Marlen Esparza and the Road to Las Vegas

Marlen Esparza Ready to Tackle Seniesa Estrada in Las Vegas


By Felipe Leon


There is a saying that boxing is 90% mental and 10% physical.  Nobody believes in that more than Houston, Texas’ Marlen Esparza (7-0, 1KO).  So much so that even after all the success she has achieved in her career, from a very successful amateur run which saw her win a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics and an undefeated record as professional, she still doubts herself.


“It’s crazy, I have been thinking about that since graduating from high school,” the 30-year-old Esparza answered when asked why she has stuck to the sport for more than half of her life.  “It is a blessing and a curse that I am obsessed with it.  Usually when I set myself to do something, I excel but boxing is very tough, very mental.”


“Doesn’t matter how hard I try, its not enough for me,” she continued.  “That is what has kept me going.  With boxing I am never satisfied with myself.  I think I can always be better, a lot better.  It’s a struggle, a blessing and a curse.”


Her next challenge will come on one of the biggest events of the year.   Esparza will be facing fellow undefeated and current WBC Silver light flyweight champion Seniesa “Super Bad” Estrada (17-0, 7KO) of East L.A. for the vacant WBA interim flyweight title.


The scheduled 10 three-minute rounds bout will be one of the featured fights on the undercard of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez’s challenge of Sergey Kovalev on Saturday, November 2nd, from the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada, and live on DAZN.


From the age of 12 when she followed her older brothers to the local gym, boxing has been the main focus for Esparza.  So much so that when her parents divorced not too long later, Esparza decided to live with her father to be able to keep training.


“It was a hard decision but I have always been close to my dad,” Esparza, the recent mother of a young baby boy, explained.  “My mom was born in Mexico and raised in El Paso.  She cooked and cleaned.  When I was growing up she was mean.  That is why I think I am hard on the outside.  She never babied me.  It was a big decision; she understands it now but maybe not then.  There are no hard feelings.  She is very supportive.”


It would be hard to believe anything Esparza did as an amateur was a mistake.  Not only did she secure the bronze medal in the first Olympic games women were allowed to compete, but also a number of high profile and lucrative endorsements with such blue chip companies as Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Cover Girl.


Despite the success, for a long time that bronze medal wasn’t enough for Esparza since it wasn’t a gold.  “I didn’t like the bronze medal.  I was annoyed by it, but I have changed my view on it.  I am in a different place now, I am happy in my marriage with my baby.  Of course I thought about certain things I could have or should have done different for me to get gold but I understand that everything happens for a reason.”


“Amateurs were getting boring”


For a long time as an amateur the possibility of going pro wasn’t an option for Marlen.  In the years immediately after the 2012 Olympics Esparza didn’t see the benefit of going professional.  Once many of her peers began taking the leap into the paid ranks after the 2016 Olympics she realized it was time.


“I needed to move on with life, the amateurs were getting boring,” she explained.  “It was getting repetitive.  I needed something new.  I saw what was happening with everybody else going pro so I wanted to be part of it.”


She jumped in wholeheartedly signing with Golden Boy Promotions and making her pro debut in March of 2017.  In her sixth fight in April of this year she captured the vacant WBO NABO flyweight title with a unanimous decision over Venezuelan Jhosep Vizcaino. In her last fight she defended it against the experienced Sonia Osorio.


Her next fight against Estrada might be one of the most anticipated female fights in recent memory.  Not only will two of the most skilled fighters in the sport be facing each other, but also the animosity between them can be cut with a chainsaw.


Imagine a female version of Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales.


According to Esparza it all began when a rumor surged that the 2012 bronze medalist ducked the East L.A. native in the amateurs.  “I knew her when we were younger from the amateurs but after she went pro I didn’t know much about her.  Once I started making the rounds with promoters when I was going pro, promoters began asking me about her and if I was willing to fight her.”


Estrada explained many thought she wouldn’t fight the East L.A. fighter since they had heard the stories of her allegedly ducking Estrada as an amateur. Estrada has no problem being accused as the instigator of the animosity.


