With over 50 fights under her belt, nearly 20 years as a professional and a world title at flyweight, 35-year old Mariana “Barbie” Juarez is arguably the most recognized Mexican female fighter in boxing today.
Battles with a who’s who of the sport including Ana Maria Torres, Elena Reid, Monica Lovato, Simona Galassi, Arely Mucino and Ava Knight among others should have earned her that accolade but the fact Juarez has been able to market herself to the Aztec public like no other female fighter in Mexico has much to do with it.
Mariana Juarez made her pro debut in mid-1998 in her native Mexico City when female boxing was not as accepted as it is today. The novel sight of two females duking it out inside a ring brought some attention which the well-spoken and attractive Juarez took advantage of.
“Once things started to get going in my career, the attention came on its own,” Juarez said via cell phone. “I was one of the first that began fighting when female boxing began to develop in Mexico. With that came interviews, articles and attention but at times I feel that instead of me using them, they used me,” she said with a laugh.
Like many other fighters, male or female, Juarez went north to find fame and fortune, fighting out of Los Angeles, California, but traveling all over the southwestern United States and even South Korea where she won the IFBA super flyweight title. Once back in Mexico, the idea of a female fighter being able to not only fight in the United States, but abroad, caught the attention of the Mexican media.
“When I got back to Mexico, I came back with a title. I received some attention for that,” she stated. “I feel my personality helped. My braids back, my style of fighting, my way of being different.”
Long braids, tattoos including two big wings on her back, an extroverted personality, in Mariana’s opinion, all that helped for the media and in turn the public to be interested in the going-ons of the “Barbie”. Like many Latin America countries, her large back tattoo caused quite a stir in Mexico.
“My tattoos, especially the wings on my back, have gotten a lot of attention,” said Juarez, whose brother is a tattoo artist. “I’ve been criticized for it as well, women shouldn’t have tattoos and all that, even big name fighters came out publicly and said that. It is who I am, it’s my personality.”
In 2012 Juarez took a step in the right direction by releasing an ultra-popular calendar in a mix of sexy and sporty photos which raised her profile within the sport in Mexico but also outside of it. “The calendars came about because people asked for them. We started doing them in 2012, we skipped 2013, and we have done them ever since. In promoting the calendars, we have gotten more attention which has also helped.”
The same year “Barbie” also appeared in the Mexico edition of Playboy magazine transcending the sport beyond heights even she couldn’t imagine.
“They came looking for me. They proposed it to me, it wasn’t something that was in my plans,” Juarez said of her pictorial in the summer of 2012. “I think it was the right time in my career. I’ve been a world champion, I was highly ranked at the time, it was in the summer of 2012, the London Olympics were under way, female boxing was part of those games for the first time, so it all came together. It was an important moment.”
Like in everything, the decision did not come with its consequences but Juarez was used to them. “Just like in anything, good things came with the bad. I was criticized but I also received a lot of praise. I didn’t know what the reaction was going to be. Being female in this sport since the beginning, I have heard why we don’t belong in the ring, that it is not for us, then you get used to it. I was used to it.”
According to Juarez despite popular belief, none of them have been calculated moves, not the calendars, not the pictorial or anything else. Simply it’s the way she is, an extroverted talented and beautiful woman who wants to leave her mark on the sport she so truly loves. Keeping her identity despite criticisms is one thing that Juarez feels strongly about.
“I’ve always felt that we shouldn’t lose our femininity just because we box,” she explained. “That is why I came out in a bikini at the weigh-in, before that in Mexico, the female fighters will come out in shorts and tank top, I like bikinis. It’s just me and I think people react to that, good or bad, mostly good and that has some drawn some attention to me.”
Editor’s note: Mariana Juarez is a former flyweight and super flyweight world champion and is currently ranked by The Prizefighters as the top super flyweight in the world today.