Donald McRae: “Taylor and Serrano are two great fighters. Their gender did not matter once the first bell rang.”
Writers are many, but good writers are hard to find. Donald McRae is one of the few. McRae has that rare ability to bring a story to life through his use of the humble word. Make no mistake, he writes like very few do in the modern age of the camera and clicks for cash.
The author of some of the finest books ever written on the Noble Art, his time and talent are much in demand. I caught up with the former teacher in the middle of the Bivol/Canelo media fight week activities in Las Vegas. McRae had headed to Vegas after a week in New York covering the most important fight in women’s boxing history.
Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano gave us a fight that removed any lingering perceptions and prejudice. The moment wasn’t lost on McRae:
“It was one of the most memorable fight weeks I have ever attended and yes, from the Monday, I felt it was going to be special. I met Katie Taylor at the very swanky New York Athletic Club across the road from Central Park. She gave me a great interview and from that moment on I just knew it felt different. And then, day by day, the momentum built. The weigh-in on the Friday was pretty crazy, in a good way, with all the Irish and Puerto Rican fans, and fight night was incredible.”
Taylor and Serrano were given the showcase to change everything, and they did. A memorable night deserved, needed even, the special fight we got. It promised plenty, but it went beyond anything that anyone could reasonably have expected. Even a veteran ringsider like McRae knew it was something special:
“It totally transcended the hype. It was unforgettable. As the fight approached the atmosphere became so intense. But there was no animosity or edge….just a sense that we were all about to witness something different. The ring walks were powerful, especially Taylor’s, and then the fight itself was as dramatic as it was thrilling. Rounds 5 and 6 will live long in the memory. I was so impressed by Serrano and I thought she was about to stop Taylor. But Katie, showing incredible heart and will, just refused to surrender. I told her after the fight that it had been actually moving to watch her and Amanda. The way it ended – with such a fierce last round – had everybody on their feet. Even the jaded old press rows were standing and clapping. Best of all was the way the two fighters, and their corners and fans reacted afterwards. I thought Serrano deserved a draw but I think she felt that, even in defeat, she had won something special on a historic night. And of course, it was the greatest night of Katie’s career.”
The danger and the worry going forward must be, have we seen the peak. Can anything top what we saw at Madison Square Garden? If, as seems likely, Taylor and Serrano dance again, it needs to be bigger and better. Croke Park is obvious, however, it presents many problems, but recent events have left the door ever so slightly ajar for an emotional homecoming. But what happens when Taylor retires, we might only see her fight a few more times, maybe only once more. Are there fights and fighters out there to continue the upward momentum? McRae believes women’s boxing can continue to grow but there are concerns about the lack of depth in the sport:
“I do think so. The one big problem is that there is not much depth. There are about a dozen really good women fighters. Taylor, Serrano, Shields, Marshall, Mayer, Baumgardner, McCaskill, Cameron, Jonas and a few others are all excellent. But the pool is small and it will take time to develop women’s boxing. But I think many girls and young women will have been inspired by what happened in the Garden. Taylor and Serrano are two great fighters. Their gender did not matter once the first bell rang. I think the popularity of women’s boxing will grow….but we need to be patient too.”
The fight for acceptance and equality has been long and hard, and at times it looked like being a losing battle. It took a court case to end the prehistoric views of the British Boxing Board of Control, and even then, it was just the start of the fight:
“We need to remember that it was only in 1998 that the great pioneer, Jane Couch, won her case in court against the British Boxing Board of Control. She became the first woman in Britain to be granted a license to box professionally. Until then women’s boxing was banned. It seems absurd to remember that, until then, women were considered too fragile and “emotionally unstable” to box. Jane suffered a great deal and she and other pioneers in America helped pave the way for what we saw last weekend. So the difference is vast.”
What Couch so bravely started Katie Taylor revived in 2016 when she turned professional. Taylor opened many doors, and now she has opened every door:
“Katie is hugely important. She is the most famous sports personality in Ireland and she helped transform the perception of women’s boxing more than anyone. She is also revered in American and British boxing now. Katie is a great champion.”
Women’s boxing is in a good place. A very good place. Claressa Shields and Savannah Marshall will look to replicate the history-making fight in New York later this year and Mikaela Mayer and Alycia Baumgardner is way too good a fight to be lost because of political shenanigans. Both fights are not signed and sealed yet, but they must be delivered. There are others, Natasha Jonas and Hannah Rankin look set to clash in the fall, an unlikely fight only a few months ago, now it is a tantalisingly good fight with much intrigue and one that will be built on respect. Chantelle Cameron a fighter almost criminally going under the radar surely can’t be ignored for the major fights much longer. There are now a plethora of elite amateurs like the Olympic Gold medallist Lauren Price turning over, and more will follow. We might as McRae suggests need a little patience, but the sport is getting there and at some pace.
Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland/Matchroom