ESPN How Jake Paul Brought Amanda Serrano to Superstardom — and a 2022 Megafight She's Wanted for Years Editorial Picks Classic Boxing Fights on ESPN+ Podcast To the Hits

ESPN How Jake Paul Brought Amanda Serrano to Superstardom — and a 2022 Megafight She's Wanted for Years Editorial Picks Classic Boxing Fights on ESPN+ Podcast To the Hits

Jan 1, 2022

TAMPA, Fla. - Amanda Serrano steps out of the elevator at the JW Marriott hotel in Tampa. In five hours, she'll be next door at the Amalie Arena in another elevator to a platform, and then she'll begin her walk to the ring in front of a sellout crowd for her 44th pro fight. But right now, she's focused on one thing. .

Go to dinner.

Before she can go to eat, she has to head to the lobby. She barely gets there when a crowd begins to form, looking for a photo, an autograph, a chance to say, "Good luck tonight." It's not a huge crowd, though less than 100 feet away, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh makes his way through the same space largely unmolested. But all the commotion is still new to Serrano.

One of those talking to 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 explicit comedy puppetry YouTube channel) and Thirtyacre is excited.

He asks for a photo and exchanges contact information with Serrano's sister, Cindy, because Amanda doesn't have a cell phone. They talk for a few minutes. Serrano greets the others before returning to the elevator to go to dinner.

Later, as she awaits her pre-fight meal of grilled chicken and fries, the boxer of Puerto Rican blood shakes her head from side to side.

"Six months ago, they don't know who I am," Serrano said. "But now, they know who I am. That's definitely something new."

It started with a tweet from Serrano in April, wanting to fight on Jake Paul's pay-per-view card, and in June, in an unrelated conversation between Showtime, Paul and Paul's Most Valuable Promotions co-founder Nakisa Bidarian, the idea of a featured female fighter on a Paul card was boosted by Paul and Bidarian. That set up a co-main event for Serrano in August in Cleveland, and then she signed as the first athlete under the company of Paul and Bidarian in September.

That led to constant promotion on multiple platforms by Paul, a YouTube and social media star turned professional fighter and manager, and introduced Serrano to a whole new, younger demographic. Almost overnight, Serrano went from one of the best unknown fighters in her sport, despite an accomplished career inside the ring, to potentially the most well-known star in women's boxing.

A lot of that has to do with understanding what teaming up with one of the most polarizing people in boxing could do for her own marketability. After years of disappointing promises, she wanted to try something new.

Paul and Bidarian were also not necessarily looking to handle a male or female fighter that quickly. But then they met Serrano, felt an instant connection and saw a way to do something, not just for a person they believed in, but through them, to help a sport they believed was needlessly in a tough spot.

"First and foremost, I hope she just puts [female boxers] on a different pedestal of respect with better pay," Paul said. "We're looking at a seven-figure payday for Amanda in 2022, and that will show the rest of the world that women need to be paid more in this sport.

"Because they have the lowest pay, more than anyone else. That's what I'm looking to do." The seven-figure fight Paul mentions is for a possible super match against undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor, a long-discussed matchup that is now closer than ever to happening. And with Paul and Bidarian involved, the fight will most likely have a bigger audience -- and bigger money bag -- than ever before.

Cindy Serrano tried to dissuade her sister from fighting. As children, Amanda was the clumsy one and the one who learned to ride a bike at age 3, a risky combination.

Cindy was the older sister and she had found boxing first. When Amanda became interested in what would become her family sport, Cindy tried to talk her out of it. She understood all 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 to try to get Cindy fights and hang up on him. The promoters didn't want to hear it. She had to barter just to get him a spot on a billboard and then sell tickets to try to make money.

Once Cindy fought and won $50. When Cindy received her first major shot from her in a WBC junior lightweight title eliminator in 2007, she said she received $2,500 for the fight. Amanda was still two years away from turning pro. "I warned you," Cindy said.

"They tried," Amanda replied.

But fighters are fighters, and Cindy's career, which included a reign as WBO featherweight champion, helped pave the way for Amanda to start hers and receive opportunities her sister never got.

What Amanda hopes is that her career can 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 does not drink. She's not into parties. Her vices are shopping and actually training. She committed to a sport without the potential for much fame or attention because it was what she loved, something she was exceptional at. She began moving up and down the weight classes, winning titles in seven different divisions. In many sports, this would be celebrated as a landmark achievement. She would be a star. In boxing, she was known. To the general population, she was not.

And while the overall status of women's boxing was a big part of that equation, Serrano's relentless dedication to excellence came at the cost of some marketable traits.

