This year marks the debut of women’s boxing in the Olympic Games and for the next week, two dozen female fighters are competing at a resort-casino near Spokane vying to represent the U.S. at the 2012 Summer Games.
With just three women’s weight classes contested in London: flyweight (112 pounds), lightweight (132 pounds), and middleweight (165 pounds), there’s been a lot of reshuffling as women cut weight or bulk up to fit into the Olympic classes.
When USA Boxing’s Joe Zanders addressed the fighters at the opening press conference, he told them, “You’re representing a lot of ladies who didn’t have the chance to be here. Their spirits are with you in the ring.”
Twenty-four American women will compete in a double-elimination tournament this week, but only the winners from each division will advance to May’s World Championships in Qinhuangdao, China, where they will need to finish in the top eight to earn berths in the 2012 Olympic Games.
The 24 competitors are a diverse group from across the country who come to the sport with different backgrounds and motivations. Each fighter has a story. Some are joyful but many are tragic. Whether they box as a response to abuse as a child, a way out of a dead-end career or relationship or to fulfill a lifetime dream of Olympic glory, they are all driven to be champions. A great series on WNYC radio “Women Box,” features a compelling mix of these women’s personal and competitive stories.
A handful of California fighters, including Patricia Manuel and Mikaela Mayer, are among the hopefuls on a quest to show their stuff at the U.S. trials. For the last two years the two women have shared the dream of representing the U.S. this summer in London, even living and training together for a time.
Both Manuel, a 26-year-old who sports an intimidating mohawk , and Mayer, a 21-year-old who grew up in Woodland Hills, will fight at 132 pounds. Manuel faces second-seeded Tiara Brown, who won silver in last year’s national championships, while Mayer opened against fellow Angeleno Lisa Porter, a 23-year-old who got her start through the Cal State Northridge boxing club. Mayer scored a mild upset over Porter after spending nearly 24 hours in transit to Washington from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where she trains.
Another Washington native, Alex Love, won the first actual bout in U.S. team trials history, brawling to a 24-15 victory over Taversha Norwood.
In the first lightweight bout, N’yteeyah Sherman, a 19-year-old straight-A student at Kent State, was impressive in her 42-17 win over Asia Stevenson. Sherman, who towers over many 132-pounders at 6 feet tall, mercilessly used her superior reach and forced multiple standing-eight counts.
In the flyweight division Marlen Esparza, a 22-year-old from Houston, is a heavy favorite after winning six consecutive national championships as well as a bronze medal in the 2006 World Championships. Esparza won in a walkover after Cynthia Moreno reported an injury in training.
Among Esparza’s toughest opponents could be second-seeded Tyrieshia Douglas of Baltimore, who along with brother Antoine, a middleweight who placed third in the 2011 Men’s National Championships, are trying to become the first brother-sister pair to box in the Olympics.
Flyweight Tyrieshia Douglas landed the card’s first knockdown, flooring Latonya King in the first round of her 34-11 victory. Douglas will face Manhattan native Christina Cruz on Tuesday in the winners’ bracket.
Middleweight favorite Franchon Crews comes to Spokane partly at the urging of former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell. The flamboyant Crews, who is nicknamed “The Heavy Hitting Diva” was once a contestant on the reality TV competition. When her rendition of “A Woman’s Worth” was rejected, Cowell suggested she stick to boxing. That’s proven to be good advice, since the 24-year-old Baltimore native has won five national titles at two weights.
Also in the 165-pound division is third-seeded Tiffanie Ward, a former basketball player from Hacienda Heights who placed third in the 2011 nationals. At 28, Ward is among the oldest competitors in the tournament.
The youngest fighter in the tournament, undefeated sixteen-year-old Claressa Shields from Flint, Mich., drew the number Crews for her first bout. Shields, profiled in the recent New Times piece “Bout Time”, is a driven high school student looking for a way out of her depressed hometown. In one of the first upsets of the trials, Shields was victorious over Crews in a surprise win.
Young or old, experienced or not, fighting demons or fighting for the thrill of victory, four of these fighters will have the opportunity to make history this summer when women’s boxing is part of the Olympic programme for the first time.
Fighters at the U.S Olympic Women’s Boxing Trials
Flyweight (112 pounds)
Marlen Esparza (Houston; No. 1) def. Cynthia Moreno (Phoenix); Alex Love (Monroe, Wash) def Taversha Norwood (Marietta, Ga.; No. 4) ; Christina Cruz (New York; No. 3) vs. Virginia Fuchs (Kemah, Texas); Tyrieshia Douglas (Baltimore; No. 2) def. Latonya Wingate ((Harrison Township, Mich).
Lightweight (132 pounds)
Queen Underwood (Seattle; No. 1) def. Bertha Aracil (Yonkers, N.Y.); . Mikaela Mayer (Los Angeles) def Lisa Porter (Northridge; No. 4) ; N’yteeyah Sherman (Barberton, Ohio; No. 3) def. Asia Stevenson (Washington); Tiara Brown (Lehigh, Fla.; No. 2) vs. Patricia Manuel (Long Beach)
Middleweight (165 pounds)
Claressa Shields (Flint, Mich.) def Franchon Crews (Baltimore; No. 1); Dara Shen (Alexandria, Va.; No. 4) vs. Andrecia Wasson (Centerline, Mich.); Tiffanie Ward (Hacienda Heights, No. 3) vs. Tiffanie Hearn (Louisville, Ky.); Tika Hemingway (Pittsburgh; No. 2) vs. Raquel Miller (San Francisco)
UniversalSports.com will simulcast the trials on their website starting Monday at 7 p.m. pacific time.