Next month female athletes will get their first chance to fight for Olympic gold, but even before that, they’ve adopted some men’s boxing traditions according to Thursday’s Wall Street Journal.
As Women’s Boxing Debuts at the Olympics, So Does a Male Tradition: Switching Coaches
Quanitta “Queen” Underwood knew nothing about boxing nine years ago when she wandered into Cappy’s Boxing Gym, an inner-city Seattle club.
Under the guidance of coach Cappy Kotz, however, Underwood evolved into an elite boxer, becoming the national champion in her weight class in 2007, a title she successfully defended four consecutive years. More than just a coach, Kotz helped Underwood overcome a history of sexual abuse and depression. In a 2009 newspaper article, Underwood called Kotz her “dad.”
Yet when Underwood goes to London this summer to compete for the first Olympic medals in female boxing, Kotz will be staying home. Underwood fired him last year, saying she wanted a coach with more international experience.
Underwood calls the move “tough.” Kotz calls it “heartbreaking.”
The Journal piece contrasts their situation with the experience of the real queen of women’s boxing, Marlen Esparza.
Alongside Underwood in London will be Marlen Esparza, a 22-year-old Houstonian who won six national titles in her weight class before earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic team this year. Beside Esparza in London will be Rudy Silva, a law-enforcement professional who coaches boxing on the side. He has been Esparza’s coach since she was a child.
“I think Marlen sees what we’re doing works. It’s not broken,” said Silva.
Esparza declined to be interviewed. But any fighter who wins national title after national title invariably receives come-hithers from coaches with better résumés than Silva’s. To her credit, said Silva, Esparza understands that “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.”
Esparza did not decline, however, to be interviewed by The Atlantic, which published this profile last month.
It’s a terrific piece, with a heartrending finish about a driven, accomplished young fighter who’s put her entire life on hold while she pursues an Olympic dream.
Looking . . . to the Olympics, Esparza could imagine a scenario in which she wins the gold medal—but not one in which she doesn’t. “I feel like it will complete me—like it will make me what I want to be,” she said. “I don’t want to see someone else win.” Esparza put her fork down, and a tear slid down her cheek. “It would be like someone else living what you’re supposed to be living, and feeling what you’re supposed to be feeling. It’s like someone stealing what I want to be.” She paused again, wiping her eyes with her cloth napkin. “Failure is when your best isn’t good enough, and I’m trying as hard as I possibly can.”
Esparza finished her entrée and we ordered dessert—fried zeppoles with chocolate sauce. When I asked her how she envisions her life after the Olympics—after boxing, that is—she recalled driving to the gym one morning and seeing two girls, about her age, who looked like they were going to the mall. Esparza wondered what the rest of their day might be like, whether they would see their friends, or go to the movies. “And I was thinking, What the heck would I do all day?” She considered this for a moment. “It’s like a small kitten or an inside dog that scratches at the door all day, but when someone finally opens it, they don’t want to go,” she said. “They just look.”
After reading this piece, the hardrooting staff sincerely hopes Marlen Esparza wins Olympic gold next month.