Marlen Esparza Closes Out 2017 with Easy Win
By David A. Avila
INDIO, Calif.-Marlen Esparza dominated Mexico’s Karla Valenzuela all six rounds to thoroughly extinguish any upset hopes on Thursday.
Esparza (4-0), the 2012 London Olympics bronze medalist, finally got to enter the ring at Fantasy Springs Casino and defeated Valenzuela (3-17-3) by unanimous decision .A previously scheduled fight had evaporated months earlier.
Of all the Olympians, Esparza has been treading the rockiest road in making the transition from amateur style to prizefighting. The rapid combinations and slapping style that proved effective as an amateur can lead to ruin as a professional. The number of former amateur stars lying in the ditch of failure is many. But her trainer is one of the best in guiding from amateurs to pros.
Virgil Hunter trains Esparza and is the guru that transformed Andre Ward from Olympic gold medalist to undisputed super middleweight and light heavyweight world champion. If anyone can teach Esparza how to avoid the traps of the pro world it’s the Oakland-based trainer.
On this Esparza fight against Valenzuela the noted trainer was not present because he is in France working with fighter Tony Yoka.
Of all the previous fights for the Houston native the match on Thursday showed Esparza looking much more comfortable with the new style of fighting. No slapping or running but staying in the pocket while dishing solid shots and combinations.
Valenzuela was willing but unable to match Esparza in any category whether it was speed, strength, accuracy or knowledge. She gamely tried in every round but was over-matched and beaten soundly, but she remained standing despite the pummeling.
Near the end of the sixth round Esparza began targeting the body and that was when the Olympian came closest to ending the fight before the final bell. Valenzuela visibly showed effects of the body shots but time elapsed and the fight ended.
“I felt a bit nervous in awkward in there,” Esparza said. “That’s because she would often dip her head, which caused the head butts when I was trying to land hooks. But I saw it as a perfect opportunity to work on my straight punches. It was also a chance to work on my body shots, which I really liked in there.”
Now that Esparza looks comfortable adjusting to the pro style 2018 would look to be a year that sees her clash with the contenders in the light flyweight or flyweight divisions, depending on her preference.
One problem that she faces is finding suitable opposition in the 108 to 112-pound divisions. Most of the fighters in those divisions in the U.S. are top quality or inferior. There are few in-between choices.
Esparza’s primary weapons are speed and accuracy. She hits what she’s aims towards and quickly. The power is lacking but in those weight classes knockouts are not very common even among the world champions and contenders.
The New Year will truly unveil Esparza’s future.