Santa Maria Sun / Sports Lead
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 13, Issue 21
Girl powerLocals say inclusion of women's boxing in the Olympic Games could encourage more girls to take up the sport
BY JEREMY THOMAS
Dismissed as a sideshow by some in the boxing world even a decade ago, women’s boxing marks an important milestone in 2012.
On Aug. 5, the sport will make its debut in the Olympic Games with three events: the women’s fly, women’s middle, and women’s light. USA Boxing dropped several men’s divisions to accommodate the women’s team, a move Central Coast Boxing Club trainer Willie Flores considers good for boxing, potentially drawing more young women to the sport.
“Once it’s televised and they get the exposure, I think it’s going to be a motivating factor,” Flores said. “Boxing has always been a man’s sport, even a macho man’s sport. Women have never been given the opportunity.”
That’s not to say the sport hasn’t had its share of stars; Christy Martin, Lilia Ali, and Mia St. John come to mind. All of those names have since retired, making room for the next generation of up-and-coming boxers.
“There’s a new breed,” Flores said. “The amateurs are producing a lot of good female fighters, and I think the amateur boxing world is excited about this new group of women.”
Though boxing remains a popular sport in Santa Maria, women are still a rarity in the ring. Flores’ prize female student is Maggie Suarez, one of the few women professional boxers on the Central Coast. Balancing boxing with a teaching career and children, Suarez won several titles as an amateur, losing only five times in more than 50 amateur fights.
Suarez, fighting in the 112-pound weight class, qualified for tournaments that would’ve allowed her into the Olympic tryouts, but the events were too far away, and she wasn’t willing to leave her family for weeks at a time. She will, however, be watching the bouts from home with great interest.
“It’s about time they let the females in there,” Suarez said. “For me, unfortunately, I couldn’t go that path only because I have a family. That path is for someone a little younger with less responsibility.”
Of all the female fighters, Suarez said she’s looking forward most to seeing flyweight Marlen Esparza, who made history by becoming the first woman to qualify for the U.S. team.
“She’s my weight and she’s very good,” Suarez said. “For her being the first female, she’s getting the recognition and she deserves it. I’m excited. It would be nice to be there, but it’s a little far.”
Closer to home, Suarez said she hopes having women’s boxing in the Olympic Games will encourage more girls to participate. Alongside Suarez at the Minami Community Center, a handful of girls could be seen hitting the bags on a weeknight, including 13-year-old Chrystal Martinez, who’s been boxing for about a year. Martinez said she visits the gym every day to train, but hasn’t had any fights yet because she can’t find the competition.
“It’s probably because it’s a hard sport,” Martinez explained. “It’s tiring, but it’s a good sport.”
Martinez said she was excited to hear about the women competing in the Olympics and has aspirations to one day try out for the U.S. team.
“I think that’s great,” she said. “I think it will help.”
Boxing for the past three years, Berenice Augustin, 13, already has three amateur fights under her belt. She’s planning on watching the women’s Olympic events and said she would reach that level someday.
By rule, Augustin is required to fight opponents from 12 to 14 years old, and within five pounds of her own weight. There aren’t many opponents in her division, she said, but she hopes the Olympics will help change that.
According to boxing coach Carlos Ruiz, because female boxers are so few and far between locally, it makes it difficult to bring them up through the ranks and develop their careers.
“It’s hard to train a woman boxer because there’s not a lot of fighters out there and there’s not a lot of competition,” Ruiz said. “It’s a struggle, and then it’s a struggle for our promoter to put you on the card.”
Boxing is a challenging sport for women physically as well, Ruiz said. Females retain more water than their male counterparts, so their weights fluctuate to a greater degree. Many, he said, also lack the strength and aggressiveness necessary to be successful fighters.
As for the Olympic Games, Ruiz said he’ll be watching closely, not just the competition, but to see the impact on young women.
“It’s going to have an effect,” Ruiz said. “Everybody wants to be in the Olympics. … It’s a trial basis, so hopefully it does look good and attract a crowd for the young fighters that are coming up.”
Flores said increased participation would make his female students more competitive in bouts, but for now, just getting a taste of the adrenaline rush and exercise is more important for them than win-loss records. Having coached many females over the years, Flores said that, for him, training women has been no different than training men.
“Women, as well as men, have their personal lives, their careers, their schooling, so all of them become a challenge,” he said. “As far as women following direction, they will pretty much do as you ask them to do. … If you’re patient with them, it’s like any guy.”
Suarez considers the lack of female boxers to her advantage, as she was forced to spar with males throughout her career. Now 29, Suarez calls boxing her “passion,” and has ambitions of winning professional titles. Her first pro fight took place in Ontario on July 14, where she bested opponent Blanca Raymundo. In Ventura, she recently began sparring with Maureen Shea, the current WBC Featherweight champion.
Suarez said she tries to mentor the young girls who come into the gym, but wishes they would persevere. Boxing requires time and support of family, she said, as well as a willingness to train repetitively.
Five years into her own boxing career, Suarez has advice for young women coming up in the sport: Be patient.
“I always tell the girls, ‘You can’t expect to learn everything in a month or two.’ I think that’s what they want, and they’re not going to find it,” she said. “You have to be a hard worker, because you have to work on a daily basis in order to master it.”
Staff Writer Jeremy Thomas can’t take a punch unless it’s tropical flavored. Contact him at email@example.com.
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