"She sacrificed so much to be who she is. Meanwhile, there's a downside because her social skills, she's not the kind of girl that... you can't go out with Amanda and say, 'She's so funny,' 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 most of her opponents and made enough money to survive, to be comfortable. But for all she accomplished in boxing, she is now 42-1-1 with 30 knockouts, it didn't make much sense that she wasn't a bigger star.

She then she met Paul.

"It's funny. It took Jake Paul for people to recognize me and know who I am," Serrano said. "I've been a pro for 12 years, I've been doing the same thing, I've been a seven-division champion for, what, two years. Three years.

"And I never got what I get now."

The first meeting between Paul and Serrano, the first time they shared a boxing card, was accidental and long before they considered working together, or before they really knew who each was.

Paul's first pro boxing fight, when she 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 until they really bonded.

Paul saw Serrano fight that night. He was still a neophyte in boxing and he had no idea what Serrano really meant to the sport. He hadn't imagined anything to come.

But that night he left his mark.

"She had a superstar performance and I was blown away," 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 began to gain the kind of attention most boxers craved and a partnership with Showtime was formed. Paul and Bidarian told Showtime president Stephen Espinoza that they wanted to have a prominent female boxer on their first card together, which was Paul's first fight against former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.

Espinoza suggested Serrano, a fighter Showtime believed was exciting and could deliver profitable performances: action-packed fights with strong knockout potential. 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 and natural bond. The fight, in which Serrano successfully defended multiple featherweight world titles against Yamileth Mercado, earned Serrano one of the biggest purses of her career.

And despite it being one of the most lucrative paydays of Serrano's career, Paul was still upset that he thought she was an underpaid superstar. Two weeks after the fight in Cleveland, Paul and Bidarian had a video call together. They talked about something they hadn't planned on: signing Serrano.

"It was kind of a natural evolution that happened," Bidarian said. "We weren't actively looking to hire Amanda Serrano. It turned out that given the time we spent with her, what we recognized was her skill set and what we thought was her opportunity with her. That's it.

“It wasn't calculated on our part to say, 'This is what we're looking for, let's go find it.' I think that's why the relationship is so strong and impactful."

They approached Maldonado with the proposal. Serrano was essentially a promotional free agent at the time after a partnership with Lou DiBella, and while there was interest from Serrano and her team, there was also trepidation, despite her potential. Too often in their careers, the Serrano and Maldonado sisters received great promise, only to be disappointed.

"We were a little bit ... you want to stay optimistic because you're hoping, 'Okay, this is the time,' but we've said it 100 times, that 'OK, this is the time,' and it's never the time," Maldonado said.

Paul and Bidarian were new to boxing, though Bidarian had considerable side experience, with a long career helping to build the UFC into the monolith it is now as the company's chief financial officer. That gave Serrano and her team cautious optimism.

Serrano saw an opportunity, despite any risk or uncertainty. She saw at least one opportunity to disrupt the trajectory they had been on, succeeding in boxing and being anonymous everywhere else. You saw what Paul had done for her fight in August.

"So we said, 'You know what? Let's do it,'" Maldonado said.

"From day one, from day one, they have not only delivered, I think they have intentionally gone above and beyond what they promised."

At first glance, they seemed like an odd couple: the YouTube superstar and the fighter who doesn't own a cell phone. The man whose life is digitally exposed all over the planet, and the woman who keeps almost everything about her life private and out of sight.

When Serrano signed on, Paul began exploring her social media accounts. He is an expert in that area, and he wanted to try to understand everything about his public figure. In addition to managing his own career, he was managing Serrano's career.

“I took an in-depth look at her brand and gave her a full run through of things to work on and change, some ideas, and we set up an appointment with a photographer,” Paul said. “She didn't have any professional photos of herself, so we arranged a photo shoot.

"We were busy and we hadn't hired a social media handler, because let's just say that's me, and I just caught on."

For Paul, it's second nature to him. For Serrano, it was like starting to learn hieroglyphics.

Paul suggested what she should post on Instagram. He worked with her on her captions. On how to interact on Twitter. He discussed with her how she wanted to see herself represented, and how to work with her social media profile to reflect the image she wanted to portray. He suggested that she be on her phone—or Cindy's, or Maldonado, since he didn't have one—more often. In increasing her activity on the networks.

Serrano began to see the benefits in her fight in August. She heard the ovation in Cleveland and, in a way, felt more at ease than ever before, even with a little dance. And that was before she formalized her business relationship with Paul.

There's pressure to come to that kind of deal, too. Serrano said she wanted to make Paul and Bidarian proud, to show them they were doing the right thing by signing her first-and so far only-boxing client. The social media attention she was starting to get — and give — “can be a bit overwhelming,” particularly during workouts.

