Editor's note: This story was originally published on Dec. 29, before the Katie Taylor vs. Amanda Serrano fight was officially announced.
TAMPA, Fla. -- Amanda Serrano steps off the elevator at the JW Marriott hotel in Tampa. In five hours, she'll be next door in Amalie Arena riding another elevator up to a platform, and then she'll begin her ring walk in front of a sold-out crowd for her 44th professional fight. But in this moment, she's focused on one thing.
Before she can go eat, she has to head down to the lobby. She barely makes it there when a crowd begins to form, looking for a photo, an autograph, a chance to say, "Good luck tonight." It's not a big gathering, although less than 100 feet away Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh makes his way through the same space largely unbothered. But all of this commotion is still so new for Serrano.
One of those talking with Serrano is Logan Thirtyacre, better known as YouTube star SuperMarioLogan, or SML. Serrano has known about SML for years -- her nephew is among the 2.5 million subscribers to his YouTube channel of explicit comedy puppetry -- and Thirtyacre is excited.
He asks for a picture and exchanges contact info with Serrano's sister, Cindy, because Amanda does not own a cell phone. They talk for a few minutes. Serrano greets others before heading back into the elevator to go to dinner.
Later, while waiting for her prefight meal of one piece of grilled chicken and French fries, she shakes her head.
"Six months ago, they don't know who the heck I am," Serrano said. "But now, he knows who I was. Like, that's definitely something new."
It started as a tweet from Serrano in April -- wanting to fight on the undercard of a Jake Paul pay-per-view -- and in June, in an unrelated conversation between Showtime, Paul and Paul's co-founder of Most Valuable Promotions, Nakisa Bidarian, the idea of a prominent female fighter on a Paul undercard was pushed by Paul and Bidarian. That set up a co-main event fight for Serrano in August in Cleveland, and then she signed as the first athlete under Paul and Bidarian's company in September.
It led to constant promotion on multiple platforms from Paul, a social media and YouTube star turned pro fighter and manager, and introduced Serrano to an entirely new, and younger, demographic. Almost overnight, Serrano went from one of the best unknown fighters in her sport, despite a career filled with in-ring accomplishments, to potentially the most well-known star in women's boxing.
So much of that has to do with the understanding of what partnering with one of the most polarizing people in boxing could do for her own marketability. After years of promises leading to disappointment, she wanted to try something new.
Paul and Bidarian weren't necessarily looking to take on a fighter so fast, either. But then they met Serrano, felt an instantaneous connection and saw a way to do something -- not only for a person they believed in, but through her -- to help a sport they believed was needlessly in a tough spot.
"First and foremost, I hope it just puts [women's boxers] on a different pedestal of respect and gets them paid better," Paul said. "We're eyeing a seven-figure payday for Amanda in 2022, and that right there will just prove to the rest of the world that women need to be paid more in this sport.
"Because they are the most underpaid, more than anybody. That's what I'm looking to do." The seven-figure fight Paul mentions is for a potential superfight against undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor -- a long-discussed matchup now closer than ever to happening. And with Paul and Bidarian involved, the fight will most likely have a bigger audience, and a bigger paycheck, than ever before.
Cindy Serrano tried to talk her sister out of fighting. Back when they were kids, Amanda was both the clumsy one and the one who learned to ride a bike at age 3, a risky combination.
Cindy was the older sister, and had found boxing first. When Amanda started to become interested in what would become the family sport, Cindy tried to dissuade her. She understood too well the mechanics of women making their way in combat sports. Cindy's boyfriend-turned-husband Jordan Maldonado, who trains both Serrano sisters, would call promoters trying to get Cindy bouts and get hung up on. Promoters didn't want to hear it. He had to barter just to get her on a card, and then sell tickets to try to make any money.
"It's funny. It took Jake Paul to actually have people acknowledge me and to know who I am. I've been a pro for 12 years, been doing the same thing, been a seven-division champion for, what, two years now. Three years. And I've never got what I'm getting now." Amanda Serrano
Once, Cindy fought and earned $50. When Cindy received her first WBC junior lightweight title eliminator shot in 2007, she said she received $2,500 for the fight. Amanda was still two years from turning pro. "I warned her," Cindy said.
"They tried," Amanda responded.
But fighters are fighters, and Cindy's career, which included a reign as the WBO featherweight champion, helped pave a way for Amanda to begin hers, and receive opportunities her sister never did.
What Amanda is hoping is that her career can similarly create new opportunities for the next generation of boxers.
Amanda, 33, turned pro in 2009, and gave up a lot for boxing. She doesn't date. She doesn't drink. She doesn't party. Her vices are shopping and, in reality, training. She committed herself to a sport without the potential of much fame or attention because it was what she loved -- something she was exceptional at. She started moving up and down weight classes, winning titles in seven different divisions. In so many sports, this would be celebrated as an all-time achievement. She'd be a star. In boxing, she was known. In the general populace, she was not.
And while the overall status of women's boxing was a big part of that equation, Serrano's unrelenting dedication to excellence came with the cost of some marketable traits.
