MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Christina Cruz gets her rematch.
Marlen Esparza gets her second chance.
Only one will advance to the flyweight division final at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Women’s Boxing.
When Cruz lost to Esparza, the Olympic bronze medalist, by unanimous decision Tuesday night, she dropped from the winner’s bracket into the challenger’s bracket. Following two straight victories, including a 3-0 win over Giovanna Camacho on Thursday night, Cruz finds herself headed into the ring against Esparza again Friday night at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.
Neither expected to be in this position. Virginia Fuchs knocked the top-seeded Esparza out of the winner’s bracket on Wednesday night in the first big upset of the double-elimination tournament. Fuchs clinched a berth in the 112-pound final with the victory.
Cruz said she thought she’d beaten Esparza when they fought the first time. “When the announcer said unanimous decision, I was sure that the ref was going to raise my hand, but he didn’t,” Cruz said. “It was a very controversial fight. But there’s nothing I can do about that any more but just look forward to the next fight.”
Lightweight Jajaira Gonzalez and middleweight Tika Hemingway were also victorious Thursday night to stay alive in the challenger’s bracket.
Cruz, 32, a multiple New York City Golden Gloves champion and five-time U.S. national champion, said those first four rounds against Esparza have given her ideas about how to approach their next meeting.
“I probably shouldn’t tell you,” she said. “I’m just going to fight my fight.”
Cruz has experience with rematches: Her bout against Camacho was her second in Memphis. They opened against each other, when Camacho left her mark with a bruise over Cruz’s right eye, but Cruz got the unanimous decision.
Esparza, the 2014 world champion, has lost three bouts since July, and needs to regain her winning ways to pursue the Olympic gold medal which eluded her in London.
But her rivals aren’t conceding anything to her.
“I don’t care if she’s a bronze medalist or a gold medalist or someone who just started boxing,” Cruz said. “I’m going to go in there and I’m going to fight as hard as I can.”
Besides Fuchs, lightweight Mikaela Mayer and middleweight Claressa Shields punched their tickets into the Saturday finals by winning three straight bouts. They also got two days off while the challengers’ bodies took a beating.
Gonzalez defeated Rianna Rios 3-0 and will meet Tiara Brown on Friday in the 132-pound division.
“I have a really strong mentality, so I was just putting in my head, ‘I’ve got to find a way back to the top,’” said Gonzalez, the Youth Olympic Games champion and youngest fighter in the women’s trials at age 18.
Hemingway won a split decision over Franchon Crews and will take on Raquel Miller for a shot at the middleweight final.
Hemingway and Crews came up together in the rankings.
“I knew it was going to be a hard fight coming into it,” Hemingway said, “and whoever wanted it more was going to win. And the winner was me tonight.”
The ultimate goal is her own rematch against Shields, who defeated her Tuesday and also in the 2012 Olympic Trials at 165 pounds.
“She’s an amazing fighter,” Hemingway said. “She’s a gold medalist. Everything she does, she wins. So it’ll be amazing to not only fight her again, but to beat her.”
Of course, Shields will be primed for a rematch, too.