Boxing legend, fierce fighter, Superwoman — any of these terms could be used to describe the phenomenal journey Marlen Esparza has carved out for herself in the world of boxing. At the tender age of 17, Esparza realized boxing was in her heart and has been fighting her way up not only in the boxing world but through obstacles that may have been meant to stop her in her tracks but catapulted her towards the successful milestones she has accomplished today. It has been a bittersweet journey marked with trials and tribulations, along with a decorated professional boxing career in what is considered a man’s world of sports.
Esparza you could say became a household name when she became the first American woman to qualify for the Olympics as women’s boxing made its debut as an Olympic event. She went on to win the bronze medal in the women’s flyweight division at the 2012 Olympics in London that year. A crowning glory to a road less traveled as Esparza shares, running was her original passion. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, the 29-year-old recently added a few other titles to her impressive resume, that of becoming a wife, and recently a new mom to her adorable baby boy Saint. She went on to share this quote on her Facebook page about being a mom: “There’s #NoOneWay to do anything in life, including when to become a mom. There’s a lot of fight inside all you moms and there’s a lot of moms in the fight for their families, careers and themselves. We do it on our terms. I see you and I’m cheering for you like you do for me.”
A young woman of many talents, Esparza certainly inspires others to reach for their highest dreams and never give up. A prime example of a Latina trailblazer steamrolling through anything getting in her way, she recently stepped back into the ring after having her son and becoming the new #NABO flyweight Champion. At five feet three inches tall, Esparza proves she was built for the path she proudly travels, racking up titles, belts, and many firsts, including the first female signed with Golden Boy Boxing. But the road wasn’t paved with open arms. Esparza had to kick down a few doors on her way to where she is today.
Getting back in the ring so quickly after giving birth may have stunned a few in the boxing world but Esparza went on to share that no one really knew what to think at the moment.
“Everybody was like what the heck are you doing back in the ring so fast. How is it going to look? I think everyone was waiting to be negative and then once I performed the way I performed, no one really had much to say that was negative,” she tells HipLatina.
The mindset and attitudes towards women in boxing are different than those regarding male boxers. She has especially felt this being a female boxer herself. But the message she wants to put out there is that no matter where you are in your journey, you can still revamp your career and go after your dreams. She credits her family for her successful comeback.
“I have a crazy, amazing husband who is extremely supportive and makes sure I have as less stress as I can,” she says.
Esparza never really imagined boxing as a career. She planned on using her running along with being a stellar student and the scholarships she received, to go to college.
“When I was younger that’s what I thought I was doing until I came to the fork in the road and had to decide between going to college or doing boxing,” Esparza says. “I kind of surprised myself by not knowing that I was going to rather box than go to school, and that’s when I realized this is something I was going to do for as long as I possibly could and not just something I was doing for fun. It was a really hard year for me to decide to box full time.”
She was around 16-years-old when she realized that boxing was the career path for her. Esparza’s accolades have continued to impress as she has moved up the boxing ladder, crafting her mark as a boxing legend in the making. With a 6-0 Professional Career to date, her earlier titles include a bronze medalist at the 2006 Women’s World Boxing Champion; a 2014 Women’s World Champion; 1st U.S. Olympic Team Trials Winner (Flyweight Division); a 9- time Consecutive U.S. National Champion, and has the “Longest Winning Record in the U.S. (69-2 win/loss)” as shared by her biography on her Facebook.
“I was ranked #1 in The U.S. for about 10 years which is like crazy,” she says. “I had over 6 continental championships and had been on the podium 3 to 4 times at the world stage and won gold once.”
She’s a gifted world-renowned Latina who brings so much more to the table by serving up killer knockouts she will long after be remembered for. But with any journey comes obstacles and challenges to face.
“It’s bittersweet. I don’t think there’s a lot of people that could have gone through what I’ve gone through. It’s weird to say yes, I broke barriers and changed things because I did and I didn’t do it by myself but I was the only one doing it the way I did,” she says. “Back when I first started boxing, a woman boxer being successful was just as rare as someone today talking about a female football player playing. There had been female fighters before me that had gone professional but not fundamentally, not in the amateurs, not going to the Olympics, and I think that’s why I was so different. Everyone says there was Laila Ali, there was Christy Martin and Lucia Rijker, but I had a lot more obstacles than them. I didn’t just turn 25 and decide I wanted to be a boxer and did it. It didn’t work like that. I had to literally be in the gym since I was a kid. I was trying to go the Olympics and everybody was kind of ugly towards the idea when I was younger.”
Esparza’s endorsement as a Cover Girl Model also threw her in the limelight with a widely publicized campaign. She went on to share that being considered attractive was a hindrance early on in her career.
“It didn’t really help me, it hurt me and people had this idea I was in the gym for other reasons other than boxing and it caused a lot of conflicts and changed my personality,” she shares “I was frustrated and angry a lot but it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that I had gone through a lot of things girls now don’t have to go through.”
She considers herself a visualizer regarding how she prepares for her bouts in the ring.
“Mentally to prepare I just visualize the fight over and over and anything that could possibly happen, and how I would react so that I can be ready for anything,” she says. “Now I remind myself more of the things I’ve been through and it’s become more of reassuring myself and once I let that seep in I’m ready to fight.”
Her mental strength, hardcore determination and hunger to just keep going and believing in herself, helps Esparza stand out from the rest. “Nobody is going to come believe in me for me and pull me out. You have to be your own hero,” she says.