"She sacrificed so much to be who she is. In the interim there is a drawback to that because her social skills, she's not the type of girl that ... you couldn't go out with Amanda and be like, 'She's so much fun,' because she doesn't do anything," Maldonado said. "You might even consider us boring because all we do is train."
She won all the time, knocked out the majority of her opponents and made enough money to get by, to be comfortable. But for what she accomplished in boxing -- she's now 42-1-1 with 30 knockouts -- it still didn't make much sense how she wasn't a bigger star.
Then she met Paul.
"It's funny. It took Jake Paul to actually have people acknowledge me and to know who I am," Serrano said. "I've been a pro for 12 years, been doing the same thing, been a seven-division champion for, what, two years now. Three years.
"And I've never got what I'm getting now."
The first meeting between Paul and Serrano -- the first time they shared a boxing card -- was accidental and well before either one considered working with the other, or before they really even knew who the other was.
Paul's first pro boxing fight, when he knocked out fellow YouTuber AnEsonGib in the first round on Jan. 30, 2020, in Miami, also featured Serrano, who knocked out Simone da Silva in the third round. They took a photo together, something long forgotten about until they actually teamed up.
Paul watched Serrano fight that night. He was still a neophyte in boxing and had no idea what Serrano had actually meant to the sport. He hadn't imagined any of what would come.
But that night left an impression.
"She had a superstar performance, and I was amazed," Paul said. "And that was always in the back of my mind until boom, a year and a half later, our paths crossed again."
As Paul began to spend more time in the boxing world, he learned more about the industry. His fights started to gain the type of attention most boxers craved, and a partnership with Showtime was formed. Paul and Bidarian told Showtime president Stephen Espinoza they wanted to have a prominent female fighter on their first card together, which was the first Paul fight against former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
Espinoza suggested Serrano, a fighter Showtime believed was exciting and could provide bankable performances -- fights with a lot of action and strong potential for a knockout. Fifteen minutes later, Paul and Bidarian agreed.
The interactions between Paul, Bidarian and Serrano in the lead-up to the August pay-per-view created an easy, natural bond. The fight, in which Serrano successfully defended multiple featherweight world titles against Yamileth Mercado, provided Serrano with one of the biggest purses of her career.
And despite it being one of the more lucrative paydays of Serrano's career, Paul was still bothered by what he thought was an underpaid superstar fighter. Two weeks after the fight in Cleveland, Paul and Bidarian got on a video call together. They talked about something they hadn't planned on: signing Serrano.
"It was kind of a natural evolution that happened, right," Bidarian said. "We were not actively seeking to sign Amanda Serrano. It became that given the time we spent with her, what we recognized was her skill set and what we believed was the opportunity with her. That's it.
"It wasn't calculated on our part to say, 'Here's what we're looking for, let's go find it.' I think that's why the relationship is so strong and impactful."
They reached out to Maldonado with the proposal. Serrano was essentially a promotional free agent at the time after a partnership with Lou DiBella, and while there had been interest from Serrano and her team, there was also trepidation, despite the potential. Too often in their careers, the Serrano sisters and Maldonado had been given big promises, only to be let down.
"We were a little bit, you want to stay optimistic because you're hoping, 'OK this is the one,' but we've said that 100 times, that 'OK, this is the one' and it's never the one," Maldonado said.
Paul and Bidarian were new to boxing, although Bidarian did have considerable parallel experience, with a long career helping build the UFC into the monolith it is now as the company CFO. That gave Serrano and her team cautious optimism.
Serrano saw an opportunity, despite any risk or uncertainty. She saw at least a chance at disrupting the trajectory they'd been on, being successful in boxing and anonymous everywhere else. They already saw what Paul had done for her fight in August.
"So we were like, 'You know what, let's just [do it],' Maldonado said.
"From day one, from day one, these guys have not only delivered, I think they've purposely gone beyond what they promised."
On the surface, it looked like an odd pairing -- the YouTube superstar and the fighter who doesn't own a cell phone. The man whose life was digitally plastered all over the world, and a woman who kept almost everything about her life private and out of view.
When Serrano signed, Paul began digging into her social media accounts. This is where he's an expert, and he wanted to try and understand everything about her public persona. Beyond managing his own fighting career, he was taking on Serrano's, too.
"I did a deep dive into her brand and gave her a whole overview of the things that she should change and work on, and ideas, and we scheduled her a photo shoot," Paul said. "Like she had no professional photos of her. So we scheduled a photo shoot.
"We've been busy, but I guess we haven't hired a social media manager, because I guess that's me, and I just realized it."
For Paul, it's second nature. For Serrano, it has been like learning hieroglyphics.
He made suggestions of what she should post on Instagram. He worked with her on captions to posts. On how to interact on Twitter. Talked with her about how she wanted to be represented and depicted, and how to carve her social media profile to fit the image she wanted to portray. He suggested she be on her phone -- or Cindy or Maldonado's phone, without one of her own -- more often. Increase her engagement.
She already started to see the benefits at her fight in August. She heard the ovation in Cleveland and, in some ways, felt looser than she ever had before, even dancing a little bit. And that was before she even formalized the business relationship with Paul.
