Laura Serrano: "She Did Boxing....."

By Bernie McCoy: When I saw Laura Serrano's retirement announcement, in an open letter to WBAN, I recalled a long-ago line from a boxing lifer in New Orleans. I was doing time on the "States Item" in that old city and we were propped up at the bar in a joint on Canal Street, one of those places that had "We Never Close" block letter painted in the front window. He was discoursing about a guy named Ralph Dupas, a tough-as-barbed-wire fighter out of the Irish Channel neighborhood, a long standing breeding ground for good professional fighters in the Crescent City..

The line, which I remember to this day, was, a reverential, "Ralph Dupas, man, he did boxing..." a high-praise tribute that left one word unsaid and a line used sparingly about only the most admired of fighters. It's a line that fits comfortably into any discussion of Laura Serrano and her departure from the sport of Women's boxing,

"Laura Serrano, she did boxing, right."

Laura Serrano ended her career exactly the way she began, coming out of a corner, in a professional boxing ring, to face a tough opponent. In a career that spanned 13 years and 23 bouts along with a take-your-pick list of spectacular highlights, that one fact may be what makes singular Serrano's tenure near the top of the sport of Women's boxing. Her debut fight was against a boxer whose record, at the time, was 21-1-1. Serrano was an unknown fighter from Mexico, her opponent was Christy Martin. The bout ended in a six round draw. Serrano's final opponent, more than 13 years later, had an 18-0 record and Laura Serrano traveled to Germany, Ina Menzer's home country, to drop a close ten round decision. Stop and think for a moment and realize those two bouts, separated by 13 years, crystallize what Laura Serrano's career in the ring was all about: taking tough, competitive bouts, literally, from the beginning to the end, coupled with a willingness to go where the tough fighters and the competitive bouts were.

"Laura Serrano, she did boxing, right."

And just as significant as what Laura Serrano's career in the ring was, in equal measure, it was what her career was not that was just as impressive, maybe even more so. Serrano's 13 years as a professional fighter were never about the constant pursuit of "look-at-me" publicity; there was no ongoing flow of press releases detailing, at mind numbing length, grievances, real and imagined. Her career was never about unseemly "call outs" of opponents or the disparagement of other fighters or the complaining about the up and down vagaries of the sport. Neither was Serrano's career about an accumulation of title belts, which, as the years passed, were rendered essentially obsolete by the sheer, obscene number of titles available. Serrano held two titles, over her 13 years, the WIBF and IWBF lightweight titles. For a fighter who achieved near stratospheric heights in the ring, Serrano, amazingly, remained "under the radar" as far as publicity was concerned. (It's an attribute that seems to have followed her into retirement. Serrano did not respond to a request to contribute to this article.)

"Laura Serrano, she did boxing, right."

Even now, Serrano's debut bout, in 1994, is the stuff of Hollywood. To put it into proper perspective, one needs only to recall that there, quite simply, has never been anything comparable, since, now or maybe, forever, to the role that Christy Martin played in the sport of Women's boxing at that time. She wasn't the "face of the sport," she was the arms, legs and torso of the sport; a heavy fisted knockout juggernaut with an 18 bout winning streak, including 13 stoppages, most of them in early rounds. Laura Serrano was Sir Edmund Hillary, starting a career with Mount Everest. In the view of ringsiders in Las Vegas that May evening, underneath Julio Chavez/Frankie Randall, Serrano was, merely, "the next woman in line" for Martin. After twelve minutes of bell-to-bell, back and forth action, Serrano "won" 57-57 on all three cards. She "won," quite simply, because the idea that any female boxer, much less a debuting fighter, could stay on even terms for six rounds with Christy Martin, in 1994, was incomprehensible. Eleven months later, back in Las Vegas, for her second pro bout, Serrano unleashed a devastating body attack to stop Deirdre Gogarty in the seventh round of a ten round bout for the WIBF title. Gogarty's six round decision loss to Christy Martin, the following year, would put Martin on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Gogarty didn't fight Serrano again. Neither did Christy Martin. Instead, Serrano embarked, over eight years, on a 14 fight unbeaten skein (a draw with Melissa Del Valle the only non winning bout) against such names as Layla McCarter, Cynthia Prouder, Kelsey Jeffries, Jo Jo Wyman, Alica Ashley, Chevelle Hallback and Tracy Byrd.

"Laura Serrano, she did boxing right"

That boxing lifer, in New Orleans, never saw Laura Serrano; a ten count tolled for him long before 1994. I'm fairly sure his initial reaction to Serrano would have been something along the line of "skirts and boxing don't mix." But he liked Ralph Dupas, and, I'm pretty sure, given ample opportunity, he would have come to like Laura Serrano. Because he liked fighters who "did boxing......." and Laura Serrano "did boxing......" She did it as "right" as it was possible to do it, from Las Vegas to Germany and all those stops and all those tough fights and all those fighters in between. In her letter to Sue Fox, Serrano offers her "help and advice" for those, still in the sport. I hope she gets some "takers." She will, if there are enough female fighters out there interested in "doing boxing....," doing it right; if not, too bad for them, too bad for the sport.

Article posted on 22.04.2008

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