A little over two weeks ago, Marlen Esparza (12-1) fought her way to a unanimous decision victory over Japan's Naoko Fujioka (19-3-1). This victory not only made Marlen Esparza a unified champion (WBC & WBA), but she also earned the prestigious Ring Magazine title, making her the best in the division for the first time ever within the flyweights.
It was a career-defining moment for the thirty-two-year-old from Houston, TX, and there to congratulate her, aside from the team, was her three-year-old son Saint who seemed like he was born ready to be in front of the cameras. I checked in with Marlen to do a victory lap of sorts and get some insights on that night and what she has in store for the future.
During the fight, there was a ton of back-and-forth action but at times, the announcers felt Esparza could have made it into an easier fight by fighting at a distance. It was all part of her strategy going into the fight, as she wanted to be the boss in there and make Fujioka fight backward. Did anything surprise Esparza that night? Marlen told NYF, “She didn't do anything that surprised me as she did exactly what we thought she would do. But she was tougher than I expected. My coach, James Cooper, kept telling me in camp that it's (Fujioka's pressure) not going to stop and for me not to shut down or take a mental break. Even though we trained that way, man, she really didn't stop (laughs).”
The moment came when the final bell rang in the fight, and the announcer delivered the judge's scorecard. After having her hand raised in victory, Esparza was naturally filled with many emotions. After accomplishing such a goal, what could possibly be going through one's head at that point?
“I knew I won, but it is different when you hear it. It was one of the best moments in my life. There was a lot of work that I put into these last four fights. I changed coaches and my whole life in order to become a unified world champion and hopefully undisputed sooner or later. With the Ring Magazine belt included for the first time, it was the best moment of my life. It all paid off,” said the unified champion Esparza.
After the emotions and seeing her son, she was put on the spot with Chris Mannix as he asked about her future. Esparza mentioned going after the other champions in the division, but that was in the heat of the moment. Would that still be the case days after the decision? Marlen told NYF, “I would like it (one of the other flyweight champions) to be next as me, and my coach/manager agrees that it should be next. If, for some reason, something comes up and they (Golden Boy) decided on something else, so be it. My job is to fight. The plan is still to get the rest of the belts within the division.” She sounds laser-focused on becoming an undisputed flyweight champion, and if I know Robert Diaz (VP & Matchmaker), he will try to make that happen.
Given that Marlen stayed busy last year, one would expect that she would try to do the same this year. So, when should we expect her to return to the ring? Marlen told NYF, “I would like it to be in June or July as I don't want to waste much time. I start back training on the 21st (April), doing strength and conditioning. I won't be punching for a little while longer but will still be working on the things that I have to work on from the last fight. 100% no later than July.”
A significant victory like the one Marlen Esparza had on April 9th is something that will more than likely inspire those young girls in the gyms across the country who one day envision themselves being a unified champion. What message does the flyweight queen have for those girls? “I don't want to be cliché and say something like don't give up or anything like that. I would like to tell them two things:
- Whatever they are trying to accomplish in the sport, to support each other. They need to be the best version of themselves as fighters and put their hearts and souls into the gym and performing. Someone else's accomplishments are not going to stop them from being them.
- Comradery is extremely important and I think they should support the girls next to them, whether stablemates or not. Really try to be good to every female in boxing as that will not only help catapult the sport but also their careers.
My Three Cents:
Marlen Esparza has been on quite a roll after suffering her first defeat some time ago. She has moved on from it and continues to achieve her goals as she beats champion after champion within the flyweight division. Could Marlen Esparza become an undisputed champion before the year is out? Only time will tell, but the roll that Marlen is on indicates that she will certainly get the opportunity to do so.