“Barbie” Juarez Keeps Reaching For The Stars
By Felipe Leon
In boxing when a fighter regardless of gender reaches a certain plateau as far as popularity and earnings, it is normal to look for the path of least resistance. Falling back on their fame it is almost a guarantee they will draw no matter who they face.
Despite that, veteran Mariana “Barbie” Juarez (46-9-4, 17KO) of Mexico City will be defending her WBC bantamweight title against Germany’s Alesia Graf (29-6, 13KO) this Saturday night from Irapuato, Mexico City, and live in Mexico on Televisa.
“She is a very good opponent,” Juarez said of Graf at the press conference to announce the event. “We had some trouble in finding a suitable opponent because we wanted a good fight. We were actually offered the WBC’s 122 pound champion (Fatuma Zarika) but when we wanted it for her title as well, she backed out. Maybe in the future we can do that fight. Graf interested me because despite losing to other fighters from Mexico, they have been close fights. I think Alesia Graf has given them some great fights. She has beaten Mexicans and lost to Mexicans.”
“I want to look much more superior,” Juarez said of what she expects inside the ring. “I have to prove to Alesia Graf that in the bantamweight division she has no place.”
The fight marks Juarez’s third of the year and her second defense of the title she captured with an impressive unanimous decision over Catherine Phiri last spring in the heart of Mexico City in front of hundreds of thousands fight fans at the city’s Zocalo.
Despite being the smaller woman inside the ring Juarez dominated the action that April night and took the win and the belt with a unanimous decision of 99-90, 98-91 and 97-92.
The WBC 118 pound title is Juarez’s third in as many divisions after holding belts at flyweight, super flyweight and now bantam. At 37-years-old, Juarez is considered one of the pioneers of female boxing south of the border with 19 years as a professional.
Surprisingly Juarez lost her first fight at 118 pounds against the Argentinean Daniela Bermudez but now she says she feels strong in the division.
“I think I have acclimated myself to the weight, I don’t feel or look fat now at 118 pounds. I feel very strong now at the weight. We are working very hard and I am ready to defend my title for the second time. I am interested in perhaps another title at 122 pounds.”
At first she had to leave her native Mexico to get the fights to develop her career.
“I had to decide at a very young age to leave home to pursue my dream,” Juarez explained recently. “It wasn’t easy but it was five years of hard work. I finally got the opportunity for a world title in South Korea. I reached a dream that night.”
Juarez also took a break after an injury as well to become a mother.
Now, in Graf, originally from Belarus but now a naturalized German, she will be perhaps facing her equal when it comes to experience. Graf, also 37 years old, went pro in 2004 and quickly rose up the ranks. She won her first title two years later capturing the GBU bantamweight title and two years later she added the WIBF strap as well. Her first opportunity for a major sanctioning body belt came in 2010 coming up short against the legendary Ana Maria Torres via a unanimous decision for the WBC 115 pound title. The fight marked the Graf’s first visit to Mexico.
The former amateur standout Graf didn’t make it back to Mexico until four years later when she dropped a technical decision to Zulina Muñoz in a rematch again for the WBC super flyweight strap and then again the same year, 2014, against the then WBC bantamweight champion Yazmin Rivas. She lost another unanimous decision.
Graf’s activity since 2010 has been sporadic at best. That year she fought once and again only once in 2011. She fought twice in 2012 splitting with a win and a loss to Susie Ramadan, no action in 2013 and twice in 2014 with losses to the aforementioned Muñoz and Rivas. One fight in 2015 and two in 2016 including a win in China over Noemi Bosques as she is coming off a loss in South Africa in March of this year against Bukiwe Nonina for the vacant WBF 118 pound title.
In her six losses Graf has never been stopped.
“Mariana is a very good and technical fighter,” Graf said at the final press conference before the bout. “I have been in Mexico three times before, I lost them all but I never gave up. I don’t like talk too much because I know my opponent has worked hard as well. I respect her but on Saturday night that respect will be put to the side.”
Juarez is confident after sixty fights she has enough to beat Graf. “I will continue to be the world champion. This title stays in Mexico.”