As the world will be introduced to women’s boxing at the 2012 Summer Olympics, viewers will also feast their eyes on Marlen Esparza.
The U.S. flyweight boxer and Cover Girl model has been turning heads as the first Olympic women's boxing tournament nears. This 23-year-old is not just doing it in the boxing ring, though. Her fighting chops have turned the Pasadena, Tx. product into an influential figure leading up to the Games.
She is the first Hispanic Olympian to represent Cover Girl, has already been featured in Vogue Magazine, and has inked commercials with Olympic sponsors Coca-Cola and McDonalds, among others.
Seems like this young fighters stock is rising faster than a haymaker. Esparza is the best hope for American boxing gold in inaugural Olympic competition.
Esparza's resume features a glut of dazzling qualifications, boasting a 67-2 record, a 97 percent winning percentage, and the distinction as number one in her weight class for seven years.
In comparison, Mike Tyson, Floyd Mayweather Jr., and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) all had more blemishes on their record at 23 than Esparza. Her confidence eschews from her past success and it shows in the ring.
You can imagine how glossy her trophy room looks. A six-time national champion on different levels, a world championship bronze medalist and Pan American Games gold-medal winner from 2008 stand out.
The young fighter has used her winning ways in boxing and converted them to success in the classroom as well; she was class president and finished in the top two percent of her graduating class in high school.
The road to the Olympics wasn’t as easy as her record would indicate. At only 23, she had to grow up fast in order to earn a berth to the first women’s Olympic boxing tournament
For starters, Esparza had to gain six pounds in order to qualify for the lightest Olympic boxing weight limit. In addition, she had to abandon her traditional boxing style to adapt to international fighting, which relies on quickness and odd punching angles rather than clean shots and knockout blows. She ran three to four miles every day and never takes a sip of alcohol.
Through the guidance of her father David and trainer Rudy Silva, Esparza has ascended the worldwide ranks at ninth in the world. In March, she qualified for the Olympics at the U.S. Boxing trials, earning herself a first-round bye. As a result, she will only need to win one fight to earn a medal.
Former Olympic boxer and Houston native Maurice "Termite' Watkins, who lives nearby where Esparza trains and has become her staunch supporter and mentor, had this to say of the flyweight boxer (from Vogue Magazine):
“I’ve never seen anyone work harder than Marlen,” Watkins says. “I was an amateur with some of the best amateurs in history, and I was a pro with some of the best pros in history—Leonard, Ali, Frazier, Foreman. I put her in that caliber of fighter. She is already going to go down in history as one of the great amateurs. And in the last six months I’ve seen her reach another level. She and Rudy are bringing it all together now. She’s unreal.”
Similar to Esparza, women’s boxing had an extended journey to Olympic recognition at this year’s games. In 2008, the sport was up for inclusion, but the overall sentiment was that women getting hit in the face was too barbaric for the Olympic aesthetic.
Four years later, the sport gained steam worldwide, especially abroad in the United Kingdom. The sport was awarded Olympic competition for the first time and will have the world's outright attention in mere hours.
The boxing match that it seems Esparza has been training all her life for comes just a few days later on August 5th. Even if she falls short, not all will be forgone. She has already earned the distinction of women’s boxing pioneer.
If she can capitalize on gold, though, the young fighter can already claim her place in American boxing lore. This is the biggest moment for a women's sport in America as any.
For a girl from Pasadena, Texas who just wanted to box, that’s worth all the hits.