Marlen Esparza and Jajaira Gonzalez are currently punching their way to the U.S. boxing team at the Olympic trials, which began this past Monday. The competition is fierce, and despite suffering one loss each, they still have a chance to take the tournament. Given the impressive histories of these champs, no one should be surprised if they do.
Finding a place in the male-dominated boxing world isn’t easy, but Esparza has been doing it for the past few years, and Gonzalez hopes to follow in her footsteps.
Marlen Esparza won a bronze medal at the London Olympics three years ago, making her one in only two American boxers – men and women alike – to bring a medal back home (the other one was Claressa Shields). She is also the current world champion of the flyweight division.
Her successful career has gotten her sponsorship deals with huge companies like Nike, CoverGirl, and Coca-Cola. “It’s all about what’s popular at the time,” she stated in an interview for ESPN. “Luckily, Hispanics are really growing in the U.S. Everybody’s looking for an athlete that can reach the Hispanic culture, so the fact that I’m Mexican and the fact that I’m in a male-dominated sport but still very feminine – those two together [are] always going to work for me,” she added.
Despite the popularity she’s earned, Esparza almost quit boxing after the 2012 Olympics, though she’s coming back to give it another shot at Rio 2016. She has spoken publicly about the rigorous lifestyle she has had to endure to stay in the boxing elite.
“It’s miserable, actually. It’s torture. I get mad. I don’t date. I haven’t gone out in a long time. It’s just depressing. Thank God I don’t have Facebook, because if I did, I’d be jealous of everybody. I don’t want to know what I’m missing,” lamented Esparza to Vogue.
It doesn’t help that female boxers’ professional futures are a far cry from the money and fame that male fighters expect after a successful amateur career.
“I don’t think women will be considered the main event – or get paid for boxing – in my generation, maybe [even] in my lifetime. We’re about 10 percent there,” she continued in the same interview.
Esparza already lost a match at the Olympic Trials, so she’s on her last lifeline in her quest for a spot at Rio 2016.
If she fails to qualify for the Olympic team, Esparza might quit boxing altogether to return to college and eventually medical school. She graduated high school with a 4.6 GPA, so she definitely has the brains for it, and her hardworking character is indisputable. But she’s still fighting relentlessly in the Trials, so perhaps this is just a bump in the road for the future Rio 2016 Olympic champ.
More optimistic – perhaps due to her young age and previous victories – is Jajaira Gonzalez. The 18-year-old California native won the Junior World Championship in 2013 and Youth World Championships in 2014 and 2015 before graduating high school, the first boxer to win both the Junior and Youth titles. The Olympic Trials are a first step in the no-age limit big leagues. Despite the loss yesterday, she’s doing well. Today she’ll battle with New York native Rianna Rios in a match where the loser goes home.
Other than hard work, it’s unclear what exactly lies ahead for these two warriors, but it doesn’t hurt to keep giving them our support, even if it’s just by sending positive vibes from our computers. After all, fan favorite Ronda Rousey was able to make her way into the world of MMA with her powerful performances. Times are changing; long-held barriers and stigmas are fading away. Keep an eye on Esparza and Gonzalez, because if Canelo falls short of expectations, the next big Mexican boxer might not be a he.