Meet The U.S. Women’s Boxers Who Could Punch Their Tickets To Rio

By Karen Rosen | Oct. 23, 2015, 4:25 p.m. (ET)
Marlen Esparza (L) competes against Karlha Magliocco of Venezuela during the women's flyweight (51 kg.) boxing quarterfinals at the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on Aug. 6, 2012 in London.


Women's boxing at the London 2012 Olympic Games was full of firsts: first Olympic competition for female fighters; middleweight Claressa Shields, first female Team USA gold medalist in the sport; and Marlen Esparza, first American to win a women's boxing medal on the world's biggest stage, a flyweight bronze.

Now it's time for seconds.

Shields and Esparza are back for the second U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women's Boxing Oct. 26-31 in Memphis, Tennessee. They are among 24 women vying for berths at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The three weight classes – with eight boxers in each – will be contested in a double-elimination format.

However, the eventual winners can't breathe easy after the trials. Just like in 2012, they will have to qualify internationally for the Olympic tournament. The major qualifier will be the 2016 Women’s World Championships in January and a subsequent continental qualifier will be held in spring 2016.

Here's a look at the contenders:

Middleweight Division

Claressa Shields is the T-Rex of middleweights (153 to 165 pounds). That's her nickname and also the title of a documentary chronicling her Olympic gold-medal journey. It came out earlier this year and will air on PBS in 2016.

Shields has only been defeated once in her career and seeks to become the first American fighter, male or female, to repeat as Olympic champion.

Even before she prevailed in London, Shields called the winner's prize "my gold medal." No one could stop her.

At age 17, Shields was the second-youngest fighter to become Olympic champion in men's or women's boxing and defeated an opponent nearly twice her age in the final.

Now Shields is no longer the youngest at the tournament, but she's still just 20. She is also the reigning world, U.S. and Pan American Games champion and was selected as the 2014 AIBA Female Athlete of the Year.

Raquel Miller says her greatest motivation is "when somebody tells me I can't." She began boxing in 2010 and won a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Trials. The 30-year-old earned a silver medal at the 2012 world championships in the welterweight division.

Tika Hemingway lost to Shields at the 2012 Olympic Trials, then hung up her gloves for a while. The only boxing she did was making brown cardboard boxes at a packaging company. Now Hemingway, 29, the 2009 national champion, is back to try to dethrone Shields. Asked her greatest strength in the ring, she replied, "It's a secret."

Danyelle Wolf appeared in ESPN the Magazine's Body Issue in 2014. At age 32, the personal trainer/nutritionist is the oldest competitor in the field. She won national titles in 2013, 2014 and 2015 at welterweight (152 pounds).

Franchon Crews is the fourth and final returnee from the 2012 Trials in the middleweight class. The eight-time national champ is another 2012 world championships medalist, but as a light heavyweight. Crews, 28, has also turned heads as a singer and once tried out for American Idol.

Don't count out:

Naomi Graham, 26, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and an ammunition specialist; 17-year-old Iesha Kenney, a violinist and reining Youth World Championships bronze medalist, and Cierra Taylor, 29, a personal trainer and mother of three sons.

Lightweight Division

A new Olympic Trials champion is guaranteed in the lightweight division (126 to 132 pounds) since Queen Underwood, who represented Team USA in London, is not competing in Memphis.

Mikaela Mayer lost to Underwood 22-19 in Seattle at the 2012 trials and is the top seed this time around. Before becoming a boxer, Mayer, 25, was a model. She was featured in Dr. Pepper's national "One of a Kind" campaign. Mayer has also competed at a heavier weight: she was the 2012 world championships bronze medalist at light welterweight (141 pounds).

Lisa Porter, 27, is another trials veteran. She has been runner-up at the national boxing championships and was an all-around athlete in high school, competing in volleyball, basketball, cross country, softball and swimming. She has also participated in a triathlon.

Jajaira Gonzalez, the youngest competitor in the division at age 18, was the first American female to win both junior and youth world championships titles as well as Youth Olympic Games gold. She came home from the 2015 Youth World Championships in time to celebrate her high school graduation.

Rianna Rios, 21, is a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and works as a horizontal construction engineer.

Tiara Brown, 27, has a degree in criminal justice and is attending the police academy in Washington, D.C. She won a world title at the 2012 world championships in the featherweight class (126 pounds) and added a bronze medal in 2014.

While Brown had to gain weight to compete in an Olympic class, Samantha Kinchen, 19, dropped 20 pounds from her former welterweight division.

Don't count out:

Stalacia Leggett, 28, a 5-foot-3 former high school gymnast who is now a lawyer, and Amelia Moore, 25, an accountant and automotive service administrator.

Flyweight Division

Marlen Esparza made history in London for Team USA, but wasn't satisfied with that bronze medal. She proclaims that her biggest motivation for staying in the ring is the gold medal in Rio in the flyweight division (107 to 112 pounds).

Esparza, 26, is a nine-time national champion, reigning world champion and Pan American Games silver medalist. She scored some of the biggest endorsements before and after the Games in her sport, representing brands such as Cover Girl, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Nike and Deloitte.

Virginia Fuchs competed at the 2012 trials and is the reigning national Golden Gloves Champion. A kinesiologist and personal trainer, Fuchs, 27, has taken silver behind Esparza the last three years and is battling to finally topple her rival.

Christina Cruz, 32, a national champion at the bantamweight division, was also the 2012 world championships bronze medalist at 119 pounds. She was the first American female boxer to compete at the Pan American Games. Cruz competed at the 2012 trials along with Alex Love, 26, who has won a national title at light flyweight. Love, a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, is an intel analyst and the USA Boxing representative on the USOC Athlete Advisory Committee.

Amanda Pavone, 30, hopes to get cooking in the ring with the same success that she has had as a chef.

Don't count out:

Jamie Mitchell, 30, who has less aggressive pursuits outside the ring: the mother of a 7-year-old son likes to crochet – “I find it relaxing," she said; Giovanna Camacho, 25, who graduated from West Point in 2013 and is a medical officer and member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program, and Melanie Costa, 22, a receptionist at an insurance agency and police matron.