Critics say women’s boxing cannot make a profit. They also say women’s boxing lacks the marketing appeal of men’s, which is why so few advertisers invest. In the past, the only way for female boxers to earn a living wage was to pose for Playboy magazine or Maxim, maximizing the publicity from their sex appeal to offset the cost of their training and preparation as world-class athletes. The mainstream athletic reputation of the female boxer was more synonymous with physical aesthetics than with elite athleticism. Fortunately, this is no longer the case today: female boxers have gone a long way toward proving that fans will pay top dollar to watch them compete. In particular, the Katie Taylor v. Amanda Serrano’s World Championship fight on April 30th, 2022 at Madison Square Garden (MSG) is a clear sign of progress. Dubbed the “biggest fight in the history of Women’s Boxing,” the fight was a monumental moment in the sport, signaling an upward future trajectory of female boxers as main event headliners for profitable matchmaking.
A game changer for women’s combat sports, the Taylor-Serrano fight was attended by a sold-out crowd of 19,187 at MSG. It was broadcasted by DAZN in over 170 markets, including the US, UK, Spain, Ireland, Canada, Italy, Australia, Japan, Brazil, and Germany. The monumental promotion of this fight played a key role in establishing its significance, and resulted in this being the first time in women’s boxing history where both female fighters received $1 million each as their fighter purses. While this number pales in comparison to the hundreds of millions of dollars paid to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in May 2015, it does signify that, with a true investment in marketing and promoting, a women’s boxing headliner can be a truly profitable event.
The Ali Effect
In small pockets, combat sports over the years have shown the possibilities of female stars who, when properly backed and supported, have been able to transcend sport into business, entertainment, and media. Women’s boxing has a storied legacy of past World Champion boxers. Leila Ali burst onto the global scene in 1999 as a novelty to most boxing fans, thanks to her three-time World Champion and Olympian father, the late great Muhammad Ali. Fortified by an announcement of Good Morning America with an interview by Diane Sawyer, Leila Ali was able to gain the attention of mainstream audiences who were interested in the extension of Muhammad Ali’s legacy. From 1999 to 2007, she proved all of the doubters wrong, remaining an undefeated fighter with multiple world titles. Although Leila Ali is considered one of the best female boxers of all time, she made the lion’s-share of her money off of media appearances, television work, and monetizing her celebrity status, instead of from her immense athletic talent in the boxing ring.
In addition to the amazing boxing exploits of Leila Ali, there was Christy Martin, Mia St. John, Lucia Rijker, Valerie Mahfood, Ann Wolfe, and Holly Holm. Each has accomplished Boxing Hall of Fame-worthy credentials and accomplishments, yet they were all lacking in mainstream media recognition and commercial endorsements. As with their male counterparts, the majority of female boxers’ success has been linked to a promoter to help maximize the exposure and marketing of the events. Longtime promoters such as Don King, Bob Arum, and more recently Eddie Hearn have all made investments in women’s boxing over the years to help build up marquee women’s fights—such buy-in is crucial to keep moving these athletes towards the compensation and recognition they deserve.
Jake Paul Believes in Amanda Serrano
While Jake Paul is known as a YouTube sensation and social media darling with over 20.4 million subscribers worldwide in his own right, his attention-grabbing exploits as a promoter have made a lasting impact on women’s boxing. In this role, he has supported the career of World Champion women’s boxer Amanda Serrano under his Most Valuable Promotions (MVP) company. Serrano ranks third on the current pound-for-pound list of female boxers in the world, which includes current superstars such as Katie Taylor, Claressa Shields, Seniea Estrada, Jessica McCaskill, Mikaela Mayer, Delfine Persoon, Savannah Marshall, Christina Hammer, and Alycia Baumgardner.
Jake Paul’s goal in the partnership with Amanda Serrano was to set up the World Championship Women’s fight with Katie Taylor, the pound-for-pound list’s top ranked boxer. In partnership with Eddie Hearn from Matchroom Sport who represents Katie Taylor, Paul was able to set up multiple media appearances on Good Morning America and the Today Show to build public attention. Additionally, Jake Paul and Eddie Hearn partnered with both WWE and DAZN to widen the event’s targeted audience. Jake Paul is not apologetic about leveraging his name recognition to make a profit. He sees the potential in women’s boxing and is looking to secure a major payday, not only for the female fighters he promotes, but for himself.
Overall, the respect, effort, and diligence that both Jake Paul and Eddie Hearn showed in promoting the Taylor v. Serrano fight at MSG is a blueprint for how to treat women’s boxing and properly maximize profits in the future.
Respect Has Always Been Key
While combat sports is a very volatile industry, due to its decentralized structure, complicated system of sanctioning bodies, and multidisciplinary rulesets, it does offer a key ingredient for female athletes’ success: control of the storyline. Being memorable in sports is the key to an everlasting legacy. Michael Jordan’s flu game is iconic because, in addition to featuring his masterful athletic performance, there was the added humanizing story of Jordan competing while hampered by illness. The ability of the common sports fan to relate to an athlete trying to do their job while suffering from the flu made the world appreciate Michael Jordan’s efforts even more. (It also didn’t hurt that Michael Jordan was a world-class athlete with equally high-level sponsorships with NIKE, Gatorade, Hanes, McDonald’s, and Wheaties, to name a few.)
The storyline for the Katie Taylor v. Amanda Serrano World Championship boxing match at the iconic Madison Square Garden was built up as the biggest fight ever to occur in women’s boxing history. Hyping up this story drew in thousands of viewers, building suspense and excitement for spectators, and the fighters did not disappoint in delivering. I can remember exactly where I watched the Taylor v. Serrano fight. I remember it as a thrilling back-and-forth affair that kept us riveted. In earlier rounds, you could hear the Puerto Rican supporters of Serrano screaming as she found success as the faster fighter, having Taylor in trouble and up against the ropes. Then there was the equally boisterous passion from Irish supporters as Taylor dug deep with hard punches, fighting her way back and ultimately winning the match via split decision.
In the end, the fight absolutely lived up to the hype as the “biggest fight in the history of women’s boxing”—it was, in fact, one of the best I have ever seen. As a fan of boxing, the sensation I felt down my spine as the judge’s scorecards were read reminded me of how I felt watching the 12th round of the first heavyweight title fight between Tyson Fury v. Deontay Wilder in 2018. I was in rapt anticipation, completely entertained by two masterful athletes in their athletic primes.
For me, supporting women’s boxing is a game changer for the sports world, and thanks to the legacy of Leila Ali and all past women fighters, the future is bright for Katie Taylor, Amanda Serrano, and the next generation as they seek to make their mark in combat sports. I urge more mainstream brands and sponsors to invest in women’s boxing, as the competitiveness and talent of these female athletes is as close to a surefire bet as you will find in sports. In the end, for investors like Jake Paul and Eddie Hearn, there is money to be made, but more importantly, there are talented women like Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano who deserve to be celebrated.
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