By Karl Hegman
“I have no fear of my opponent in front of me. I am very self-sufficient, and they do not bother me. And that should I fight, should I do anything, I have made up my mind and that’s it, baby. You better kill me before..” -Bruce Lee
SPOKANE, WA — Houston’s own Marlen Esparza made boxing history this past Saturday by capturing the flyweight championship of the inaugural Women’s United States Olympic Boxing Trials that were held in Spokane, Washington. Esparza was magnificent as she defeated three opponents in the forms of Alex Love, Christina Cruz and Tyrieshia Douglas, turning in three beautiful exhibitions of boxing in the process. Marlen was nimble and quick, powerful and determined as she turned back the challenges of Love and Cruz, but it was in the final match versus the southpaw Douglas that the skills of this brilliant box-fighter were put on display for all in attendance and watching online to bear witness to.
Boxing and circling to her left, Esparza would angle off her movement to the right and step in to the strike zone, unleashing booming straight and overhand rights flush to the face of the tough Douglas. Marlen rolled under and slipped outside of most of Douglas’ attempts at counter punching, and made her pay with an assortment of jabs and hooks which left the D.C. fighter disoriented and fatiguing rapidly. The pattern continued as Esparza stepped on the gas with her morale sky high as she knew she had severed the artery of confidence in her enemy.
With her finger on the trigger and poised for a big finish, Esparza came down off of her toes and traded with Douglas, who must have felt as if she were trudging in knee deep mud as she continued to press but was eating a lot of leather from the elusive speed merchant clad in the bright red Nike boxing uniform. With triumph so urgently desired and so vital to the Houston fighter, Esparza waxed bold in the limelight of her conquering exhilaration as she thoroughly out punched and outfought her now exhausted foe in the furious ring action. Douglas is a good fighter who has a good trainer, but on this evening she found out the hard way how much the accumulative impact of so many properly delivered punches can sap the will out of a competent prize fighter, and Marlen completely outhit and battered her heavy in the exchanges.
The squared circle can be a veritable graveyard of broken dreams, but there are no tombstones on the canvas. There were only the drifting and hollow remnants of defeat that lingered in the evening air for Douglas while Marlen closed the show and sewed up her glory in dramatic fashion. Esparza raised her hand in victory at the final bell, savoring her greatest boxing accomplishment to date as she virtually leaped into the record books. Only a May date at the World Championships in China stands as the final obstacle to reaching her Olympic goal in London, and if she finishes in the top eight in her weight division she will make the team.
Bet on this much, folks: With her hopes high and her faith in her abilities at an all time peak, this boxing sentinel will no doubt be the 2012 U.S. Flyweight Olympic representative. Esparza must guard the far flung battle line alone, and after taking center stage and prevailing in a crucible of a tumultuous battle royal, Marlen Esparza has proven herself to be a gladiator for the ages.
I always get a bit of a melancholy feeling after seeing such a great fighter in action, I guess all former boxers do at one time or another. I think deep down inside we are jealous and envious of their youth and vitality, and at the same time we think of all the things we should have done differently and the mistakes we have committed in the past. I also have an insatiable fondness for starch, and decided to head to the Dot Coffee Shop on I-45 for a big stack of the best pancakes in Houston on a drizzly and wet Saturday night.
I picked up my own personal boxing Bodhisattva, that great philosopher of pugilism, the one and only Reynaldo Martinez. The 75 year old Martinez is my final remaining bridge to the golden age of boxing, and he is without a doubt the biggest Sonny Liston fan in history, and can give you the name, date and location of each of Liston’s fights. Martinez holds Liston ss the gold standard in the heavyweight division, and naturally believes a prime Sonny could have licked both Samson and Goliath back to back.
I asked him if he had watched the Esparza fight and he replied that he indeed had. “She reminds me of Ruben Olivares in the Art Hafey rematch when he turned boxer after being iced by Art in the first fight and boxed Hafey’s ears off in the return go” replied the knowledgeable sage. “Would you rate her number one, Ray? I mean rate her as the best female fighter in the sport?” I asked. Taking a sip of his coffee he replied, “Number one? Hell, I’d rate her number one and a half!”
*Note: This article is dedicated to the memory and career of an absolute jewel of a man, the legendary Angelo Dundee. May he rest in peace.*