Marlen Esparza finds herself in the only title fight on a show for her second straight ring appearance.
Four months after scoring her biggest win to date on a card headlined by Ryan Garcia, Houston’s Esparza aims to steal the show from local hero Vergil Ortiz Jr. this Saturday at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. The reigning lineal/WBA/WBC flyweight champion defends against mandatory challenger Eva Guzman (19-1-1, 11KOs) on a DAZN card where every other participant is male but whose credentials pale in comparison to what Esparza has been able to achieve on both the pro and amateur stage.
“It’s no longer women’s boxing, it’s women boxing and with respect,” Esparza told BoxingScene.com. “I never in my entire life thought that we’d be here but I felt like I’ve spent my entire life fighting to be here.
“It’s not just me. It’s everyone partaking in this. It’s not even just that one fight with [undisputed lightweight champion] Katie [Taylor] and [WBC/WBO/IBO featherweight titlist] Amanda [Serrano]. Everyone has contributed to get here. Lucia Rijker, Ann Wolfe, Christy Martin, Laila Ali.”
Esparza (12-1, 1KOs) has led the charge all the way back to her amateur days. She became the first American female boxer to qualify for the Olympics, doing so in 2012 London where she was the first to medal in claiming Bronze as a flyweight.
The championship run in the pro ranks came the hard way. Esparza turned pro in March 2017, fighting five times before stepping away for just over a year upon becoming pregnant with her son, Saint—to whom she gave birth in January 2019. Three months later came her ring return, fighting three times that year although it included her lone defeat—a hard-fought, technical decision defeat to bitter rival Seniesa Estrada in November 2019.
Five wins have followed, including a title winning ten-round decision over WBC flyweight titlist Ibeth Zamora last June in El Paso, Texas. The show was headlined by former WBO 154-pound titlist and current middleweight contender Jaime Munguia, though with Esparza’s bout representing the lone title fight on the show.
The same applied in her win over Naoko Fujioka, outpointing the legendary Japanese fighter in their WBA/WBC flyweight championship unification bout on April 9 at Alamodome in San Antonio. Esparza’s performance managed to steal the show on a night that saw Garcia (23-0, 19KOs) return following a 15-month hiatus though in a dull, one-sided win over Emmanuel Tagoe.
It will be a tall order for Esparza to steer attention away from the always exciting Ortiz, who hails from the Dallas suburb of Grand Prairie and fights in the region for the third straight time. A win on Saturday will put Ortiz in position to challenge for his first major title, on a night where Esparza already attempts her third overall title defense.
“To be here now while everything is so strong and still growing, it blows me away,” admitted the 33-year-old Esparza. “It makes us realize that it’s all worth it. We see little girls in the gym, sparking boys when they spar. Nobody does a double take over it anymore. Everyone here will watch a reel of an eight-year-old girl sparring.
“Twenty years ago, they’d never give a second glance. To know that these girls don’t have to go through what we went through to get here makes it all worth it.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox