Marlen Esparza captures 5th national boxing crown
U.S. boxer Marlen Esparza loudly grunted with every punch that she landed, launching her entire 112-pound frame into everything she threw.
That's what ultimatums will do.
Esparza told herself that if she lost to Tyrieshia Douglas in the 112-pound final of the USA boxing national championships Saturday night, she was going to throw in the towel on her boxing career and hit the books instead.
Nothing against Douglas. It's just that with the Olympics around the corner, this was Esparza's biggest exam, which she passed with ease, winning 15-7 for her fifth national title.
''This one is the most meaningful,'' said Esparza, a soon-to-be 21-year-old from Houston. ''I feel like I've put a lot into boxing already. If I wasn't going to go anywhere, then it's time to move on with my life.''
Queen Underwood knocked off defending champion Patricia Manuel to claim the 132-pound title and Tiffanie Hearn captured the 165-pound division.
Those are the three women's weight classes that will be contested at the 2012 London Olympics. The International Olympic Committee added women's boxing to the program last summer but with an abbreviated field - the men have 10 weight divisions.
That's why Esparza put such a heavy emphasis on her bout. Win and she would prove to herself she was on the right path, lose and she was going to devote her time to her pre-med courses at the University of Houston.
''I want to go to the Olympics,'' Esparza said. ''If I don't feel like I have a really good shot at it, I'll move on with life.''
The jostling will soon begin as boxers move up and down the weight classes as the Olympics draw closer. Because of that, Hearn looked at her fight as a statement bout. She wanted to make it clear that she was the boxer to beat, even if she couldn't see that well in her match.
Hearn lost both contact lenses on a punch by Lisbet Vargas but still won 9-2.
''I could see well enough,'' shrugged Hearn, who's from Louisville, Ky. ''I could've done a lot better, but I got the win.''
In the matinee program, Lauren Fisher halted Sacred Downing's string of six straight national titles, winning at 119 pounds with a flurry of late punches.
Downing now intends to fight at 112 pounds in an attempt to make the Olympic squad.
''This is opening the door for females,'' she said. ''But I've got to get back into the gym. In life, you're going to fall sometimes. It makes you a champion to get back up.''
Fisher landed a flurry of punches in the fourth and final round to post her upset.
Downing said she planned to stay for the night session and watch her counterparts, just to keep an eye on her eventual competition. That includes Esparza, who moved into the 112-pound class after winning four national titles at 106 pounds.
''As far as people moving down, I really don't see any problems with them,'' Esparza said. ''The biggest competition I felt I had was the girl I just beat. That was going to be my most difficult fight.''
Underwood dropped down from 141 pounds after ruling that division, and picked up where she left off against Manuel.
''I still need to work on a lot more stuff,'' said Underwood, a 26-year-old from Seattle. ''But this (weight) is perfect. I'm just going to get stronger and stronger.''
For Manuel, it's back to the drawing board to figure out a way to knock off Underwood when it matters most - with an Olympic spot on the line.
''It wasn't my fight tonight,'' Manuel said. ''She's a good fighter. I'll come back next year and I'll get her.''