So far, they are handling it step by step. Bidarian has been cautious, encouraging Serrano to be more open and do more public things, but understanding not to take it to the extreme. For every ten interviews Paul agrees to do, Serrano does two. Not for lack of interest, but to make it manageable for her. "I wanted to try something different," Serrano said. "For so many years, and now I have maybe two and a half years left in boxing, so I said to myself, 'This is the last chapter of my career,' and I wanted to see how far I can go."

It's just after 12 noon on the day of Serrano's fight in Tampa, and she walks across the street from the hotel where she's staying. She's already bought her cappuccino, the small cup, with extra sugar, and is headed to Garrison Tavern for lunch. As she walks, two fans yell at her, saying that she is the 'GOAT', or 'GWOAT', the nickname for "the greatest woman of all time" that she shares with Claressa Shields.

Along the way, people look at her with I-think-I-know-who-you-are-but-I'm-not-sure faces. She sits down, has lunch, and fans occasionally stop by to wish her luck. The two fans who cheered her on as she entered the restaurant are part of a group of five, teenagers and young men in their 20s, who traveled from Nashville to see her fight.

They waited the almost two hours it took for her to eat lunch, preferring not to interrupt her, to try to get a picture of her. "We are groupies," said one of them. They learned of her, they said, through her first associated fight with Paul.

Serrano spent about five minutes talking to them, took photos and signed autographs.

“Jake Paul gets attention,” Serrano said over lunch, aware of the support she had just received. “And he always motivates me. Something like, 'this girl, who is he?' Those two guys that came up, they know me because of Jake Paul."

“I am not known for what I have achieved.”

The past six months have changed her life. Her nieces and nephews—of whom Serrano says “it makes me happy to see them happy”—have also benefited. One of her nephews studies at the Cristo Rey school in New York with the son of Carmelo Anthony, an NBA star. And the fact that her aunt is Serrano, who works with Paul, is worth a lot.

Paul knowing who they are and consistently working with his aunt has special meaning.

Recently, Serrano heard from some friends in Puerto Rico that they were at a Bad Bunny concert, where Puerto Rican legends were shown on a giant screen, and Serrano was one of them.

All these details, expected and unexpected, are advantages generated by the bond between the veteran boxer and the businessman who saw something in her, and signs of how things have changed in Serrano's life.

“I feel very proud to work with Amanda Serrano. Jake is very proud to work with Amanda Serrano,” said Bidarian. "She is one of the all-time great female boxers and she is working with two individuals who are relatively new to the sport, giving us an opportunity to build something."

Upstairs in the restaurant on the sixth floor of the JW Marriott, at dinner, there is a small commotion. Cindy was texting SML and telling her that her kids are huge fans of her work; that all Serrano are, in fact.

He told her to wait a minute; she wanted to go up to the restaurant for a photo and would bring puppets for them. Cindy and Amanda were amazed, wondering if it was true.

For Cindy's son, that would be a great thing; as if Amanda or Cincy had the opportunity to meet the singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, something that Bidarian told Amanda could happen one day. SML came in, photos were taken, and he autographed the puppets' shoes. It was one of those special moments for Serrano.

This is how the whole day goes by, with small samples of what it means to be associated with Paul.

After dinner, in the elevator, she thought that she would have a moment of peace, those moments when no one recognizes her. It was like that at least until the 16th floor, when a young man enters with his mother. In the crowded elevator, she asked him to take a photo. "You are his favorite," confessed the boy's mother. "We saw you in Cleveland." The rest of those present watch and try to get comfortable so as not to ruin the selfie that Serrano chose to take.

When the elevator arrived at her destination, everyone wished her luck.

Serrano hopes that the attention she receives, along with the achievements of other top female boxers both in terms of popularity and the quality of her fights, will help elevate the sport to which she has dedicated her life, already in the latter stages of her career. his career. There's no guarantee, of course, but she's confident she's found a group of people eager to advance women's boxing like never before.

Paul and Bidarian are focused on the present and making Serrano a star. They anticipate having created a "global superstar" by the end of 2022.

If they succeed, the entire sport will grow alongside her. It all starts with getting the most out of the Taylor fight—a promotion Paul says he'll talk about until all of his 18 million fans know about the fight.

"It's never been done before, to show the world that these female fighters are so tough and entertaining, and we need to do more big fights between women," Paul said. "I'm excited to use my creative chops to tell the story of why everyone needs to know about Amanda Serrano, specifically, but also about women's boxing and this fight against Katie Taylor."

“Because people should care, and she cares. A lot of people care, but I think it should matter more to a lot of women and to a lot more people.”