There's pressure in making such a deal, too. Serrano said she wants to make Paul and Bidarian proud, to prove them right by making her their first -- and so far, only -- fighting client. The newfound social media attention being paid to her, and that she pays to it, can be "a little bit overwhelming," particularly during training camp.
So far, they are managing it in steps. Bidarian has been cautious, pushing Serrano to be more open and do more publicly, but with the understanding to not turn it into too much. For every 10 interviews Paul might do, Serrano would do two. Not due to lack of interest, but rather to make everything manageable for her. "I wanted to try something different," Serrano said. "So many years, I have maybe two-and-a-half years left, maybe, in the sport of boxing, so I said, 'This is the last chapter of my career,' and we want to see where it can go."
It's a little after 12 p.m. on the day of Serrano's fight in Tampa, and she walks across the street from her hotel. She has picked up her small cappuccino -- extra sweet -- and heads to lunch at Garrison Tavern. When she walks in, two fans yell to her, telling her she's the GOAT -- or GWOAT -- the "greatest woman of all time" moniker she shares with Claressa Shields.
Along the way, people stare in that I-sort-of-know-who-you-are-but-not-really sort of way. As she sits and eats, fans occasionally stop by her table to wish her luck. The two fans who cheered for her when they walked into the restaurant were part of a group of five, teenagers and young twenty-somethings, who drove from Nashville to watch her fight.
They waited throughout her almost two-hour lunch, choosing not to interrupt her meal, to try to get a photo. "We're groupies," one said. They had learned about her, they said, through her first fight under Paul.
She spends five or so minutes with them talking, taking pictures and signing autographs.
"Jake Paul brings eyeballs," Serrano said during the lunch, conscious of the greeting she received before. "And he's always pushing me out there. Like who is this girl? These two guys over here, I bet they know me only because of Jake Paul.
"They don't know me because of what I've done."
The past six months have been life-altering. Her nieces and nephews -- Serrano said "seeing their happiness makes me happy" -- have been beneficiaries, too. One of her nephews is in school at Christ The King in New York with NBA star Carmelo Anthony's son. And that his aunt is Serrano, who works with Paul, is a massive deal.
That Paul knows who they are and works constantly with their aunt left them beaming.
Serrano heard recently from friends in Puerto Rico who were at a Bad Bunny concert. Legends from Puerto Rico were flashed on a big screen behind him, and the friends told Serrano she was one of them.
All of these small things, expected and unexpected, are advantages of the bond and the trust between the veteran boxer and the businessmen who saw something in her, and signs of how things have already changed in Serrano's life.
"I'm very proud to work with Amanda Serrano. Jake is very proud to work with Amanda Serrano," Bidarian said. "She's one of the greatest boxers of all time and is working with two guys who are relatively new to the sport, giving us the opportunity to build it."
Up in the restaurant on the sixth floor of the JW Marriott, over dinner, there's a small commotion. Cindy has been texting with SML, telling him about how big of a fan her kids are of his work. How all the Serranos were fans, really.
So he says to hold on for a minute, that he wants to come up to the restaurant for a picture -- and that he'd be bringing puppets for them to keep. Cindy and Amanda are both kind of in awe, wondering if it is really happening.
For Cindy's son, this would be a huge deal, akin to if Amanda or Cindy ever met actor and singer Jennifer Lopez, something Bidarian told Amanda one day could happen. When SML walks in, they take pictures and he signs the shoes of the puppets. It is another one of those moments for Serrano.
The whole day is like this, small snippets of realization of the impact of aligning with Paul. In the elevator following dinner, she thinks she has a moment when no one recognizes her. It's a moment of peace. At least until the 16th floor, when a young boy gets on the elevator with his mom. He asks Serrano, in a crowded elevator, for a picture. "You're his favorite," the boy's mom says. "We watched you in Cleveland." The rest of the elevator stares and tries to maneuver in a way they don't ruin the selfie Serrano decides to take.
By the end of the elevator ride, the other handful of people inside wish her luck as she departs.
Serrano hopes the attention she's receiving, along with the gains made by other top female fighters both in terms of popularity and quality of fights, will help lift the sport she dedicated her life to over the final few years of her career. It's no guarantee, of course, but she believes she might have found a group of people willing to push the progress of women's boxing as much as anyone ever has.
Paul and Bidarian are focused on the here and now, and making Serrano a star. Their hope is that by the end of next year, they've created "a global superstar."
If they're successful in doing so, the sport as a whole will rise with her. It begins with making the most out of the fight against Taylor -- a promotion Paul said he'll talk about until all 18 million or so of his followers know about the fight.
"It really hasn't been done, showing to the world that these female boxers are just as vicious and just as entertaining, and we need to do more big fights like this for women," Paul said. "What I'm excited about is using my creative ability to tell a story about why people should care about Amanda Serrano, specifically, but also women's boxing and also this fight against Katie Taylor.
"Because people should care, and people do care. A lot of people care, but I think a lot more women should care and a lot more people in general should care."