By Karl Hegman
In three weeks, the United States Women’s flyweight representative will take the ring in London at the 2012 Olympic Games to conclude the final step in her long and arduous journey in amateur boxing. The heavily hyped Marlen Esparza realizes that any result other than winning the Gold Medal will not be acceptable. Forget the cheesy Coca-Cola commercials, forget the Cover Girl television spots and forget the hundreds of interviews and hangers-on; this is now serious and very dangerous business. Life and death business that is the real world of the prizefighter.
While her publicity people may have done a commendable job of selling her to the American public, they cannot help her once she steps in that Olympic ring and stares across at the well conditioned beast that will no doubt be awaiting her in the opposite corner with her own dreams of winning an Olympic Gold Medal. No smiling, smarmy network or cable television personality can help her turn the tables on her conqueror at the World Championships, the tough and menacing southpaw World Champion Ren Cancan of China. Tough English fighter Nicola Adams is also seething at the bit for her own Olympic glory in front of her hometown fans, and they are sure to be rabid in their support for their hometown boxer in London.
Marlen needs to clear her mind and concentrate entirely on her business at hand, and this will be her most difficult challenge in her entire life. Every fighter in the Games is going to be ready to fight to the death, and they are going to be completely unafraid. Boxing is one fighter versus another, it’s not that complicated and she does not have to make things more complicated than they already are. If Esparza just relaxes and fights her fight, picks her shots and focuses on her fundamentals, she can bring it all home.
The director of Fighter Nation Boxing, the great former world title challenger Termite Watkins has predicted a Gold Medal for Esparza, but he is in the minority with his opinion. Being in the minority though, does not mean he is wrong due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of the media that cover boxing have no boxing experience themselves whatsoever. Esparza is definitely the big underdog here though, no question about it.
It will be to her advantage that her trainer Rudy Silva will be joining her in London. There’s nothing worse for a fighter to be involved in a tough fight and coming back to the corner listening to a virtual stranger in there, so she is fortunate in that respect. The time for victory is now, she has the rest of her life to do interviews and television programs, and I seriously doubt that Ren Cancan has participated in any of that kind of business herself as she is a hardcore trainer from what I have been told.
I am decidedly old school in my personal boxing philosophy, and I have always believed that a fighter should be shielded from the spotlight of the television cameras while they are in training. A fighter needs to be locked in isolation to train away from family and friends, particularly for an event of this magnitude, the biggest athletic stage on the planet. Marlen is hooked on boxing like a junkie is hooked on heroin, ice water flows through her veins and she will have to literally fight to the finish as there is no tomorrow.
**This piece is dedicated to the memory of the greatest boxing artist of them all, the legendary LeRoy Neiman. May he Rest in Peace.**