With the retirement of Ana Maria “Guerrera” Torres and Jackie “Aztec Princess” Nava currently serving as a senator in the Mexican government, Mariana “Barbie” Juarez (44-9-4, 17KO) is the most recognized Mexican female fighter of her generation.
The Mexico City native has captured major world titles in two different divisions, flyweight and super flyweight, and now at 37 years of age and nearly 20 years as a professional, she is looking to make history going for her third title at bantamweight.
At press time it was announced she might get her wish soon enough since her promoter, Promociones Del Pueblo, is looking to mount a mega-event in Mexico City’s Zocalo where Juarez will be challenging current WBC 118-pound champion Catherine Phiri in the main event.
After discovering boxing in search of learning self-defense, Juarez began her professional boxing career in May of 1998 with a knockout win over Virginia Esparza. After a handful of reported fights she, like many of her fellow Mexicans, made her way north to the United States to find a better life for her and her family while looking for more competition since in the late 90’s women’s boxing did not enjoy the support it does now in Mexican society.
“There weren’t too many female boxers at that time. In a year we had fought each other four times so it was difficult to continue in Mexico so that is when I traveled to the United States so I can continue my career. There I had the pleasure of meeting David (Avila, co-host of the 2-Min Rd. on the Leave It In the Ring Network in 2001) and Ben Lira who was really a person who taught me a lot. I call him ‘dad’ in boxing because he taught me a lot. Frankly I developed my career in the United States fighting in my opponent’s hometown like Elena (Reid, co-host of 2-Min Rd.) and a few more so I could grow and reach my goal of being a world champion.”
“The first that sent me to the United States and introduced me to Ben Lira were the Maldonados (Oscar and brother Ricardo renown boxing managers from Mexico City),” Juarez said last week during the show. “They were asked by Marco Antonio Barrera and Rudy Perez to support my career and they began to help me in the beginning, but really they only got me one fight which is when I went to fight against Elena. After that the one (fight) the person who took over my career was Ben Lira.”
Once in the United States, Juarez took advantage of her situation and looked for action. She fought a total of eight times in the states with excursions back to Mexico and other lands including China and South Korea in between. In the U.S. she faced the likes of Sue Chase, Jessica Treat, Lorri Aguilera, Yvonne Chavez, Carla Witherspoon, Monica Lovato, Shindo Go and in one of her toughest fights of her career, Elena “Baby Doll” Reid.
“It was a long time ago. I went into the fight not thinking it would be as tough as it was,” Reid said during the interview. “As a fighter it was a fun fight. I was fighting everyone and anyone but the promoters at the time were trying to build me.”
Juarez also has fond memories of the bout, which took place at the Celebrity Theater in Phoenix, AZ, in June of ’03 and ended in a six round draw.
“I remember our fight being a very difficult one. Today I was posting something on my social networks where I thanked each and every one of my opponents because I learned plenty from them and got to where I am because of them. I am very happy to have faced a fighter like Elena.”
Her last fight outside of her country was in July of 2012 when she traveled back to the states after battling in Mexico 20 times to defend her WBC flyweight title against Japan’s Shindo Go at the Citizens Bank Arena in Ontario, CA. Juarez won that fight via split decision.
“It was a great fight and a defense of my flyweight title. It has been about four or five years and I am coming up on nineteen years as a professional,” she remembered. “I have advanced since then but I have also suffered some losses that slowed down my career. Little by little we have gotten over them and we keep working. Now we are campaigning in the bantamweight division and we are looking for a world title in that weight class. I think that we have grown. It has been a lot of work and I think women’s boxing has advanced greatly since that time.”
In Mexico, Juarez is considered one of its most famous athletes. Along with her talent and success inside the ring, “Barbie” has been able to market herself very well with extracurricular activities outside the ring from TV appearances, to calendars to ultimately an appearance in a gentlemen’s magazine. Although she made it look easy, Juarez stresses in the beginning of her career it was a lot of work.
“What we did here in Mexico was hard work because we were training, fighting and then also going to media events but it was worth it. Trying to get people to pay attention, to grow their interest, we began to go to different events, any TV show that would have us,” she explained. “We would talk about boxing, give boxing clinics, different events and that is when the media show some interest and begin to promote you. The first years of my career were very tiring because it was about going to shows, to events, asking for different opportunities to be seen by all kinds of different people. I think Claressa Shields is a prime candidate to do that in the United States. She is doing all the right things and her handlers are taking her in the right direction, putting her on different shows, to have people take notice and show people that women can also do it. A two-time Olympic champion in the United States deserves support and sponsors need to show their support.”
Promoters and television
Juarez also gives credit to the various promoters at the time that made an effort to put female fighters on national TV, which made the difference between being a marginal segment of the professional sport of boxing in Mexico to a major component of it.
“I think it was the promoters and the support from television and the media who gave us that push for us women to be able to see us, for the boxing audience to see that women knew how to box and that we could give a show inside a ring. The work of my colleagues here in Mexico and the rivals that came in from around the world because from the Japanese to other Latinas, Americans, from all over the world female fighters have come to fight in Mexico. It was a great job that was done but television was the foundation for women to get to the level they are now in Mexico.”
Mariana, a true fan of the sport, keeps up with all the comings and goings especially with women’s boxing. She is well aware of the recent steps taken in the United States regarding female fighters given the opportunity to show their wares on a national stage and she has anointed one in particular as the one that will make the biggest difference.
“I think in the United States they are making great strides in promoting women’s boxing. The fact the U.S. has been represented in the Olympics by Claressa Shields is a big step. We have seen some good fights in the U.S. I watched her debut and it was a good debut because her opponent was a good one with a high skill level and they gave us a great fight,” Juarez stated. “Another great fighter from the Olympics is Nicola Adams from England. After twenty years sometimes I think I would like to leave boxing but I keep challenging myself with new things. I want to keep growing. I am going after my third title in as many divisions. I’ve been a world champion at flyweight and super flyweight and now I am looking for a world title at bantamweight. I think these women are doing a great job in the United States and it is good to see that PPV and TV networks in the U.S. are beginning to be interested in women’s boxing. I think it will be a great opening for women’s boxing, I am very happy and I hope that I can still be a part of it and headline one of those fights. There is enough ‘Barbie’ left for a while. I think they are doing a good job but at the same time I am a bit sad because you have fighters like Melissa ‘Huracan’ Hernandez, Layla McCarter and Chevelle Hallback, great fighters who if the promoters would have given them a chance in their prime I think we would be at par with the men.”
As far as for her, Mariana is in hot pursuit of her next title fight. During the interview there were just talks but now it seems as if her fight against Phiri, who upset former champion Yazmin “Rusita” Rivas in January of last year, might come to fruition in early April. If so and Juarez wins, she would become the first Mexican female fighter to ever capture titles in three different divisions.
Despite all of that perhaps the fight that might seal her legacy could come sooner than later as it has been in talks for many years but never this seriously. Now at bantamweight, Juarez is closer in weight class to the legendary Jackie Nava and now their promoters are in heavy conversations for the showdown.
“Our promoters are in talks already. In the past there was a problem because of the TV networks but if it was done between “La Guerrera” (Ana Maria Torres) and Jackie then there shouldn’t be a problem for us,” Juarez says of the circumstances. “I told them when they asked me through social media that I wanted the fight. Her promoter (Fernando) Beltran asked me directly on social media and I said yes. There was another opponent making noise but the public wasn’t interested. The public wants to see Mariana Juarez versus Jackie Nava and I hope they come to terms because I am very interested in that fight. We would have to set a catch weight because she is a super bantamweight and I am barely going up to bantamweight.”