(LONDON, ENGLAND) – Flyweight Marlen Esparza’s (Houston, Texas) decade-long journey in the boxing ring finally culminated in her debut at the 2012 Olympic Games on Monday and the 23-year-old made sure it was a victorious one. The Houston native gave Team USA a much needed win a guaranteed herself at least a bronze medal with a 24-16 victory over Venezuela’s Karla Magliocco. Teenage sensation Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) followed two hours later with a comeback win over Sweden’s Anna Laurell to clinch a middleweight medal as well.
Esparza got off to a quick start in her bout, out-boxing Magliocco from the opening bell. Her early momentum gave Esparza an 8-4 lead after the first round. She continued to connect with her signature overhand right in the second round, evading the Venezuelan’s ongoing shots and extending her advantage to a 14-8 margin. Despite the referee stopping the bout numerous times to have the coach fix her hair, which was coming out of her headgear and the crowd booing her growing lead, Esparza stayed focused on the task at hand. She took a 19-12 lead into the final round and managed to avoid the charging Magliocco to win the 24-16 final decision. The victory guarantees Esparza at least a bronze medal and advances her to a semifinal match-up with reigning world champion Ren Cancan of China on Wednesday.
“It feels good, I feel really good about winning a medal. In the U.S., if it’s not gold, it’s not good enough so I’m trying to get a gold. That’s really what I want. I’ll be happy with whatever I get from this point because no matter what it is, it’s a blessing to get this far. But in my mind, I really am dying for a gold medal,” Esparza said.
She has been preparing for her rematch with Cancan, and hopes to keep her record of never losing twice to the same opponent in tact when she faces the reigning world champion on Wednesday.
“I’m ready for the next match. That’s the one I’ve been playing in my head a million times, over and over. That’s the definitely the one that I’m here for,” Esparza said. “It feels good to win a medal and I know that the USA needed it badly right now so I’m excited about that, but now it’s time to get what I came here for and that’s the next match.”
Shields continued the winning ways in her bout with two-time World Champion Laurell. The American teenager faced a large height deficit in her bout with Laurell, but that didn’t discourage Shields from throwing shots at her towering opponent. Yet it was Laurell who held a 4-2 lead after the first round. Shields began to cut the distance between the two of them in the second round, finding a home for her double jab, right hand combination and she cut her deficit to one at the halfway mark. She continued to find the mark in the third round, landing strong hooks and the bout went into the final round locked at 12-12. Shields simply wouldn’t be deterred in the final round, coming out firing strong shots. She rocked Laurell with a body shot, hook combination, giving the Swedish boxer a standing eight count.
Shields won by the round by a four-point margin, taking the bout by an 18-14 final score. As in Esparza’s case, the quarterfinal victory ensures Shields will win at least a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympic Games. She moves on to a semifinal bout with Kazakhstan’s Marina Volnova following Volnova’s win over reigning World Champion Savannah Marshall in the bout prior to Shields’.
“In the first round, I didn’t want to rush her because that’s how I lost a fight previously. She was taller, I knew she wanted to outrun me and stay on the outside so I took it slow and I was down two going into the second round. In the second round, I was down by one and that’s when I sharpened up and started picking my shots,” Shields said. “In the third round, we were tied up 12-12, the only thing I was thinking was bite down. I was thinking, this is what you’ve been working on in training camp, staying calm and picking your shots. This is it, do it. I just told myself that I wasn’t going to let her get it from me the last round.”
Welterweight Errol Spence (Desoto, Texas) will compete in his quarterfinal contest on Tuesday at 10 p.m. London time (5 p.m. ET), in a bout with Russia’s Andrey Zamkovoy. Spence was reinstated in the competition following a U.S. protest of his bout with India’s Krishan Vikas.
112 lbs: Marlen Esparza, Houston, Texas/USA dec. Karla Magliocco, VEN, 24-16
165 lbs: Claressa Shields, Flint, Mich./USA dec. Anna Laurell, SWE, 18-14
Marlen Esparza Quotes
“If you try to be first with someone who likes to throw punches, it’s just going to end badly for you so you try to let her throw first, counter, and then get out of the way.”
“I thought the crowd was going to freak me out a lot more than it did. I thought it was going to be like oh my gosh, all these people. What am I doing? I want to go home, but it was okay. Then they were booing a lot. That pissed me off a little bit so that helped. That was really all I was worried about because I’ve never been in front of a crowd like that. Everything happens for reason, if they had been way happier, it would have been worse for me. Since they were a little upset, it kind of gave me a lot more energy.”
“When I walked in and I realized that all those people didn’t freak me, it made me really happy and that’s why I was smiling walking to the ring.”
“I hope that the people in Houston were happy with what happened today. I’m just really happy that they supported me. I’ve been getting so much support from Houston, its crazy so I really appreciate it.”
“I’m happy with a bye because internationally, my brackets have been so hard. I get European Champion, former World Champion, reigning World Champion and then the finals. I’m really happy with the bye, I feel like God was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to give you a break this time Marlen’.”
“My hair is really thin, that’s why I braid it, so that doesn’t happen but it got pushed out in the back because the headgear is so tight and new. It kept pushing my hair down and it made it come out. My hair will come out of anything. It was distracting but I just kept pretending like it was okay because if you keep worrying about my hair, my hair, it messes with your mind and she was being too aggressive for me to think about anything else.”
