Houston’s Marlen Esparza is Main Event in L.A.
By David A. Avila
Marlen Esparza was the first American woman to ever win an Olympic medal in boxing. Now she’s on the hunt to return to that mountain peak as a pro.
But it takes work.
Esparza (4-0) meets France’s Laetizia Campana (2-4) in the main event set for eight rounds in the flyweight division. The female bout takes place on Friday April 6, at Belasco Theater in downtown Los Angeles. It will be televised by Estrella TV nationally and streamed worldwide on RingTV.com.
The world of amateur boxing starkly differs from prizefighting. Amateurs hit and run and care more about speed and movement and less about power. Slapping becomes a habit.
With the pros it’s all about hitting to hurt and standing more stationary helps set up power blows needed for knockouts. Fans pay plenty to see knockouts.
Since becoming a professional last year Esparza has rebooted her fighting style to learn the art of prizefighting. It’s been a slow steady process under famed trainer Virgil Hunter whose former protégé Andre Ward made the transition in 2004 from amateur star to stalwart pro and eventual world champion.
But dozens of victims line the streets of those who failed to make the transition. It’s not simple to adapt a pro style regardless of amateur pedigree.
Esparza has a major asset in her arsenal: locked in focus.
“I’m uber-focused on boxing. I enjoy what I do,” said Esparza. “I worry about losing my edge I worry about others catching up to me. I stay in the gym.”
During the past year Esparza has worked in the San Francisco Bay area with noted trainer Hunter on her pro game. The changes made since her pro debut a year ago – at Fantasy Springs Casino against Rachel Sazoff in March 2017 to her recent six-round victory over Karla Valenzuela at the same venue this last December – have been note-worthy.
“I love the transitioning I had to make to this point,” said Esparza by phone. “Boxing was becoming boring for me. But learning the pro style has made me fall in love with the sport again.”
Slowly the changes are appearing as she now moves much less as a pro than as an amateur. The quick slapping blows no longer occur and Esparza has become more focused on making each punch more powerful and impactful.
“I love boxing. I’m still in love with it. Still obsessed with it,” said Esparza who got started in boxing at eight years old. “It’s everything I care about it.”
As an amateur Esparza won a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics and was the very first American female to win a medal. She was soon followed by Claressa Shields who captured the gold medal in the same 2012 Olympic Games. Esparza did not qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and subsequently became a professional in March 2017.
Golden Boy Promotions signed Esparza and she became the first of three females to sign with the Los Angeles-based boxing organization. Her signing was hailed as a significant moment for women’s boxing and now various boxing promoters are also signing female prizefighters.
“I feel honored to have been signed by Golden Boy Promotions,” said Esparza.
Two months ago Golden Boy signed another female fighter from nearby East Los Angeles named Seniesa Estrada. Both Esparza and Estrada have a long feud that goes back nearly a decade.
“I think she started the beef but I cooked it. She bought it but I cooked it,” said Esparza who has known Estrada since before 2009. “She said I used to run from her in the amateurs.”
Esparza guarantees they will fight this year.
“Now if you want a problem I can give it,” said Esparza while on the Tattoo and the Crew radio show on Thursday. “The marinating is done. Definitely, I would fight her next.”
Next, however, will be France’s Campana in the main event at Belasco on Friday night.
“I don’t know anything about her except she trains in Philadelphia,” said Esparza of Campana.
It’s the second time a female bout headlines a Golden Boy card anywhere and it will be televised.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Esparza, 28. “It’s a tremendous honor.”
Ironically, Seniesa Estrada became the first female fighter to headline a Golden Boy boxing card when she fought and defeated Sonia Osorio last month at Belasco Theater in Los Angeles.
It appears the two female flyweights are headed toward a collision and fans of boxing are excited about the potential clash.
“That’s the fight I want among others,” said Esparza about fighting Estrada. “I want to prove Seniesa is not in my class.”
Esparza also expressed interest in fighting Argentina’s talented Yesica Bopp both an amateur and pro star considered one of the best in the world. Suddenly, the light flyweight scene has blossomed in North America.
“I want all of those fights,” said Esparza.
Doors open at Belasco Theater at 5 p.m. The first streamed fight begins at 6 p.m. Pacific Time on RingTV.com. The first televised fight begins at 7 p.m. on Estrella TV.