Women’s boxing will make its debut as an Olympic sport when the quarterfinal rounds begin on August 5.
Queen Underwood, Claressa Shields, and Marlen Esparza make up the inaugural U. S. Boxing Team, but it’s the smallest of the three, Esparza, who looks to make the biggest splash in London.
Hailing from the southeast corner of Houston (Pasadena to be exact) the 23-year-old has been boxing since she first entered Houston’s Elite Boxing gym and asked to be trained by her now-trainer Rudy Silva. At first Silva refused to train a girl, but it didn’t take him long to see that Esparza was actually outpacing his boys.
Twelve years later, Silva’s prize pupil boasts a 69-2 amateur record and is a six-time National Champion at 112 pounds. (Her attempt at a record-breaking seventh national title would have conflicted with Olympic qualification.) She also won the bronze medal in the 2006 World Championships and the Gold in the 2008 Pan American Games.
It’s her extensive boxing resume that makes her Team USA’s best bet to win gold. She also has her resume to thank for making her a household name. She has endorsement deals with Nike, CoverGirl and Coca-Cola. CNN’s Latino in America 2 followed her journey to Olympic qualification. And just recently, she was featured in the July issue of Vogue magazine.
Beyond boxing, the first-generation Mexican American seems to be one of those people who’s just good at everything she does, while leaving a good impression on others in the process. At Pasadena High School, she was Student Body President and graduated in the top 2 percent of her class. “She’s really smart, and really conscious of her presence in the world,” says her senior-year homeroom teacher Claudia Garcia, who still keeps in regular contact with Esparza. “She’s very focused on one direction at a time. Her ultimate goal is getting gold, and then she’s done. She’s like a racehorse, doesn’t look in any other direction.”
So what’s left to conquer after she wins gold and becomes an even bigger household name?
Well, Esparza can chase money by fighting in the emerging professional scene in Europe (it’s tough to earn a solid paycheck here in the states). The hope is that she can generate enough attention in London to earn a solid offer.
But if that doesn’t work out, she plans to attend college (she was accepted to the University of Texas and Rice University out of high school) and then medical school, with the ultimate goal of becoming an anesthesiologist. Whatever her future plans, it’s hard to imagine that she won’t be successful at whatever she chooses to do.
In the meantime, she’ll be fighting for a gold medal in London. The boxer who was once told that the sport wasn’t for her has already become one of the more recognized boxers in the world, professional or amateur, male or female.
All that and more make her someone that we can all root for this summer in London.