting her settle, and tagging her body constantly to drain the tank even more, and Cruz could hope that slowdown would come. It had its advantages- despite landing continuously herself, Serrano never looked completely comfortable with that pace, and Cruz had an argument for winning several of the early rounds.
It came with its risks, though. The bodywork was fine, but her shots to the head when pressing were loopy and telegraphed, whereas Serrano’s were much straighter. That meant Serrano could get her own punches home first, and, even if her defence wasn’t totally up, be ready to move with the big shot when it came.
You could see why Serrano has historically had much more power than Cruz, too. If anything, the Mexican was putting way more effort into her biggest punches. Despute putting her shoulders and upper body into it, though, the movement would typically stop at her waist. Not much weight transfer or momentum was going into the punches from the legs or feet. If anything her back leg was sometimes swinging, leaving nothing at all to push from and taking even more force away just to stay balanced.
By contrast, Serrano has a nice, fairly bladed, stance with her feet, allowing her to push through just by lifting her heel and pushing off her toes. She combines that with much straighter punches that allow her to put some weight into them without a great deal of effort. That difference accounts for a lot of why Serrano could often snap Cruz’s head back, but the reverse didn’t happen often.
WHAT AN ENDING TO ROUND SIX!— DAZN Boxing (@DAZNBoxing) February 5, 2023
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You can see the contrast in this exchange in the middle of the fight. Serrano’s back foot almost never leaves the ground when punching- instead, she lifts her heel and shifts weight forward with the punches just a little. Cruz, by contrast, often has her feet square, and they follow her upper body as she swings rather than it all being one move. That leaves her off-balance, as well as taking force away from the punch itself.
That disconnect caused her other problems, too. For the first part, her head movement can get wild, and that can cause head clashes. On this occasion, it was she who suffered, as contact in the third round opened a deep cut in her hair that bled immediately and proved difficult to staunch. Given that it was going directly into both eyes and her mouth, that almost definitely affected her, despite keeping her cool admirably.
It also gave Serrano some options later on. After that exchange at the end of the sixth, she decided she had Cruz on the brink, and pushed on hard. Cruz had recovered better than it seemed, though, and not chasing played into her hand a bit. As mentioned above, she is a bit cleaner with her form when her opponent comes to her. Serrano learned that quickly, and once the adrenaline rush of chasing the KO lifted, she realised that approach wasn’t going her way.
Instead, the round after, she played it the opposite way. Using Cruz’s tendency to chase shots and overbalance, she’d simply throw a jab then step back. Cruz would bite on the jab, try to counter, and pitch forward as she fell short. Then Serrano would shift back forwards and deliver her work. Round 8 was probably Serrano’s clearest of the entire fight as a result.
To her credit, Cruz realised this very quickly, and adjusted. In round nine, she counter-feinted- trying to bait Serrano’s step-back punches before throwing her own. It worked to some extent and the round was much more even, but she simply didn’t have enough time by then to commit to that tactic full-time so she still got tagged a lot. A lesson there about being the one leading the momentum swings, not following, perhaps.
In the final round she simply didn’t have a lot of choice, and went for the knockout. Very little tactics there- both fighters simply went for it full-bore. Cruz put in absolutely everything. At one point she simply fell over, seemingly without much reason, and at the end of the fight she sagged to the ropes. She may have regrets about how the fight went, but none will have to do with not putting the effort in.
Serrano, of course, also gave her all, but she will be heartened to have kept the pace up with someone pushing so hard. If there’s one lesson to take here, it’s that efficiency tells. Serrano did just as much work with a lot less energy expended. That, by the end, was a big part of the story of this tear-up. It allowed her to take home the win and cemented her place as Puerto Rico’s first ever undisputed boxing champion.
What the future brings for Serrano, we already know. Katie Taylor, victorious over Serrano last year, was ringside. Immediately after the fight, she entered the ring for the announcement of the rematch. The first one, in New York, was one of the best fights and biggest events of last year. The rematch, in Katie Taylor’s native Ireland, could be even bigger. Keep a look out for that one.
Cruz would also certainly like a rematch with Serrano, but she’ll have to wait and see. Obviously, that’s now out of the question till at least late summer, and might not be the first thing on Serrano’s mind even if she comes back down. So she might be best served by fighting again in the meantime. The most sense might be fighting fellow Sarah Mahfoud for a no1 contender fight for who gets the rematch. Another option might be Australian Skye Nicholson, who topped the prelims on this card and is a fighter clearly seen as a star by Matchroom- but her performance wasn’t very inspiring so they may hold off on the level jump for now. Beyond that, there aren’t an awful lot of options for Cruz, in a shallow division. Still, she’ll have made herself some fans with this performance on such a big stage, so she has some leverage.
All-in-all, an excellent fight to top a mostly excellent card, in what is a proving to be very good start for boxing in 2023.