On May 20th, Irish eyes will be smiling.

At least until the bell rings.

That’s the day the world will see featherweight champion Amanda Serrano challenge lightweight champion Katie Taylor for the second time, this time on Taylor’s turf in Ireland. The road to get there was set on Saturday, and it was anything but easy.

Over an eight day spread, Saturday to Saturday, boxing was treated to three fights that genuinely went above and beyond expectations  in Artur Beterbiev-Anthony Yarde, Emanuel Navarrete-Liam Wilson (more on that below), and finally a unification clash at featherweight.

Erika Cruz Hernandez gave everything she had, and pushed Serrano for all of ten fabulous rounds at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. Too-wide final scorecards don’t tell the story the eyes saw unfold. For much of the first half of the fight, Cruz was an engine, flinging in combination and appearing to land clean more often than her favored foe.

Serrano showed why she is who she is starting around the fifth and through the rest of the fight. As Cruz tired in spots, Serrano held her ground and fired sharper, straighter, and with more authority. In the sixth she had Cruz in big trouble and it looked like the game effort, one punctuated by a nasty cut that had Cruz a bloody mess from the third round on, was about to end.

Cruz responded with 134 punches thrown in the following frame, according to CompuBox. Serrano almost kept pace with 121. 

Women fight two minute rounds, in case anyone forgot.

It was breathless entertainment. Again according to CompuBox, it was the most punches ever thrown in a women’s fight and second all time in landed blows. They took the measure of each other and delivered the goods. 

Undisputed unification fights should be special. This one was.

The one preceding it was just good, and that’s okay too. It did feature a special effort. Alycia Baumgardner added the lone major belt she was missing (WBA) against Elham Makhaled. Baumgardner won the contest but Mekhaled’s guts made it a show. Dropped twice in the fourth, and hurt in the seventh, Mekhaled refused to give up and made it to the final bell. Baumgardner looked a little fatigued at the end but continued her winning ways, building on the last two years and entrenching herself further as the queen at Jr. lightweight. 

Futures: In the ring after the fight, it was announced. Taylor-Serrano II is coming. It’s going to be a massive promotion and the Irish locale should mean a raucous crowd. Serrano had Taylor in big trouble the first time and couldn’t finish her. Who will apply the lessons of their first fight to better effect?

Can this set the stage for a third or will Taylor close the rivalry at 2-0? We’ll find out in a few months. Waiting in the wings should be Baumgardner. She is perfectly positioned to challenge the winner of Taylor-Serrano II regardless of who it is, while also having the option of a lucrative rematch with Mikaela Mayer if it can come together.

Women’s boxing is as vibrant and healthy as it's ever been and delivered again on Saturday.

Cliff’s Notes…

Let’s not forget the gem on Friday…Emanuel Navarrete had to come off the floor in the fourth, and was hurt badly again a couple rounds later. Fans can debate the extra time Navarrete got after the knockdown (though it was easy to miss in real time that he was clipped with both hands on the deck too). It takes nothing from the tenacity Navarrete showed to chip away and eventually force a finish. Navarrete’s opposition has been spotty for a few years, but at the level he’s managed toward we get some damn good action and Wilson proved to be his toughest foe in years. Wilson’s effort was excellent and both men are welcome back anytime.      

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com