Olympic bronze medalist Marlen Esparza hopes to change women's boxing for the better

Kevin IoleCombat columnist

Women’s boxing has historically received scant attention from American television networks, and until Claressa Shields accomplished it last year, no woman had ever headlined a card on either HBO or Showtime. Shields’ bout against Szilvia Szabados was on Showtime, but HBO has yet to air a women’s fight.

Things are slowly changing, as ESPN is giving attention to 2016 U.S. Olympian Mikaela Mayer, and Shields continues to headline on Showtime. That is a good thing, but it is slow progress and only a handful of fighters.

Golden Boy’s Marlen Esparza, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist, hopes to be able to change that. She’s leading the fight for women to fight three-minute rounds, as men do, and not the two-minute rounds which are customary for women’s boxing. Esparza, who is 4-0, has fought two fights with three-minute rounds and two with two-minute rounds.

She concedes that women don’t finish their fights as often as men — she’s 4-0 but has yet to score a KO or TKO as a pro — and said doing so may help women’s fighting become more popular.

But the most important thing, she said, is getting out there and working at promotion.

“I honestly feel we need to work more on promoting ourselves as individuals, because we need a bigger fan base,” Esparza said. “We’re still prize fighters. If we can’t fill arenas and get people to want to watch us, then there’s no reason that anyone outside of the boxing world should want to know who we are. Even though boxing is male-dominated and when they think of boxers, they think of male fighters, if there’s a girl or girls out there who attract people in general, then there’s no way they can deny us any position a guy would have.

“I just feel we need to work harder on establishing ourselves as individuals and eventually, with the right amount of fans, then there’s no way a promotion or a promoter would deny us.”

She conceded, though, that the lower knockout rates women have is a detriment. There are few who truly appreciate the art of boxing, which is why former world champion Guillermo Rigondeaux was so under-appreciated despite potentially being the best pure boxer in the sport.

Esparza referred to him as “boring,” if viewed through a specific lens.

“He’s one of the most talented fighters I’ve personally seen,” Esparza said of Rigondeaux. “But he was boring, you know? Unless you knew boxing, you couldn’t appreciate what you were watching. That’s not what the everyday people are looking for when they’re watching boxing. They’re not watch to see how talented and, ‘Oh my God, can you see his angles move and how he jumps out of the pocket and how he can stand right in front of you and not get hit.’ People don’t care about that. They want to see finishes.”

Finishes, though, are just a part of it to Esparza, who fights Laetizia Campana on April 6 at the Belasco Theater in Los Angeles. It all gets down in her opinion to marketing and promotion.

Esparza is currently sponsored by Nike and Chobani Yogurt, and has other deals in the works. She previously had a deal with CoverGirl.

She said she didn’t like the way some women approached promotion. Shields figures to be the woman who creates opportunities for her peers, because she’s not only the best fighter, but she’s also a two-time gold medalist with a bully pulpit.

Esparza, though, hopes to be the one who can popularize women’s boxing through her ability in the ring and her willingness to market herself outside of it to create opportunities for other women.

“Claressa is a really, really great fighter; I love the way she fights,” Esparza said. “But I just don’t think the way she markets herself is the best. I think Mikaela is extremely good at marketing herself, and I think Mikaela has a really good chance of opening that door, but there’s something about her. It’s been this way since I’ve known her; people like Mikaela a lot, but there is something missing. So I feel I should be in that spot and I could open that door, but I really need to pick up my boxing game. I really need to start stopping people. I think if I start doing that, there will be a really good chance of me getting into that window.”

Marlen Esparza, a 2012 bronze medalist at the London Olympics, hopes to become the face of women’s boxing. (Getty Images)
Marlen Esparza, a 2012 bronze medalist at the London Olympics, hopes to become the face of women’s boxing. (Getty Images)

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