“I talk about her boxing, her abilities,” she stated.  “She talks about my body, my brother’s death, nothing to do with my boxing.  That pisses me off.”


One of Esparza’s older brothers, Diego, a beloved musician in the local Houston music scene, passed away early last year in an auto accident.


“Most important fight of my life”


The rivalry will come to a head on November 2nd but there have been numerous verbal skirmishes prior to the upcoming war.  In a recent social media live confrontation which began as a simple promo, ended up as an all-out verbal face-off broadcast live on Golden Boy Promotions’ Instagram account.


During the roughly ten-minute split screen video, Esparza accused Estrada of getting signed by Golden Boy Promotions because of Marlen and why the fighter from East L.A. is the A-side for their upcoming match up.


“Before I signed with Golden Boy we talked about this fight,” Esparza elaborated.  “Golden Boy knew how big this fight could be because of the back and forth we’ve had on social media.  They signed her because they didn’t want her to sign with anybody else.  They didn’t want to negotiate with another promoter to make the fight.  We were supposed to fight a while back but I got pregnant.  She got to fight more but it only became more of a build up.”


Esparza also explained how Estrada ended up with her name above her in their fight poster making her opponent the coveted A-side for the fight.  “I was supposed to be the A-side, the Olympian with world-wide reach.  Neither of us has a television rating because of the platform our fights have been broadcast.  I have a bigger name.”


“She went into the Golden Boy offices with a piece of paper she read off,” Esparza said between giggles.  “She said she sold more tickets than me and that she has a belt.  Her belt doesn’t matter; we are fighting at 112, my division.  She was arguing for it.  At the end of it, she said she wasn’t going to take the fight unless she was the A-side.  I came back with my weigh-in as the A-side, or in other words, first, and she can come out as the A-side in the fight.  She didn’t want to take the fight.  Golden Boy said it was fair.  It took her three days to sign the contract.”


Once the bell rings, none of it will matter.  What will matter is what happens inside the ring and Esparza is confident she has what it takes to win the fight.


“Everybody thinks I’m aggressive but I am a very good boxer,” Esparza stated.  “I’m quick and I am going to use that. I am going to slowly wear her down.  The things she does she does very well but she fights the same way against everybody.  She has perfected her style but I am going to make it uncomfortable for her.”


“She can’t do what she does to other girls to me,” she continued.  “I am not going to worry what she is going to do although I do believe she has gotten better.  I am excited to see what she is going to do to try to beat me.”


Despite her confidence, Esparza is not looking past Estrada and knows this fight will be a tough one.


Just not the toughest one out there for her.


“This is the most important fight in my life,” she said.  “I know this makes me sound arrogant and I don’t want to come across that way but she is not better than me.  This fight is important because I want to show where I am at now mentally.  To get this opportunity at this stage and reintroduce myself to the boxing world.  I just had a baby; I think a lot of people forget that.  She is a good fighter but I don’t think it is going to be a tough night for me.  I think there is tougher nights for me out there.”


“Yesica Bopp would be one,” she said regarding who she thinks is a tougher fighter for her than Estrada.  “She is small but very smooth, a very good fighter.  Naoko Fujioka from Japan, the champion, would be a tough fight as well.  She hits hard and from awkward angles.  I know where Estrada’s punches are coming from.  Fujioka is sloppier and that is annoying especially for me since I am more text book.”


So what is next for Esparza once she beats Estrada?


“Fujioka is one that I want,” she answered.  “Also the IBF world champion Leonela Paola Yudica who I saw lose in her last fight.  I want to get her before somebody else beats her.  Also Nicola Adams, although I don’t know if she is going to vacate the title since I think she is having trouble making the weight.”


Esparza is no stranger to Adams since they had a relationship in the past.


“That would be another tough night for me,” Esparza said.  “There would be some mental pressure in that fight since we know each other so well.  We met in sparring so she knows my flaws well and I know hers.”


Lofty goals but first she must get past Estrada.




(Photo by Tom Hogan)