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These Boxers Plan to Show They Can Fight by Men’s Rules

When Amanda Serrano trains for a championship fight, she often spars with men for at least a dozen three-minute rounds, using the standard male regulation format to push her athleticism to the edge.

But when she gets into the ring for real, the fight goes for only 10 two-minute rounds, the standard for women’s boxing.

On Friday she will compete in the first women’s title fight in 15 years that has been sanctioned under men’s rules, and only the second one ever. It will also be the biggest, as title belts from three of the four major boxing sanctioning organizations will be up for grabs.

“We’re able to showcase it on a worldwide stage,” Serrano said. “I want to show that we’re capable of doing this.”

Serrano, 35, a seven-division boxing world champion and undisputed featherweight champion from Carolina, P.R., will face off against Danila Ramos, 38, from São Paulo, Brazil. Serrano will defend her title from the World Boxing Organization, the World Boxing Association and the International Boxing Federation.

Serrano and other women boxers say an equal playing field has been a long time coming, especially when it comes to pay.Credit…Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times
A mural of Serrano by the Puerto Rican artist David Sepúlveda, known as Don Rimx, at the Monterrey Boxing Academy in Bayamón, P.R.Credit…Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

Serrano will enter the ring on Friday with a record of 45-2-1 and 30 knockouts, one of the best in women’s boxing and only two knockouts short of tying the women’s record. Ramos has a 12-2-0 record with one knockout. The fight will be held at the Caribe Royale in Orlando, Fla., and will be streamed starting at 9 p.m. Eastern on DAZN, a sports subscription service.

For Serrano, the match is about more than stats and titles. She is seeking to change a sport that has long struggled with equity.

Male and female athletes have competed under different rules for generations. In professional basketball, women play 10-minute quarters while men play 12 minutes. In tennis, women compete in a best-of-three format during Grand Slam tournaments while men play best-of-five sets. In boxing, 16 minutes separate the men from the women.

Serrano and other boxers say an equal playing field has been a long time coming, especially when it comes to pay.

A 12-round fight might attract a bigger audience, said Nakisa Bidarian, a co-founder of Most Valuable Productions, which promotes Serrano. “If you put on a more exciting product,” he said. “You will get paid more.”

Fans are more likely to see an all-out punches-in-bunches brawl of a finish in a three-minute round, Bidarian said. That’s something that he said women’s boxing “generally misses versus the men’s side of it.”

“We’re able to showcase it on a worldwide stage,” Serrano said of the longer-format match. “I want to show that we’re capable of doing this.”Credit…Erika P. Rodriguez for The New York Times

The Friday fight was sanctioned by the Florida Athletic Commission and three of the major boxing bodies. Bidarian said the World Boxing Commission, the fourth major agency, would never sanction a 12-round fight for women. The commission, which has cited a study that suggests women are more susceptible to concussions than men, did not respond to a request for comment.

Bidarian said that he recognized longer fights increase the risk of injury, but that “this is about two professional athletes having the right to compete how they want to.”

The fight is being promoted with the slogan “Our Choice.” Two dozen current and former female fighters signed a letter arguing that women should have the option to compete at 10 or 12 rounds.

Among them was Laila Ali, a former super middleweight and light heavyweight champion and a daughter of Muhammad Ali. She said she always believed women should fight three-minute rounds, including during her fighting years.

“Two minutes goes by really quickly,” she said. “There have been times where you’re just about to get it done and then the bell rings and you’re like, Dang, if I had had another minute.”

Laila Ali, left, faced Gwendolyn O’ Neil in a super middleweight fight in Johannesburg in 2007. Ali said she has always believed women should fight three-minute rounds.Credit…AFP via Getty Images

Until men and women fight under the same rules, Ali said, real equality will be out of reach.

“As professional fighters, you want to get to a point where you no longer have to be thought of as a female fighter, you just want to be a boxer,” she said. “It really shouldn’t matter when it comes to athleticism.”

Bonnie Morris, a women’s history professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said that as women became more active in athletics, there were concerns about their “fragility and vulnerability to injury,” leading to the segregation of some sports by sex. That was especially true when it came to women being hit in the face, she said, “because your face is your fortune.”

But that didn’t stop women from entering the ring.

Women have fought three-minute rounds across the arc of boxing, said Malissa Smith, the author of “A History of Women’s Boxing.” But it wasn’t until the 2000s, as boxers like Laila Ali and Christy Martin brought more legitimacy to the sport, that state boxing commissions began to formalize rounds for sanctioned women’s bouts.

They also set minimum standards for money, “which were pathetically low because they didn’t equate them to men’s fights,” Smith said.

Serrano has helped change that.

Last year, she faced off against Katie Taylor in the first boxing match headlined by women at Madison Square Garden. Both were guaranteed at least $1 million, among the highest purses in women’s boxing. Serrano lost in a split decision, but she used the moment to step into the role of change maker. She was encouraged by her promotion company, which is led by Jake Paul, one of the biggest disrupters in boxing and social media.

Serrano, right, faced off against Katie Taylor last year in the first boxing match headlined by women at Madison Square Garden. Serrano lost in a split decision, but capitalized on the moment.Credit…Sarah Stier/Getty Images

On Friday, each fighter will try to knock out her opponent well before the full distance, so the fight may not go the full 12 rounds, Smith said. But in boxing, often what really matters is how well two people can put on a show.

Heather Hardy, a former featherweight champion, said the longer format would allow Serrano to showcase her technical work and strategy.

“So many eyes are always on her fights,” said Hardy, who lost to Serrano in August. “She has the target audience, the talent and the athleticism to do it.”

In all three of the combat sports that Hardy competes in — kickboxing, mixed martial arts and boxing — she said she had never been hit by anyone as hard as Serrano hit her.

“I wouldn’t want to be in there for three minutes with Amanda,” she said.

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