“I think this tournament, they are looking for a little more of the professional style, which is different. Usually they like the amateur style, a lot of points, a lot of movement but it seems like if you’re really aggressive, they like it better. This tournament is kind of close to professional boxing.”
“I’m not planning to turn professional, I’m going to go to school so these are my last fights.”
“I’m not a slow starter luckily so I’m good at going right away. That’s why I win so much because I’m usually up in the first round and that helps me because I like to move versus go forward. I was faster too.”
“I’ve been practicing with left handers for a month so that (the right hand) just came out. I kept saying when she jumps in, I’m going to jab but I couldn’t control my body and boom there goes my right hand. So it wasn’t really on purpose, it was just habit because I’ve been practicing with left handers. Luckily it worked in my favor. I’m glad I didn’t have to use my jab first or I would have been having a hard time.”
“It’s not really one fight (to medal), it took like 50 fights to get here so I don’t really see it that way. I see that I got a definite blessing in the brackets and I think it was well deserved because my other brackets have been horrible. I know people are going to think that, but I deserved that bye and it took me a long time to get here.”
“I wasn’t as fast on my feet as I usually I am and I couldn’t jab and I love my jabs, but it’s something that I’m not really going to need after this point because I fight a left hander tomorrow.”
“We’re definitely going to stare at each other for half of the fight because if I go forward, it’s going to go downhill. If she goes forward, it’s going to go downhill so we’re definitely going to be looking at each other for half the fight.”
“I was working pads in the village and I saw Kobe, Carmelo and Lebron James yesterday. I didn’t really see them because I was focused but they stopped and said, ‘Can we take a picture?’ I stopped and saw all these famous people and I thought, I would have tried harder if I’d known it was you.”
Claressa Shields Quotes
“I had to keep myself calm, I didn’t want to be too overanxious so when I walked out, I was warm. At the end of the day, I’ve got go out there and fight. There’s no need to be overexcited. It was kind of like wow when I walked out.”
“I think a lot of men weren’t treated fairly but that’s just how it is. They had really close bouts and they had tough opponents so that’s how it played out.”
“That’s just how it is (guaranteeing a bronze medal with one win). This is the first Olympics for women’s boxing. There are 12 in each weight class, the men have up to 30 in a weight class because they have all these different qualifications for the men but there’s only one qualification for the women. They took the two best from each continent who placed at the World Championships so there’s 12 of us here. It will probably be better next Olympics but to me, it’s fair.
“I was happy to go to bed every day and wake up the next day and there’s was one less day to go (waiting to box). I got irritated, I watched six or seven straight guys lose from the USA and I wanted all of them to place. I wanted everyone to get a medal but I had to control my emotions. I never cried, I gave everyone some good words of encouragement and after that, I tried to stay focused on me. I just made sure I went to bed every night and woke up the next day, that was it.”
“Hopefully (in 50 years), women’s boxing will have 30 boxers in each weight class. I hope that they start treating us fairly. I think they want all the attention to be on the women and that’s why we are fighting separately from the men but at the same time, I think its only fair to mix us in because sometimes you want to see women and you want to see men. I don’t see why they have to separate us.”
“I really wanted to fight Savannah Marshall, she gave me my first loss. That’s something that has motivated me. If I win, I’ve got Savannah my next fight, but it didn’t work out like that. I have Kazakhstan next. I just have go watch film and dissect her.”
“There’s always room for improvement. Jason was proud, being at this level. We don’t think about scoring 30 or 40 points anymore, we just think about the win. I’m going to fix some stuff. I’ve got my day off, I’m going to sharpen up a little bit more. I got a little rust off, I haven’t fought since I lost. I’ve been in the ring sparring and stuff but that’s my first time in front of a huge crowd where people are going for me and against me. So now I get the rust off and I’ll fight better.”
“That girl was a tough opponent, she was really tall. Any tall fighter can beat any short fighter and any short fighter can beat any tall fighter but nine times out 10, you have to be a really good short fighter to beat somebody tall.”
“I feel that I can do better but I definitely feel like I don’t fight like a girl. I feel like I went out there and proved a point. I’m going to keep proving that point until I get to that gold medal.”
“I’m boxing in there. I just happen to hit hard, that’s how I was taught. I wasn’t taught to load up. If I was to load up on every punch, I would have been stupid tired in that last round and she would have won. I was just being sharp and I just happen to hit hard. I’ve been paying attention to the point system, I really have. I watched six guys from our team lose so I have been watching and trying to see, which round the judges are pushing the button the most in and for some reason, it’s the second round. I was really happy that I was only down by one after the second round. I really don’t think she was scoring a lot but sometimes they are just down there clicking.”
“My idols are Sugar Ray Leonard, Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and Tommy Hearns. I love those guys.”
“Jason sent a message through Coach Leverette. He said to stay calm, have fun and go out there and do what I do. He said all my hard work was done in the gym and now its time to have some fun and do what I’ve been waiting to do and that’s have a chance to perform and get my gold medal. I just went out there and at first I was being really cautious. I just had to figure her out, she’s a really tall fighter.”
“I have a strong determination not to lose. I feel like growing up, I lost so much, I just want to be a winner. I love boxing, I put all my time into boxing and I feel like I deserve to win. No one can control my destiny but me so I go in there and sometimes, I’m mad and sometimes I’m not mad. I just go in there and do my best.”