Marlen Esparza Has a Chance at Some Spotlight

No one should ever wish for the misfortune of others.

That doesn’t mean one can’t recognize that a silver lining sometimes comes with the bad luck of others.

This week, headlines would have been dominated by the now canceled Jake Paul-Hasim Rahman Jr. It would have meant a lot of attention for the intended chief support bout, the return of featherweight champion Amanda Serrano. One fight removed from her narrow superfight loss to Katie Taylor, Serrano earned every bit of attention she would have had.

Flyweight champion Marlen Esparza (12-1, 1 KO), fighting on a competing undercard on DAZN (Saturday, 9 PM EST), would have struggled not to be lost in the shuffle no matter what happened in her fight.

Headlines have shifted.

This week will now focus on the rise of welterweight prospect Vergil Ortiz as he faces Michael McKinson. That will be another good step and test for Ortiz as he gets close to title contention. The queen of the flyweights has a chance to step into the vacuum Serrano leaves behind to draw some more attention to what has quietly been an excellent story.

Esparza, America’s first qualifying Olympic women’s boxer, won bronze at the 2012 Games and the World Amateur championship in 2014. A pro since 2017, Esparza took a tough, one-sided loss in her eighth start to Seniesa Estrada with an interim WBA belt on the line.

The loss was no shame. Estrada has emerged as one of the pound-for-pound best in the sport, winning titles at strawweight and Jr. flyweight. What Esparza has done since that 2019 defeat has brought her to the highest peaks since that 2014 World Amateur crown.

Esparza, 33, has won five in a row, none more important than her last victory. In April, Esparza shut out Naoko Fujioka to unify the WBC and WBA belts, earning recognition from Ring and as the rightful world champion at 112 lbs. This weekend, she will defend all of those honors against 29-year old Venezuelan Eva Guzman (19-1-1, 11 KO).

Guzman won the WBA’s interim title two fights ago against the only fighter on her record with double digit wins, Isabel Millan, with most of her wins coming against sub-.500 opponents. It doesn’t mean she can’t win; here evidence is just limited.

For Esparza, it will also be her third defense of the WBC belt she won against Ibeth Silva, rising from a knockdown in the first round to win a close decision. If a fighter can find themselves after a loss it’s been the case for Esparza.

Can she capture some audience now?

Esparza, a Houston native, has been wisely matched in Texas in what will now be four straight fights. Flyweights are a hard sell in the men’s classes and women’s boxing still has inconsistent returns so size could be an issue but in the right locales any weight class has been able to find some market. Texas has some of boxing’s most vibrant.

There is a window right now for women’s boxing and the feeling of real momentum. It’s happened in pockets before and has been more popular overseas than in the US. We had Taylor-Serrano prove it can be Madison Square Garden lit. There is an outstanding doubleheader coming with Claressa Shields-Savannah Marshall and Mikaela Mayer-Alycia Baumgardner. It’s a matching pair of unification bouts with bad blood and what should be a good crowd at the )2 Arena.

Esparza can make the most of what is a light month for boxing action. Ortiz is the star of the show, but Esparza can get people to want to see more. This is an opportunity to turn heads and ride the wave on her side of the sport.

Could what people want to see more of be a rematch with Estrada? It’s not outside the realm of the possible and Estrada is now part of a growing investment in women’s boxing by Top Rank. Esparza might not have known what she had in front of her the first time. Could she make adjustments in a rematch? Is Estrada simply too much better than everyone in the flyweight realm?

It’s just one option, one potential place to wonder. For now, Esparza has Eva Guzman, a Texas crowd, and no Amanda Serrano on a competing card. What she does with all of that will play out shortly.

Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.


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